Welcome back to our series involving online interviews of our main partners from the Neureka Consortium, where they get the chance to tell us a little bit about their expertise and contributions towards this multi-national project.
What is Neureka?
NEUREKA is an innovative hybrid technology where nanoelectrodes and sophisticated computational models are combined to obtain readouts and to manipulate activity and connectivity in culture neuronal networks modeling Alzheimer’s disease.
In this video, Dr. Praveena Manogaran, Senior Scientist at MaxWell Biosystems interviews Professor Dr. Panayiota Poirazi, project coordinator of the NEUREKA grant. She is also Director of the Research and Head of the Dendrites Lab at the Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas, in the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Greece.
Interview – Prof. Dr. Panayiota Poirazi
- Details on your own background and expertise.
“I trained in mathematics at the University of Cyprus, so my degrees in Mathematics and Statistics, and then I did my Master’s in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California in the US, in Los Angeles, and a PhD in Computational Neuroscience in the same department.”
- What is the main role of your lab in the NEUREKA project?
“My lab is the coordinator of the Neureka project, and our main contribution is essentially to develop a computational model of the brain circuits that we are studying. The computational model is trying to replicate the disease of interest, which is Alzheimer’s. In other words, we’re building a network of neurons that suffer from some of the electrophysiological and anatomical deficits of Alzheimer’s neurons. And then once we have this network model, we are using it to drive activity in the culture of neurons that are cultured on top of nanoware arrays, as part of the Neureka project. And we use a computational model so as to fine tune the stimulation protocols that we deliver to these chips with the aim of first reproducing the Alzheimer’s phenotype in the dish, in the in the culture of neurons, and as a second aim to restore some of the deficits by delivering appropriate stimulation patterns. Now this whole closed-loop system, the idea is also to use it as a drug screening device so as to assess whether stimulation through the computational model is helping the drugs that will be delivered on tops of the Alzheimer’s neurons to have a more effective function or a faster effect.”
- What are the main contributions of the NEUREKA project that will advance your specific field of research?
“There are multiple fields that are involved in this project, and we have advances in many of them. For example, I can speak about my own discipline, which is the development of computational models and their utilization so as to help society and medicine. And it is really important to show that this project is a success because we’re essentially applying a tool, which is a simulation, is a computational model, to develop a new drug treatment for a disease. So this will essentially highlight the usefulness of these kind of tools for treating medical conditions. It will also open a new direction in integrating computational tools with experimental approaches such as neuronal cultures, but also material developments such as the nanoarray chips to show that if we work together and we integrate these different approaches, then we can have an impact, let’s say, on different fields in this particular case and in medicine and the societal consequences of Alzheimer’s.”
- How many researchers are involved in your group and what is their expertise?
“In the Neureka project we have people that are involved at different stages. There is one advanced senior postdoctoral fellow who is mostly responsible for the development of the computational model of Neureka, we call it the arts model. His expertise is in physics, he has a physics degree and then he did a PhD in my lab and he’s been around for many years and he’s now a very advanced senior postdoctoral fellow with expertise in computational model in Neureka science. And there are many other PhD students that occasionally help in different aspects of this model development that have to do, let’s say, with the validation of the model so as to produce the Alzheimer’s phenotype or with the development of different stimulation protocols so that they are ideal for the early deputies of Alzheimer’s and the different people working on these different protocols. And the background of the people in the lab varies a lot so we have people with a chemistry degree, an engineering degree, biology degree, medicine, you know physics I mentioned already so our lab is highly interdisciplinary. So many of the master students do a small contribution to the project, let’s say helping to shape the model and then they move on so we have numerous people that come and go doing the project.”
- NEUREKA is an interdisciplinary project across Europe, can you elaborate on the impact of the project partners on your research?
“Well the impact impact is very high on different aspects, I mean at the scientific level we get to discover let’s say niche areas where we can have an important contribution and that we can work together to make a difference. Like for example before this project I could not really imagine how our computational models could work together you know on the same system with a nano array chip. I mean there are ways to stimulate nano array chips but typically you don’t really do this with a specific computational model so this was a new development that and significant impact for us that emerged from this particular project and I think overall the interdisciplinary aspect of Neureka is highlighting these opportunities for all of the partners not only us and one of them as I said is the scientific impact so discovering how you can work together with different disciplines. The other one obviously is the possibility of making a difference by developing a new drag screen device which can have impacts at the significant impact on in the medical field but also at the societal level. Other impacts include the ability of our lab members to get exposed to different techniques or even to travel and do a smaller part of their dissertation or a research project in other labs. So it’s knowledge exchange, transferring of new skills, developing ideas for you know interdisciplinary projects and then a higher associated possibility also economic impact that can emerge.”
- General remarks and project outlook.
“We are hoping in the end to come up with a new device that that can help and can work as a new drag screen tool. I mean we’re not there yet, we’re about halfway through the project and we haven’t really demonstrated yet that such a system could indeed provide an alternative for a new drag screen device. So I’m hoping that we will succeed in this and we will know about this very soon. In fact in the next few months we have already developed a closed loop system but we haven’t really put it into the test to see whether we can reproduce Alzheimer’s or reverse its deficits in the dish. So the ultimate outlook or the ultimate let’s say output would be to have a successful product.”
Thank you Prof. Dr. Panayiota Poirazi for taking the time to tell us a little bit more about your background and expertise. We are very much looking forward to hearing more updates on your contributions to the NEUREKA project!
Stay tuned for our upcoming NEUREKA PI interview, which will come out in Autumn 2023. Visit neureka.gr for more details and updates on the NEUREKA project.