Dale Benos, Ph.D., left the Harvard School of Medicine for UAB’s Department of Physiology & Biophysics in August 1985. He admits he didn’t know what to expect or what he would find here.

What Benos discovered was a vibrant, growing institution with faculty and staff who had a desire to push for discovery. He found a new home.

“I have a real love of this institution,” Benos says. “This place has been good to me, and I’ve tried to give back as many times as I possibly can. It’s been a really good academic home for me.”

Benos has made a favorable impression on his colleagues through his 22-year UAB career. Proof of that can be found in the selection of Benos as the 2007 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer.

The Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award is the UAB Academic Health Center’s most prestigious faculty award. It acknowledges Benos’ many achievements and the high regard in which he is held by his peers. It also is a reflection of his contributions to the university and the community.

“It’s certainly a special honor, especially knowing my colleagues chose me,” Benos says. “I know for a fact there are countless people who are more worthy for this award around UAB. I’m really humbled by the whole thing.”

The DFL award winner receives a $5,000 cash award and presents a lecture during a banquet held in their honor. The dinner will be held in The Club Ballroom Oct. 11. Tickets are $35 per person. Call 934-0771 for reservations. 

Protein research
Benos has chaired the Department of Physiology & Biophysics since 1996, and holds secondary appointments in the departments of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Physiological Optics. In addition, he is a senior scientist in eight research centers.

Benos, continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1976, directs his research objectives toward ion channels and membrane-transport processes. He is focused on a number of disease states and the involvement of proteins in diseases such as hypertension and cystic fibrosis. His laboratory also is investigating the role of ion channels and transporters in human brain tumors.

“We are trying to understand how these proteins operate in normal physiological processes and how they are involved in disease – the cause and effect,” Benos says.

Benos is an editor of several national journals and sits on numerous editorial boards. On campus he supports graduate programs for physiology and biophysics, cell biology and neurobiology and has trained more than 15 graduate students and 34 postdoctoral fellows. Benos received the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2006.

The lecture
Benos is still developing a title for the lecture he will give at his banquet. He says he will probably give his perspective on how biomedical research has evolved in the 37 years he’s been involved in the field.
He says the progress in new technologies, techniques and approaches are certainly some of the most positive changes. “We have wonderful tools to explore biological questions right now,” he says.

However, he adds, the current times for researchers are at the same time somewhat discouraging. A lack of funding has led to low morale among some investigators across the country and fears that the financial situation may cost the profession some of its best and brightest minds.

“There’s this pervasive emphasis on the finances of research, on being able to secure more and more research funding,” he says. “Paradoxically, while the total amount of federal research funds available are at their highest levels, the success rate of being awarded those funds are at historic lows. Thus some researchers, particularly new investigators, are unable to remain in the profession. Moreover, the situation causes young people to look for alternate opportunities.

“Even if all of a sudden the current situation of biomedical funding eased up, there would be a lag in getting people back into the system,” he says. “That’s the big problem. There’s a loss of both potential and current talent, and that’s really scary because it threatens the biomedical research infrastructure not only at UAB, but also nationwide.”

One thing about Benos’ lecture will be certain – his passion for research and UAB will be evident. “I’ve had many opportunities to leave in these 22 years, and every time I’ve looked at another position it just didn’t measure up to what UAB was to me.”