PI: Jessica Zhang
Co-PI(s): Adam Feinberg
University: Carnegie Mellon University

Neurons exhibit long neurite extensions that are fundamental to the formation of the interconnected network that constitutes the nervous system. However, how neurites initiate extension from a neuron and differentiate into an axon or dendrites remains poorly understood. In this proposal, we aim to develop advanced finite element simulation and 3D printing techniques to investigate neurite initiation from a spherical neuron and differentiation into an axon or dendrites.

To achieve this goal, we propose the following two specific aims:

  1. develop an advanced finite element technique to simulate neurite initiation and differentiation in 3D based on isogeometric analysis and truncated hierarchical B-splines
  2. validate simulation results of neurite outgrowth from the neuron and branching using 3D printing techniques.

This project will develop computational tools that enable accurate 3D modeling and efficient simulation of critical neuron morphological growth including neurite initiation and differentiation. These computational tools will provide important insights into the physiology and disease of neurons and will be made publicly available to the research community. The need for this kind of technology is critical, and has the potential to lead to transformative advances in the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease) that can impact millions of patients per year. Understanding the factors that drive human neurogenesis is required for building better in vitro human disease models for drug discovery and neurotoxicity studies. Similarly, future in vivo applications in the repair of neurological defects for elderly patients require the types of advanced numerical simulation and 3D biofabrication technologies we will develop.