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Source: University of Otago

Bennett Henzeler with PGdip student Amelia Rosario.
Bennett Henzeler shares what led to him becoming a PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology and why he is investigating the antiviral role of Histone deacetylase’s (HDACs) in influenza infection.
Bennett’s interest in microbial research began when a high school friend tragically passed away from an infectious disease.
“This incident had an impact on me and the way I looked at life,” Bennett says.
“This inspired me to use my life to help others and so, like many high school graduates, I thought the best path for me was the pursuit of medicine.”
This decision was challenged when he realised he had an unshakable phobia for blood, leaving him unsure as to how he could help others like his late-friend without becoming a doctor of medicine.
His sister encouraged him to help people through other avenues, explaining how she had supported healthcare during her own PhD research into stem cells.
“She showed me that there were several avenues a person could explore to help those in need and now, fast-forward five years, I’m pursuing my own PhD in the Department of Microbiology, doing my bit in the fight against the influenza virus, and doing it during the middle of a pandemic,” says Bennett.
“With about 6% of the New Zealand population being infected with the flu each year, I decided to focus my research on using host factors to combat influenza infection.
“Unfortunately, vaccination rates have dropped, with one-in-ten people who contract influenza being unvaccinated and so I wanted to use my PhD as an opportunity to explore the antiviral role that HDACs can play in influenza infection.”
He goes on to explain that this drop in vaccination rates likely comes from people not taking the time to get the annual influenza vaccine and that he is confident that the host factors he is researching will make an impact on influenza research because these hosts could be targeted and manipulated to affect virus replication.
Through this long and personal history with microbial research, Bennett says he has developed an “emotional attachment to anything that involves viruses or infections”.
“The University of Otago has made me feel at home and fostered my goal to be an academic; I love research too much to let go of it easily,” says Bennett.
“Mom used to say that ‘anything that comes to you easily, is not long lasting; you have to fight for the things that matter to earn them’ and I consider my PhD as one of those.”
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