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Weissman Professor Receives $1.4 Million National Institutes of Health Grant to Study Neurons



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Pablo Peixoto PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, in his lab

Pablo Peixoto, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences at Baruch College, was awarded a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will fund Professor Peixoto’s research into how neurons adapt to frequently changing levels of activity.

The rewiring of the human brain as a result of physical or emotional trauma, represents one example of the way in which neurons are reshaped in a process referred to as synaptic plasticity, explained Professor Peixoto.

“This award is further proof of the excellence and potential of our research environment at Baruch College. I am grateful to my students and colleagues at the Department of Natural Sciences. As for the research itself, aside from its broader impacts, what most excites me is that we get to combine really cool tools like optogenetics, electrophysiology, and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy to tackle even cooler questions,” said Professor Peixoto.

Studying How Neurons Are Reshaped

In addition, new learning experiences cause our neurons to reshape their connections and even create new ones, stated Professor Peixoto. “We know that this reshaping process is impaired after certain types of brain injury and that it decreases as we age. Deciphering this reshaping process may help us modulate it in the future to treat those diseases or even improve normal brain function.”

According to Professor Peixoto, the research has the potential to provide insight into possible treatments for certain types of brain injuries and to understand how the reshaping process works.

The research team will identify the neuronal factors responsible for the reshaping process through the use of transgenic fruit flies. These flies were engineered to specifically control and measure the strength of discrete neuronal connections.

“The results will have a direct impact in drug design and treatment interventions for age-related neurodegenerative diseases,” Professor Peixoto said.

Professor’s Background Mirrors That of His Students

Professor Peixoto teaches introductory biology to majors and non-majors, science seminars to Macaulay Honors students, and human physiology.

The NIH grant, which extends through August 2024, will cover a post-doctoral fellow, a graduate student, and up to five undergraduates who will serve as research assistants. It will also contribute to strengthening local and international collaborations, as well as the research environment in the Department of Natural Sciences at Weissman.

Professor Peixoto grew up in Brazil in fragile socio-economic circumstances. He said his career would not have been possible if he had not been given the opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate.

“That opportunity transformed my life, first because it turned me from a passive student into an active and avid learner. Second, because it helped me break free from the cycle of poverty where I grew up back in Brazil,” he said. “Now as an associate professor my career goal aligns with Baruch’s mission and strategic plan, which is rooted in building a nurturing and diverse learning environment in the classroom and in the laboratory.”

Baruch College’s Office of Sponsored Programs and Research provided support for the grant process.

To learn more about the Professor Peixoto research visit: peixotolab.org

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(Story published on 9/3/20)

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