Dr. Rafi Haddad

Despite remarkable technological advances, cures for diseases and other developments, science has yet to find a way to quantify and qualify odors. Animals have already gotten the hang of it. Ants build roads, dogs can track people, drugs and other substances, parrots can identify fellow parrots, all based on their sense of smell. Dr. Rafi Haddad, who joined BIU’s Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center following a post-doc stint at Harvard, is working on revolutionizing our ability to measures smells, as head of BIU’s Neural Circuits, Neural Coding, Neural Computations and Olfaction lab.

 

“Animals’ sense of smell is as vital to them as vision is to humans. It provides them with important information about their surroundings,” explains Haddad. “We are trying to figure out how, for example, mosquitos find food in nature. Our objective is to understand their olfactory navigation mechanism in order to better cope with mosquito infestation. Millions of people die every year due to diseases contracted by mosquito bites, especially in third world countries. These olfaction-driven viruses also cause immeasurable damage to crops, endangering the food supplies of the entire human species. By understanding these insects’ navigational mechanism, we’ll be able to fight and even prevent this from occurring.”

 

Additional research being conducted in Haddad’s lab is in the field of Neural Coding and Computations. His team is trying to understand what neural features encode information, and how this information is stored, transformed, and decoded in other brain regions.  The brain is a complex organ composed of an enormous number of neurons interacting with each other. While we can understand how individual neurons operate, their collaborative control on behavior and perception has been very difficult to decipher. "My team and I aim to unravel neural network circuits in order to understand how they generate behavior and perception. Using optogenetics we can selectively activate and deactivate particular neurons by illuminating them with light. This provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to dissect neural circuits and link neural activity to function and behavior,” says Haddad.

 

The reason Haddad’s team is focusing on the olfactory system is its relatively simple architecture and its accessibility to optogenetic methods. Their success will be no easy feat. Haddad believes that understating how neurons work together will have a tremendous impact on many aspects of our lives, from improving computer algorithms to developing new medicines.

 

For more on Dr. Haddad's work click here.