Prof. Orit Shefi - Understaning Neurons

As head of BIU’s Neuro-Engineering Laboratory, Prof. Orit Shefi recognizes the importance of an interdisciplinary approach. Her lab combines the fields of cell biology, molecular engineering, nanotechnology and computational biology to reveal insights into neural development. She “walks her talk,” as can be seen from her own academic history.

A returning scientist from the University of California in San Diego, Shefi is also  a member of the Nano Medicine Center at the Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA), and a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering.

Shefi says her team’s main objective is to unravel the mechanisms sensory neurons use to develop, which is a key milestone for understanding how they acquire their morphology, as well as the interplay between their morphology and the function of nervous systems. If, or rather, when this goal is met, Shefi and her team will be able to provide important new insights that may help to enhance neuronal recovery post trauma.

“Our research goal is to have a better understanding of the development of neuron structure and form,” explains Shefi, “and to use this knowledge to encourage neuronal growth and repair in injured persons. We seek to develop therapeutic benefits for individuals suffering from post-trauma nerve damage or degenerative diseases.”

Research in nerve regeneration and recovery has the potential to provide important new insights that may help victims of burns and paralysis, especially paralysis resulting from trauma, and to recover and promote sensory perception. The challenge is to understand the processes leading to neural growth and apply this knowledge in clinical trials. Prof.Orit Shefi is working to understand the naturally orchestrated processes of neuronal growth and regeneration and create man-made models that can be administered at regenerative medicinal tools.

Prof.Shefi has demonstrated that single neurons will grow along nanometric ridges of just 10 nm height, opening the avenue for novel miniaturized implanted devices. She has also participated in the development of a novel technology, a pneumatic capillary gene gun, to study developmental neurobiology in leeches. The leech is particularly suited to this type of research because it spontaneously recovers after nerve cord injury. “In the leech,” Prof.Shefi explains, “we look for physical as well as molecular mechanisms that govern the growth of identified single neurons in the intact animal and in culture. We develop nano-based technologies to engineer neuronal growth.”

Another important study currently being held at the Neuro-Engineering lab is exploring the  effectiveness of nanoparticles as agents to control neuronal differentiation, growth and behavior. Shefi has already proven that magnetic nanoparticles spur nerve growth, which can potentially be harnessed for clinical applications. She is also involved in developing devices for drug delivery and nano-agents into tissue mass.

For more about the work being done at the Neuro-Engineering Lab click here.