NSERC-CREATE | Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program

Research

Developing synthetic substrates and matrices that promote and guide axon growth: A major focus of the CREATE team involves the development of methods to direct extending axons precisely to appropriate synaptic targets. This involves a multi-faceted approach to interfacing neurons to artificial substrates. For example, substrates are deliberately patterned with proteins to direct axon guidance. Methods are being developed to create extracellular environments on which growth-promoting, adhesion and guidance proteins are organized in complex spatial patterns and predetermined concentration gradients. Microcontact printing is used to direct the outgrowth of specific classes of neurons via the generation of gradients. Novel light- sensitive polymers are also used to direct axon growth.
Formation of functional synapses on synthetic biosensors: Axons can be induced to make working synapses onto artificial structures, both in vitro as well and in vivo. Methodologies developed by CREATE team members provide entries into the identification and characterization of synpatogenic molecules in vitro. Recent work has demonstrated that presynapses can also be induced to form on non-neuronal cells artificially engineered to express a very limited number of specific synaptogenic postsynaptic proteins. Our research seeks to identify molecules that can be used to regulate the specificity of synthetic synapses formed onto the beads.
Opto-electric and optical read-out of synthetic synapses between neurones: We are very active in developing functioning neuron-machine interfaces for eventual application in prosthetic devices for patients with devastating disruptions of spinal or nerve conduction.