$1.8M NIH grant will support study of nervous system's underlying communications

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Mohammad Reza Abidian, professor of biomedical engineering, has received a $1.8 million single-PI grant from the National Institutes of Health's Institute for Neurological Disorders (NINDS).

The five-year grant is titled, "Neural Tissue Engineering Based on Combinatorial Effects of Multiple Guidance Cues."

"The aim of this project is to provide an understanding of effect of gradients of guidance cues on guidance and modulation of axonal growth," said Abidian, the grant's principal investigator.

Sheereen Majd, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is serving as a co-investigator on the effort. She noted, "Axons are steered by regulating cytoskeletal dynamics in the growth cone through ligand-receptor interactions in response to gradients of guidance cues. The molecular mechanism of action of such gradients is, however, poorly understood."

Abidian explained that the nervous system is composed of neurons, which process and transmit information throughout the body. The actual transmission of information takes place through axon, or a nerve fiber that conducts the electrical impulse away from the neuron cell.

He added that one of biggest mysteries for researchers in this field is how axons are able to reach their targets in such a precise manner.

"It's known that the axons are guided by what are called 'guidance cues,'" he stated. "What's not known is how growth cone (the tip of extending axon) integrates and responds to multiple guidance cues that exist in their natural environment."

"How do axons respond to different types of guidance cues (chemical, electrical, etc.), individually or in combination?" Abidian asked.

"To answer these questions and understand the effect of multiple guidance cues on axonal growth and regeneration, we apply a novel methodology that is capable of generating different types of guidance cues that are found in natural environment of axons," Abidian said.

The biomedical engineers said that research on the guidance cues could reveal how axons navigate through their complex natural environment. That, in turn, could be the initial step in finding a solution to the major clinical problem of neural regeneration in central and peripheral nervous systems.

Abidian said they hope the findings of this study will impact the life of patients with major injuries in their peripheral nervous systems or even those suffering from spinal cord injuries.

"If successful, this project will have huge potential for health care."

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Last Updated May 22, 2014