Neurons and Networking

On Wednesday, July 24, 2013 there was an evening event at the Max Planck Institute Florida (MPFI) titled “Neurons and Networking“. By now, there are three institutes with a focus on Neuroscience in Jupiter within just a few hundred yards of each other:

This event was co-organized by the above three and Dr. Michael Gregson from the LifeScience-Technology Hub (LST-Hub). There were more than 160 attendees, filling the main auditorium to maximum capacity and spilling over into an overflow room with live video feed. Three scientific talks were given, one from a scientist of each of the above institutions, as well as some context provided by Michael Gregson, Dr. David Fitzpatrick (CEO MPFI) and Rod Murphey. A common theme was the synergy between the labs and researchers of these institutions, literally bringing together a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

In addition to the presented science, it was an excellent networking event for professionals in the Life Sciences and beyond. Attached below are my notes taken during the lectures.

Meeting Notes from Neuron and Networking Event

Meeting Notes from Neuron and Networking Event

Neurons & Networking
Event 2013/07/24 at MPFI, Scripps, FAU

Introduction by Michael Gregson about the “Trifecta” of Scripps, MPFI, and FAU

Introduction of Max Planck Society by Dr. David Fitzpatrick, CEO MPFI
“Insight precedes application”
-> today’s fundamental understanding leads to tomorrow’s cure of brain disorders
New technologies for imaging neural structure, function, and development

  • Linking Molecules and Memory
    Dr. Ryohei Yasuda

    • Goal
      Is to understand how memory works in the brain at a molecular level.
    • Hippocampus
      Small seahorse shaped structure in our brain vital for memoryFamous case of Henry Molaison (1926-2008) who had hippocampus removed at age 16;
      Could not form any new memories after that, but old memory was not affected.Zoom in to cross section of hippocampus down to neuron levelDendrite and Axons, Spines (connection points)
      – 10,000 spines / neuron,
      – 100,000,000,000 neurons / brain

      Glutamate release at synapse can move electric pulse from one dendrite to another axon
      More releases lead to increase in Glutamate receptors, hence strengthening the synapse.

      Molecular basis of signaling enzymes is very complex.

      Ryohei developed microscope to see inside the synapse formation at spines.

    • Alzheimer’s Disease
      Most common form of dementia,Symptoms include difficulty in remembering recent eventsAt present no cure or preventionIn affected brains there is a high concentration of Beta-Amyloid, which prevents formation of spines.

      Signaling molecule Centaurin is increased; when Centaurin is removed / inhibited, spine formation returns.

      Drugs to remove Centaurin will be tested in mice soon!

      Causes for Centaurin are poorly understood. Some factors for Centaurin increase may be genetically controlled.

  • The NeuroScience of Autism
    Damon Page, graduate at Cambridge, UK, postdoc at Harvard on autismIntroduced by Ron Davis, Director of Department of Neuroscience at Scripps
    “Memory is all you ever really own!”
    Mission is to unravel the mysteries of brain function, identify the causes of brain dysfunction, and train young scientists for research careers in brain health

    • Autism Spectrum Disorder
      ASD has broad impacts in social interaction, communication, repetitive motor sequences and restricted interests. Often linked to a lack of understanding how others are thinking / feeling.4:1 male to female ratio – for unknown reasonsIncreased rate of diagnosis. Partly die to better awareness, but only about half accounted for by that. The other half is part genetic, part environmental.
    • Genetic risk factors
      Autism is one of the most heritable neurological disorders
      The cause of autism is unknown in the majority of cases
      20% of cases are associated with a known genetic risk factorUsually multiple genetic changes come together in any particular ASD case.Study with mice (clean genetic background)Is there a common biological pathway that autism risk factors act in?

      Can we identify symptoms relevant to autism in animal models of risk factors?

    • Research
      What could be called Pharmacogenetics:
      Finding drugs that target genetically controlled disorders.

      • Brain Overgrowth
        Macrocephaly – head and brain enlargementsLinked to gene PTEN (influencing the mTOR pathway)Typically ~20% size increase of brain, w/o increase in body size.
        Number of neuron bodies increase, their size remains about the same.
      • Social Interaction Deficits
        Famous patient Donald T. Book: “Autism’s First Child” on this patientStudy with mice (on how they interact with other mice)Hypothesis: social behavioral deficits can be corrected by targeting one specific serotonin receptor; hyperactive in animals with disorder; if we suppress it, return to normal social behavior.
  • Jupiter Life Science Initiative
    Rod Murphey

    • Neuroscience in Jupiter
      Facilitates recruiting new faculty from FAU
      Energizes research collaborations with Jupiter partners”Connectome” of Jupiter Neuroscience community = Connections between various institutionsAcademic training in Neuroscience at Jupiter
  • From Genes to Drugs
    Ken Dawson-Scully

    • Fruit Fly Model
      The fruit fly as a model system for the discovery of molecules to rescue neural dysfunction and survival from stroke-like injuryInsects can tolerate enormous amounts of stress (high temperatures, low oxygen, oxidative)Fruit Fly is very well understood, entire genome is known, all genes can be expressed or suppressed.
      Can use genetic screens and/or pharmacological screens. (Inhibitors and activators)Fruit flies are quick and cheap to use; once targets are identified, researchers can move up to other organisms like mice.
    • Stress Analysis
      Understand how insects can tolerate prolonged intense stress which humans can’t and what controls the genetic targets of those mechanisms.
    • Translational Science
      Discovery of gene in flyUse of drug for modulating gene targetPatentsTranslate findings to mammals

      Translate treatments to humans

      • Startup Eco Neurologics Inc.
        Eco Neurologics Inc.1. Drug Discovery
        2. Patent Validation
        3. Novel indication Direct to Human Stroke/Reperfusion InjuryCandidate Drug Discovery:
        Reverse Approach via the deconstruction of Sildenafil (compound in Viagra)
        Building from library of natural molecules to improve on viagra for stroke prevention and EDGood example of LST-Hub synergy
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