Medicinal Chemistry graduate student Mark Benhaim (Lee lab) has been accepted into the NIH-supported Molecular Biophysics Training Program. His proposed research thesis, “Deciphering the Antiviral Activity of Human Defensins: Inhibiting Influenza Virus Fusion,” won him a two-year tenure on this predoctoral training grant. Benhaim’s mentor, Med Chem Associate Professor Kelly Lee, will fund the research on this project and NIH will pay Benhaim a stipend, partial tuition, and a travel award.
Benhaim successfully completed a rigorous application process including a written research proposal and an interview during which he presented his proposal and answered questions.
Working in the Lee lab, Benhaim is studying how components of the innate immune system recognize and interact with enveloped viruses, specifically influenza virus. The innate immune system is the body’s first line of defense against infection. “My goal is to understand how these defensins, these small antimicrobial peptides, interact with viruses,” said Mark. “We know they prevent infections of diverse viruses like herpes simplex, influenza, and HIV, but very little is understood about how they work.”
The thrill of figuring out how things work is what brought Benhaim to science, and now into biophysics. “These proteins are such amazing molecular machines,” he said. “It just blows my mind how something so small is able to carry out such complex processes.”
“Mark’s studies will provide new mechanistic insight into the action of these important anti-pathogen components of our immune system,” said Dr. Kelly Lee, “and may eventually suggest new strategies for developing antiviral therapeutics.”