Engineer to study gut-brain axis with Scialog grant

July 5, 2022

By Sarah Small

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Aida Ebrahimi, assistant professor of electrical engineering and of biomedical engineering in the Penn State College of Engineering, has been selected as one of 13 researchers from seven multidisciplinary teams to receive a 2022 Scialog: Microbiome, Neurobiology and Disease Award. The $55,000 grant will allow Ebrahimi to conduct research to expand the understanding of the gut-brain axis.

Ebrahimi and her collaborator, Elizabeth Bess, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, will study how specific dietary molecules combined with the gut microbiome may shape the risk and incidence of Parkinson’s disease.

“We aim to characterize in real time the molecular-level mechanisms of alpha-synuclein aggregation, which leads to the death of neurons in the motor cortex of the brain and consequently causes motor dysfunction, a hallmark symptom of Parkinson’s disease,” Ebrahimi said. “Additionally, we plan to develop a new, high-throughput sensing device to identify novel inhibitors of the aggregation.”

The results could one day help with finding pharmacological solutions to inhibit the pathogenic process that leads to the death of the neurons, as well as improve the overall understanding of the role of diet on the gut-brain-axis, according to Ebrahimi.

Scialog, a portmanteau of science and dialogue, was established by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement in 2010 to support “research, intensive dialogue and community building to address scientific challenges of global significance,” according to the Scialog website. In addition to the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the Scialog grant is supported by the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, the Frederick Gardner Cottrell Group and the Walder Foundation. Receiving of the Scialog award recognizes “the highly innovative nature of the proposed research and its potential to be transformative,” according to the award letter.

In 2020, Ebrahimi was named a Scialog Fellow, and in that role, she has participated in an annual conference with scientific leaders in fields such as chemistry, biology, microbiology and neuroscience, with the goal of designing and launching innovative, cross-disciplinary studies with the potential to transform our understanding of the gut microbiome and the ways in which it affects the brain.

The original press release for the Scialog: Microbiome, Neurobiology and Disease Awards can be found here.


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