1. Where are you from?
I am from Ghana. I was born in a town called Nkawkaw in the Eastern Region of Ghana. However, I spent most of my life in Accra, the capital city. 
Benjamin Owusu Student Spotlight Portrait 2

2.  What degree(s) did you receive and when?
I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Ghana in 2005. 

 3. How long have you been at UAB?
I joined UAB in fall, 2010.

4.  What is your research?
My current research in Dr. Lidija Klampfer’s laboratory focuses on understanding the tumor-promoting crosstalk between tumor cells and cells in the tumor microenvironment. We are interested in targeting factors that mediate this crosstalk to block tumor survival, growth, invasion and resistance to therapy. In collaboration with the Chemistry Department at Southern Research, we have developed the first small molecule inhibitor of the tumor-promoting protein, hepatocyte growth factor (HGF). We demonstrated that this inhibitor prevents HGF-mediated tumor progression and overcomes resistance to targeted therapy in both colon and lung cancer models. In collaboration with Dr. James Janetka at Washington University, we are testing novel peptide inhibitors of HGF to address the same problem.
Prior to joining the Drug Discovery team at Southern Research, I studied the impact of red blood cell aging on nitric oxide and nitrite-mediated signaling and its implications on cardiovascular physiology such as blood vessel dilation. 

 5. Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?
I chose to attend UAB primarily because of its dynamic research environment. My first visit to UAB during my interview with the Biomedical Sciences Program left an indelible impression on me which made me decide on UAB over other admission offers. It was important for me to be part of an institution that has a highly collaborative, cutting-edge research environment and that is exactly what I have experienced here at UAB. Being an international student, I was also inclined towards an academic institute that is diverse and ‘internationally-friendly’. I am always grateful to God for the rich experience that I have had here.  

 6.  What awards or honors have you received?
I have received travel awards and scholarships to participate in several research conferences, workshops and other training opportunities. I received the UAB Department of Pathology Travel Grant Award and the UAB Center for Free Radical Biology (CFRB) Travel Grant Award in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, I also received the UAB Graduate Student Association Travel Award. I won a Travel Award Scholarship from the Mathematical Bioscience Institute (MBI) of The Ohio State University to participate in a workshop on Tumor Heterogeneity and the Microenvironment in 2014. I received the Teaching Associate Certificate Tuition Scholarship Award sponsored by the UAB Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) in 2015. I have recently been awarded the Ireland Research Travel Scholarship to capture an educational opportunity outside of UAB. I also recently received the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) Partner Network Scholarship to participate in the 3rd Bioinformatics Bootcamp at Auburn University this year.

I have received presentation awards in addition to the research scholarships. In 2015, I participated in the 4th Annual UAB Biomedical Engineering Research Symposium and I was honored with the Outstanding Research Poster Award. I won 2nd place for oral presentation awards in 2015 and 2016 in two different sessions at the UAB Graduate Students Research Days. Recently, I was awarded the 1st Place Graduate Session Award for Outstanding Research and Poster Presentation at the 2016 Darwin’s Day Research Symposium. 

7. What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?
My exposure to different research environments here at UAB and Southern Research under the guidance of different mentors has been extremely rewarding. I have had the opportunity to work on different projects in different areas. This has broadened my research scope and technical know-how. It has honed my critical thinking and has equipped me with the capacity to tackle problems from different angles.

The moments that I have had to interact with colleagues, faculty and staff has also been extremely rewarding. Some of these interactions have opened doors and exposed me to several opportunities here at UAB and beyond.                      

8. Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?
It would be difficult to single out just one person. I have had an invaluable experience and I have learnt a lot from my previous mentor, Dr Rakesh Patel and my current mentor, Dr. Lidija Klampfer. Members of my thesis committee, Dr Bo Xu, Dr. Upender Manne, Dr. Tim Townes and Dr. Ralph Sanderson have been very helpful in guiding me in my research. There are several people here at UAB and in Southern Research that have positively impacted my life in diverse ways.

Finally, my lovely wife, Hetty Sharon Owusu, who recently joined UAB Medicine, has been very supportive and instrumental to my progress.                

9. What is your motivation in your academics/research?
For me, it’s not just about getting a doctoral degree. I see my training here as a unique opportunity to constantly improve myself through the things I learn and the challenges I experience. In line with the UAB slogan, “Knowledge that will change your world”, I believe that I am being empowered to make a significant contribution to society. That is why I do research and that’s the motivation behind my passion. I am also motivated by my inclination to help and support others pursue this career path as I mentor and train other students at different academic levels.
 
10. What are your plans after graduating and for the future?
As I wrap up with my training here at UAB, I am also preparing to pursue postdoctoral training and a career in academia or biotech/pharmaceutical industry. I am passionate about Cancer Research and I am leaning more towards a career in that field. I want to be able to effectively apply my skills and expertise both independently and as a part of a progressive team.

11. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
As the chair of the organizing committee of UAB Graduate School Discoveries in the Making, I would like to use this platform to encourage graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to participate in “Discoveries” events which are held on campus at the Hill Student Center and at the Hoover and Homewood Public Libraries. This is a unique opportunity for UAB students and postdocs to reach out to the community and share their exciting research and discoveries. I feel it is important for us to engage the general public in what we’re doing and also to get feedback from them. This will better shape our thinking and approach to research.

Detailed information about Discoveries in the Making can be found on the UAB Graduate School website: https://www.uab.edu/graduate/discoveries-in-the-making

12. What advice would you offer to other graduate students?
I have four pieces of advice:
1. Be positive and consider every challenge as an opportunity to learn something new and improve yourself. Your attitude and response to every challenge you encounter as you navigate through graduate school will either make or break you.
2. Think outside of the box! Have your own opinion in your academic and research pursuit. The popular opinion is not always right or true.
3.  Broaden your horizon! It is crucial to seize the opportunity to devote some time socializing and networking not only with those in your field.
4.  UAB offers several professional development courses and I would encourage every graduate student to take advantage of this opportunity for personal growth and development. As a beneficiary of some of these courses, I can’t emphasize enough how useful they have been to me.