Spotlight on Ben Portney
Interview with Ben Portney
Written by Phallon Perry
Ben Portney is a PhD candidate in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. His involvement in several entrepreneurial programs on campus has made him a well-known student figure. Ben is the Co-Founder and Programming Director of the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Network (EIN). EIN is a student run organization that prides itself on its grass roots initiatives that are aimed to assemble and create an entrepreneurial minded UMB. His entrepreneurial aspirations have also led him to compete for a role in the President’s Symposium and White Paper Project during the 2016-2017 academic year. Ben was ultimately chosen to be one of four President’s Fellows and researched information about how UMB fosters entrepreneurs on campus and and then made recommendations to President Jay Perman, MD. on how the university can better serve students, faculty, and staff that have entrepreneurial aspirations.
Ben admits that before being accepted into the Graduate School, he struggled to finish some of the projects that he started. He accredits the Graduate School with teaching him "to have a plan and to execute on that plan.” Agami Life is a company he started as a student in the Graduate School. While working in the lab, his projects often required him to isolate stem cells from tissues. This led him and a group of students from his lab to develop patented technology that would allow them to better isolate stem cells. Research shows that stem cells are more valuable and effective in therapies when they are isolated from a younger person. Using that patent, his team decided to create a stem cell bank that could provide services for those in need. Agami Life allows people to send their tissues into the lab, primarily from tonsillectomies, and then his team isolates the stem cells and cryogenically preserve them for his clients until they are needed again in the future.
Science communication is very important to the future of research. Ben recognizes the importance of being able to communicate complex ideas to the greater public in order to receive funding. There’s two types of research: basic research and translational research. Basic research is the fundamental knowledge that is gained through the research process. Translational research is designed to make medicine right away. Ben says that a lot of people don’t realize that basic research fuels translational research. He believes that researchers would not be able to do translational research without basic research and expresses concern about the lack of funding for the basic research process. Ben recognizes that getting funding for research projects requires being able to communicate its importance to the greater public and to children who may someday become future researchers.
It is his dream to get more children interested in becoming scientists. Ben didn’t know that he wanted to become a scientist when it was a child. He describes his journey into science as something he just happened to stumble upon. Ben says that by making science fun and exciting for children, we can help to develop the next generation of scientists. This desire has also led him to collaborate with his mother as the illustrator to write a children's book about the importance of stem cells.