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Federal Grant to Florida Tech Professor Funds Continued Efforts to Map Brain

Nasri Nesnas Developing Molecular Tools to Aid in Charting Neural Pathways

MELBOURNE, FLA. — Florida Institute of Technology Associate Professor Nasri Nesnas has been awarded a three-year, $280,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue his work developing molecular tools that could help neuroscientists understand fundamental ways in which the brain works.

Nesnas’s proposal aims to improve photosensitive molecular tools that enable the “switching on” of specific synapses in the brain when laser light is applied – down to the scale of a single synapse. His molecular tools have already shown improved mapping ability and are being used by neuroscientists today.

The research funding comes at an auspicious time, said Nesnas, with the BRAIN Initiative introduced by President Obama in 2013 now underway. BRAIN, short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, is an ambitious, national undertaking that includes mapping brain circuits, studying brain activity and advancing the understanding of the brain through new methods of analysis.

Improving scientists’ understanding of how individual neurons connect with one another could lead to breakthroughs in handling diseases of the brain such as autism, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.

According to Michael Freund, professor and head of Florida Tech’s Chemistry Department, “Nesnas’ work has attracted the interest of researchers at Columbia University and Janelia Farm of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute because of its great potential to aid in understanding how the brain functions and mechanisms by which diseases can be cured.”

NIH commended Nesnas’ proposal for the promising potential impact it could have on neuroscience and the BRAIN Initiative and for its engagement of Florida Tech graduates and undergraduates as well as local high school students in this line of research.

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