Two Toxicology Ph.D. Students Earn Inaugural Distinguished Scholarship

By Amy Widner

Millner earned his Ph.D. from the UAMS Graduate School in 1988 from what was then called the Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program. In 1997, he and colleagues founded their company, Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH), a science-based toxicology and human services firm that has grown to employ over 170 employees. The Millners established the scholarship in honor of Glen Millner’s parents, Charles and Marion Millner.

“Dr. Millner came from humble beginnings to run an incredibly successful business in the field of toxicology,” said Graduate School Dean Robert E. McGehee Jr., Ph.D. “As he nears retirement, he wants to use his success to give back and invest in the next generation of smart and talented scientists.

“A strong advocate of the Graduate School, Dr. Millner has hired a number of our graduates to work at CTEH, and he has also been back on campus as a featured speaker for our annual Career Day for Biomedical Sciences,” McGehee said. “I can’t imagine a better pair than Lance and Brian to serve as our inaugural Millner Scholars.”

The scholarship is for students in the Graduate Program in Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences (GPIBS) in the Pharmacology, Toxicology and Experimental Therapeutics (PTET) track. Millner Scholars are selected by the dean and the PTET track director. Eligible students are in their second year of GPIBS, have selected the PTET track and are currently working on their dissertation research project with a faculty member affiliated with the PTET track. Each will receive a $1,500 annual scholarship for a maximum of four years.

Benson is working with mentor Shengyu Mu, Ph.D., to study how salt-sensitive high blood pressure develops, especially understanding the role of certain cells called CD8+T cells. His aim is to identify potential targets for treatment of salt-sensitive high blood pressure, which is present in about 40-50% of high blood pressure cases. Benson has a Bachelor of Science from Harding University in Searcy.

Benson plans to stay in research for his career.

“Hypertension, cardiovascular disease and heart disease are the leading killers in the United States and worldwide, so this work has a powerful impact,” Benson said. “I’m really enjoying this line of research and working in the lab and in an academic environment, so right now my aim is to stay in this field.”

Parks is working with mentor Lisa Brents, Ph.D., to study the effects of prenatal opioid exposure, including how babies who were exposed in utero respond to painful stimuli later in life and how well opioids work for their pain. Parks has a Bachelor of Science from Abilene Christian University in Texas.

Parks plans to become a professor of pharmacology at a liberal arts school.

“Pharmacology is not well represented at the undergrad level, so it’s something I would like to bring to that setting,” Parks said. “Education is a way we can get students interested in pharmacology earlier in their academic careers.”

Both said the scholarship will help cover basic living expenses and the challenges of balancing their academic pursuits with family and the rest of life.

“Soon we’ll be finished with our programs and face the living expenses that come with moving and making those next career moves,” Benson said. “This scholarship gives additional peace of mind as we head into the future.”