Valentina Benfenati, Ph.D. is a senior researcher at CNR-ISOF. Her research interest regards understanding the role of astrocytes in brain function and pathologies. Toward this goal she is leading research on the development and validation of materials and devices that can stimulate/modulate/record/monitor the biochemical and biophysical properties of healthy and pathological glial cells, with particular regards to astrocytes. She pioneered and developed the concept of Glial Engineering and glial interfaces, with the vision to generate an ad hoc set of tools & technologies to enable fundamental studies on the multiscale role of glial cells in the brain’s cognitive functions as well as, in perspective, to achieve glial-mediated neuromodulation (stimulation/inhibition) for the therapy of injuries and neurological disease. Past Adjunct Professor of Physiology at Biomedical Engineering Programme at the University of Bologna (UNIBO). PhD in Cell Physiology and Neurophysiology at UNISI. Post doc at UNIBO, Italy; Marie Curie Fellow; EMBO Fellow and Visiting Researcher at CMBN, University of Oslo, Norway; Marco Polo fellow, IEM, Czech Academy of Science, University of Prague.
PI/co-PI of AFOSR research grants ASTROMAT, ASTRONIR, ASTROLIGHT, ASTRODYNE, 3D Neuroglia, Army Research Office ASTROGOLD, coordinator of EU-MSCA-2020 ASTROTECH (www.astrotechproject.eu) and Deputy coordinator of FP7-MSCA-2020 Olimpia. National MIUR Project, Progetto Bandiera, SILK-IT; FIRB-Futuro in Ricerca (RBFR12SJA8_002). Main author of 50 publications, 3 book chapters, 5 international patents.
Studies over the past four decades have enlightened neuroscientists toward the role of astrocytes in brain functions at multiple spatio-temporal scales and raised questions on the limits of the classical neuro-centric vision of the brain function. Accordingly, the role of ions, water and structural dynamics, waves and signaling of astrocytes is assuming relevance for brain communication processes, typically univocally assigned to neurons. A major obstacle in studying astrocytes is that most of the technologies used to probe and sense them are derived from those developed to study neurons.
In this presentation, Dr. Benfenati will review the results from her lab, allowed by means of highly collaborative, multidisciplinary, international research efforts enabled by the support of AFOSR-Biophysics Programm, and more recently from EU-MSCA-Horizon-2020.
Dr. Benfenati will provide insight on mechanisms underpinning the ability of astrocytes to sense, transduce and respond to chemo-physical stimuli and to communicate with neurons, enabled by the pioneered use of materials interface, technologies and ad-hoc approaches tailored to stimulate, monitor and modulate the structure and function of astrocytes.
The implications of the presented findings in fundamental knowledges on brain cognitive function and the potential applications of glial engineering in different fields will be discussed.