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Eric James Benner, MD, PhD

George W. Brumley, Jr. M.D Assistant Professor of Developmental Biology
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Campus mail: 2424 Erwin Road - Suite 504, Durham, NC 27710
Phone: (919) 668-1598
Email address: eric.benner@duke.edu

As a neonatologist, my research interests revolve around improving the survival and quality of life of high-risk neonates cared for in Neonatal Intensive Care Units. My primary interest is perinatal brain injuries impacting both full-term infants and those born prematurely.  One of the most common forms of perinatal brain injury involves damage to white matter (myelin). My laboratory has developed models of perinatal brain injury to investigate how the endogenous neural stem cell responds to myelin injury. Our hope is to develop innovative strategies to successfully redirect stem cells into the oligodendrocyte lineage and promote myelination after injury.  In order to successfully restore myelination after injury, we want to better understand the molecular mechanisms governing 2 important aspects of myelin development. 

First, we must understand the molecular signals that drive neural stem cells to differentiate into oligodendrocytes (oligodendrogenesis) and how brain injury impacts this process. This interest has led my laboratory to investigate intracellular and extracellular changes that occur in the neural stem cell niche following injuries that lead to white matter damage. 

Secondly, after stem cell commitment to the oligodendrocyte lineage has occurred, we must understand the ongoing signals from the neural environment that influence oligodendrocyte maturation. For this work, my laboratory has developed an innovative technology to remotely control ion channels non-invasively using magnetic fields. Using this technology, we are developing strategies to alter the activity of targeted neural circuits both in utero as well as postnatally to understand the impact of altered activity on myelin maturation. Members of my laboratory are also currently using this technology to understand how altered temperature-gated channel activity in utero may contribute to birth defects associated with maternal fevers. 

Education and Training

  • Neonatology Fellowship, Pediatrics, Duke University School of Medicine, 2009 - 2011
  • Pediatric Residency, Pediatrics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2006 - 2008
  • M.D., University of Nebraska College of Medicine, 2006
  • Ph.D., University of Nebraska Omaha, 2005