Israeli, American scientists reach breakthrough in brain research

“This is a problem that everyone dreams of solving,” Dr. Sinefeld said, referring to the difficulty in successfully examining thick brain tissue.

From Right to Left: Pig’s brain; standard MRI brain scan; new MRI scan showing differences in molecular makeup in different parts of the brain (photo credit: SHIR FILO/HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
From Right to Left: Pig’s brain; standard MRI brain scan; new MRI scan showing differences in molecular makeup in different parts of the brain
(photo credit: SHIR FILO/HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
An Israeli researcher and a group of scientists from Cornell University have made a new breakthrough in the field of brain imaging, potentially providing valuable insight into future brain research.
Dr. David Sinefeld, a professor at the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), along with his Cornell University counterparts, used advanced microscopy methods developed in Prof. Chris Xu’s lab at Cornell in their efforts to image and catalog "the fine structure and activity of an adult zebrafish brain," according to a press release.
While it may not immediately sound like a dramatic feat, it could open up completely new possibilities in the field of neurological research.
“This is a problem that everyone dreams of solving,” Dr. Sinefeld said, referring to the difficulty in successfully examining thick brain tissue, especially through adult fish scales.
Dr. David Sinefeld (Credit: Jerusalem College of Technology)Dr. David Sinefeld (Credit: Jerusalem College of Technology)
Mapping the brain of the zebrafish in such detail is significant because all vertebrate brains are similar in nature. The research therefore serves as a stepping-stone to better understanding the human brain.
The press release noted that "although scientists usually use mice and monkeys as models for the human brain, zebrafish are another viable option."
"All vertebrate brains are, to a first approximation, the same, with nearly all brain regions [present] in nearly every vertebrate," Joseph Fetcho, professor of neurobiology and behavior told the Cornell Chronicle. "This is not surprising because they all, even the simplest ones, have to do the same things to survive and reproduce."
Explaining how the microscopy method used in his team's research worked, Dr. Sinefeld said that the method uses "special lasers with extremely short pulses which interact with the molecules in the brain in a way that allows separation between this interaction and the scattered light from other tissue layers."  
"This means that we can shine a laser beam through fish scales, and still see the neurons behind them, allowing us to image specific neurons deep in the brain with very high resolution,” he added.
Moreover, the laser repeatedly scans a certain section of the brain, garnering a three-dimensional image of its structure. Other methods of scanning and imaging the brain used today (MRI for example) don't provide high enough resolution in order to see the neurons and delicate structure inside.
Dr. Sinefeld pointed out that this new possibility may provide us with a better understanding of how the brain reacts to diseases and recovers over time.  
"This method opens a new horizon for animal brain research. We can now see better how the brain works," he said. "This research allows us to monitor a full zebrafish brain over time. For instance, after applying this tool to fish engineered to have certain brain disorders the images can then decipher how the brain changes as the fish mature. Likewise, the images can then also see how the fish respond to treatment over time and can lead to dramatic implications in how we understand brain functions and their disorders."
Dr. Sinefeld hopes to continue his efforts in the field of microscopy at the JCT and is in the process of applying for grants and funding to build a new lab dedicated to this discipline at the school.
“This could be a game-changer in the field of neuroscience. I am excited for the opportunity to establish these novel methods In Israel and specifically in JCT,” he concluded.