NJIT biomedical engineer receives NSF Career Development Award

June 19, 2008

Bryan J. Pfister, PhD, a specialist in neural tissue engineering, has been awarded a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Pfister, who is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at NJIT's Newark College of Engineering, received the award to support and expand his research into rapid axon stretch growth, a technique for regenerating damaged or diseased nerve cells.

In collaboration with a team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, Pfister, of Newtown, PA, recreated in the laboratory a natural form of axon growth that occurs through stretching as an individual grows from embryo into early adulthood.

By studying how nerves grow through the stretching technique, he hopes to find clues to repairing traumatic injuries to the spinal cord and other nerve tissue. The team also hopes to develop a nerve-tissue interface that would allow for a thought-controlled prosthesis that would behave like a natural limb.

The research recapitulates an unrecognized and extremely rapid form of nervous system growth that occurs during an organism's development. As animals grow, nerves that initially span a very short distance continue to undergo enormous growth and can reach meters in length in large animals.

"For example, the blue whale can grow an estimated 4 centimeters per day," said Pfister. "And the giraffe's neck increases by about 2 centimeters per day at peak growth. Naturally, the nerves are forced to rapidly expand as well." He added that the mechanical stretching forces resulting from the growth of an animal may be the key mechanism that initiates and maintains nervous system growth.

As part of the NSF Career program, researchers incorporate educational programs into their investigation. In addition to the seven graduate students on his research team, Pfister has a team of six undergraduates who are helping him build a device that uses live imaging techniques to study axon growth.

Pfister received his PhD in materials science engineering and his MS degree in mechanical engineering, both from Johns Hopkins University, and his BS degree in interdisciplinary engineering and management from Clarkson University.
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NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, at the edge in knowledge, enrolls more than 8,000 students in bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 92 degree programs offered by six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, New Jersey School of Architecture, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, Albert Dorman Honors College and College of Computing Sciences. NJIT is renowned for expertise in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. In 2006, Princeton Review named NJIT among the nation's top 25 campuses for technology and top 150 for best value. U.S. News & World Report's 2007 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities.

New Jersey Institute of Technology

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