Dr. Mei Zhen < Back Next >
WHO: Senior Investigator; Lawrence and Judy Tanenbaum Research Chair in Developmental Neuroscience; Canada Research Chair in Brain and Behaviour; Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Genetics and Microbiology, University of Toronto.
WHAT: When neurons form synapses to communicate with each other, the wiring for our sensory, motor and cognitive experience is formed. Dr. Mei Zhen is studying how synapses form in the nervous system – the wiring of the brain that makes us who we are.
Dr. Zhen’s research has implications for a vast range of diseases, including psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, depression and bi-polar disorder, neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and genetic disorders related to development of the nervous system.
The biochemical mechanisms responsible for synapse formation are still not well understood, in large part because of the size and complexity of the nervous system. In order to study synapse formation, Dr. Zhen uses an innovative research model – a small roundworm called C. elegans – that has fewer than 10,000 synapses compared to the estimated 1014 to 1015 (a quadrillion) synapses in the adult human brain.
Dr. Zhen has shown that, in spite of the vast difference in complexity, the human and C. elegans are likely to use similar sets of genes to make synapses. Her innovative approach has provided much more information than earlier methods of studying synapses, which called for a labour-intensive preparation of animal samples to be studied with an electron microscope. Dr. Zhen’s lab is at the forefront of building a knowledge base of the human brain in health and disease – an important tool for the field of neurobiology.
WHY: Dr. Zhen’s goal is a breakthrough in understanding brain development, synapse formation and how to treat the brain when it’s diseased or damaged.
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