Aliyah Bennett

My goal is to break the unbreakable biofilm – Ohio State’s MSTP program is getting me there.


Medical student Aliyah Bennett examining a  petri dishPrior to coming to Ohio State, I was a medical laboratory scientist in a clinical microbiology lab, where each day I would receive samples from infected patients.

Over time, I began to recognize their names and see that their infections weren’t going away. I would send recommendations for drugs and treatments and the infections wouldn’t improve in the way you’d expect. That motivated me to pursue training that would combine patient care with targeted scientific research to impact the lives of patients directly.

I love medicine and I love research. I chose to enter The Ohio State University College of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) to become a physician who also pursues research. I want to make an impact on patients hospitalized for weeks on end due to chronic infections.

My current research looks at bacterial biofilms, fortresses built by bacteria to protect themselves and adhere to a surface. The biofilms are naturally very difficult to treat – immune systems can’t get rid of them, antibiotics can’t penetrate them – so they allow bacteria to live despite our best efforts. Biofilms can cause difficult-to-treat and chronic or recurrent infections.

The goal of my work is to break up those biofilms. I’m trying to develop pharmaceuticals and anti-biofilm compounds that can be used to disrupt the biofilms and better treat chronic infections.

My work to ensure a world where chronic infections are manageable has enormous implications. Chronic infection cases are a massive drain on our health care system, especially in regions of the world where health care resources are limited. Also, chronic infections often require surgery to treat, which is not accessible in low-income nations.

I want my research to bring treatments to communities that wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford to access them.

The need for novel treatments has grown, and the work of the physician-scientist is essential to uncovering scientific discoveries and developing new therapies, treatments and preventive care in our communities. I truly believe the Ohio State College of Medicine is committed to strengthening the physician-scientist pipeline to retain and increase the number of physician-researchers in the U.S.

They’ve developed an Office of Physician Scientist Education and Training to develop and train early-career physician-scientists. The office provides access to early, intensive training to students like me who are interested in incorporating medical research into their career. They teach us how to collaborate and build supportive environments within the scientific community. They help to build connections with faculty mentors and are working to increase the diversity of physician-scientists.

I’ve experienced that level of support. Faculty mentorship was the reason I chose to come to Ohio State. I get a lot of one-on-one time with faculty, and they follow me over time. My PI, Dr. John Gunn, is my most involved mentor. There are other important resources, such as counseling, academic support and participation in student groups. Another bonus, the student culture is intimate and connected within the larger academic community. The chance to interact with a wide variety of students and researchers from a variety of disciplines has been eye-opening.

I made the right decision to come to Ohio State because I’ve been able to grow here. I’ve built a strong community that I’ll continue to grow with throughout my career. Things are going in the direction I dreamed they would and that makes me very happy.

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