Cell Biology Experts Honored for Unlocking Mysteries of the Nervous System


Prof. Elior Peles

The nervous system is one of the most complex parts of the body, and for their efforts to provide a deeper understanding of one of its biggest mysteries, Professors Elior Peles and Matthew Rasband have been named recipients of BSF’s Neufeld Memorial Research Award.

The honor is given to new BSF grantees considered to have the most outstanding and original new BSF project in the health services field. Peles is a professor in the Department of Molecular Cell Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Rasband holds the Vivian L. Smith Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Their project involves a complex study of nodes of Ranvier, also known as myelin-sheath gaps. Myelin is an insulating membrane sheath produced by specialized glial cells in the central nervous system (which includes nerves in the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (nerves throughout the rest of the body.) Myelin enables fast and efficient nerve conduction that is essential for proper body function, and in some cases, even survival. Destruction of myelin leads to several neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, and is also associated with psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

As important as these nodes are, little is known about how they are formed and maintained. Peles and Rasband hope to change that by using newly developed genetic mouse models to dissect the molecular mechanisms that are intrinsic to the creation of these nodes. A more thorough understanding of this could lead to advances in treatment for many maladies, including neuropathic pain, spinal cord injury, schizophrenia, myasthenia gravis, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.

Prof. Matthew Rasband in his lab

Peles and Rasband already share a BSF grant for this project, and the Award comes with an additional grant that will allow both professors more opportunities to share their ideas and discoveries.

“Support by the BSF allows us to define how myelinating glial cells control the functional organization of the axon (the part of a nerve cell where impulses are conducted from the cell body to other cells), thereby advancing the development of successful treatments for peripheral neuropathies and white matter diseases,” Peles said.

The Award is named in memory of Dr. Henry Neufeld, an internationally prominent cardiologist and scholar. who served continuously on the BSF Board of Governors from its charter meeting in 1973 until his death in December 1986. He championed the need to help young scientists become established, and wanted to enhance interdisciplinary research at the cutting edges of science.

“We really appreciate both the recognition and the opportunities that this honor brings us,” Rasband said. “We are very excited about where this project may lead.”