Educating Tomorrow’s Scientists

Instructor Daniel Benjamin brings postdoctoral studies to the classroom

Daniel Benjamin is, by nature, a curious learner. He’s fascinated by the intricacies of the human body, which has been the core focus of his own education and scholarly pursuits. It’s the same fascination that he’s encouraged and developed in our students since 2017—and he’s loved every moment!

Daniel’s own educational journey has been shaped by a captivation of the role that dysfunctional cellular metabolism plays in driving disease pathogenesis. It’s what he studied as a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley.

“I discovered how dysregulated cellular metabolism could promote the aggressive features of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and melanoma,” Daniel describes. “With this knowledge, I helped to develop and test small-molecule inhibitors of critical metabolic enzymes involved in the progression of these cancers.”

His fascination didn’t end there—nor did his quest for additional knowledge. “As a postdoctoral fellow in Tom Rando’s lab at Stanford University,” Daniel adds, “I am currently studying the role of dysfunctional metabolism in aged stem cells with the intent of developing metabolic-based therapies for ameliorating the sharp decline of stem cell function with age.”

This thirst to understand the human body from various facets drives not only his own studies, but that of his students who enroll in Exercise Physiology, The Biology of Human Cancer or Human Nutrition courses.

“I enjoy teaching at Extension because I love teaching these students!” Daniel enthuses. “They come from a variety of different backgrounds and many have had previous careers in totally different fields of study. This diversity allows my classes to be filled with unique perspectives and ideas that I have never encountered or considered before. I learn so much from my students each and every time I teach a course.”


Inside The Biology of Human Cancer Course



So let’s dive deeper into those courses. Starting with The Biology of Human Cancer, what will students learn in that class?

In my The Biology of Human Cancer course, we learn about cancer from the ground up. We start with a fundamental understanding of what cancer is at the cellular and molecular levels, and how cancer cells hijack normal cellular pathways to meet their own needs. We learn that cancer progression often hinges on the tiniest changes in the structure of a few key proteins.

We then zoom out and begin to explore how cancer has been treated in the past and how new discoveries will continue to shape cancer treatment. My doctoral work in the field of cancer metabolism has shed light on the way that metabolic-based chemotherapeutics can be effective in the treatment of cancer. During the course, I get the opportunity to share my own work and discoveries with my students

And in your Exercise Physiology and Human Nutrition courses?

In Exercise Physiology, we learn about the foundations of exercise, the role of body systems, the importance of nutrition and environment, and the impact of exercise training on performance and health. We also review current topics and recent discoveries in the field of exercise science. 

In my Human Nutrition course, we learn about the role that nutrition plays in human health and development by discussing topics such as digestion and metabolism, phytochemicals and nutrients and their role in health and illness. We also look at the disorders that are related to nutrient deficiency and current medical nutrition therapies. Finally, I teach about the biological variations that are related to diet, food safety and food-borne illnesses.

Both my doctoral and postdoctoral research have touched on the role that different diets and exercise regimens play in affecting human aging and disease, so I believe that I am in a unique position to discuss recent advances in both fields.

The field of human nutrition is one of the few areas of science that combines physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology and public health into a single course! The beauty of these three courses is that they all touch on topics that affect our lives on a daily basis. All of us, at some level, care about how our specific diet and exercise routines can affect our health and well-being. In my courses, we get to answer these questions at a molecular and cellular level.

Additionally, for anyone who is taking the MCAT exam, these three courses are among the most high-yield for that test!



The diversity of my students allows my classes to be filled with unique perspectives and ideas that I have never encountered or considered before.



What are your expectations for your students?

My only expectation is that my students have a passion for learning and for science, and a willingness to work hard to truly understand and not just memorize the material.

After completing my courses, my students will not only have gained content-specific knowledge in the fields of cancer biology, exercise physiology and nutrition respectively, but—perhaps more importantly—they will learn how to think like scientists. They will learn how to ask the right questions and critically analyze and interpret new data that they encounter. This is a skill that will be valuable no matter what field of study they end up pursuing.