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University of Utah Names Two News Faculty Members as Benning Scholars


University of Utah Health Sciences has named School of Medicine researchers, Jody Rosenblatt, Ph.D., and Andy Weyrich, Ph.D., as the H.A. and Edna Benning Presidential Endowed Chairs.

In the past few years Dr. Rosenblatt, associate professor of oncological sciences, has become recognized for her probing research in the study of cell death related to epithelia. Dr. Weyrich, Attillio D. Renzetti, Jr., Presidential Endowed Chair in Respiratory, Critical Care, and Occupational Pulmonary Medicine, has become internationally recognized for his groundbreaking research in the study of platelets related to epithelia. Their work has important implications for understanding diseases such as inflammation and thrombosis and cancer.

Rosenblatt is a highly innovative researcher who has made significant advances in understanding cell death and division in epithelia, the cells that line the inside and outside of organs and skin and serve as barriers to protect against pathogens. Her work led to discovering a novel mechanism by which epithelial cells die, called extrusion, and finding that mechanical forces control epithelial cell death and division to maintain equilibrium between the number of cells that die and divide. When equilibrium is not maintained, epithelial cells lose their function as a barrier, as happens in diseases such as asthma and colitis. Dr. Rosenblatt's lab also is discovering that several cancer-causing mutations hijack the death-promoting extrusion process and instead cause cells to invade and potentially metastasize.

International experts in her research area say Dr. Rosenblatt's novel work has established a new line of scientific inquiry. As an example of her creative thinking in research, in 2008 she received one of the first Innovator Awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award, given annually to about 25 scientists chosen from thousands of applications goes to researchers whose work is considered too "risky" for standard NIH funding but merits investigation.

Weyrich's work has changed the understanding of platelets–the disk-shaped cells derived from bone marrow cells that induce clotting to help stop bleeding–and their role in inflammation, infection and the formation of blood vessels. He has made important contributions understanding the biology of cell-to-cell interactions and inflammation. Dr. Weyrich has received a number of honors for his work, including the 2013 Dameshek Prize, given annually by the American Society of Hematology to investigators who make outstanding recent contributions to research.

Drs. Rosenblatt and Weyrich represent the excellence the late Arthur Benning envisioned when his estate established the H.A. and Edna Benning Presidential Endowed Chairs to honor his parents and help the University of Utah continue its proud tradition of medical research. They, along with the other Benning Chairs, are not only furthering medical knowledge to help people worldwide but also enhancing the reputation of this University, something we all can take pride in.