Under normal circumstances, neurons in the mature central nervous system (CNS: brain, spinal cord, eye) cannot re-establish their connections after injury, nor can intact cells grow new connections to compensate for those that have been lost. As a result of this, victims of traumatic injury, stroke or neurodegenerative diseases can suffer permanent and often devastating losses in movement, sensation, bodily functions, and thinking. The goals of the Benowitz lab are to discover the basic mechanisms that control the growth of nerve connections and to apply insights from this work to promote regeneration and functional recovery after CNS injury.
Current projects focus on:
- Optic nerve regeneration: research on the molecular signals that enable the projection neurons of the eye (retinal ganglion cells) to regrow their connections through the optic nerve.
- Stroke and spinal cord injury: methods to enhance the rewiring of brain connections and improve functional outcome after stroke or spinal cord injury.
- Inosine and cell signaling pathways: the small, naturally occurring molecule, inosine, stimulates certain types of nerve cells to extend nerve fibers in cell culture and in vivo. Inosine appears to stimulate a cell signaling pathway that controls the expression of a group of genes required for axon growth.
About Larry Benowitz
Larry Benowitz received his PhD in Biology from CalTech and completed fellowships at CalTech, MIT, and Harvard Medical School. He joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School in 1979, where he is currently a Professor of Surgery and Director of the Laboratories for Neuroscience Research in Neurosurgery at Boston Children's Hospital.
At Boston Children's, he serves on the Research Faculty Council, the Surgical Research Council, and chairs the Steering Committee for Animal Resources (ARCH). At Harvard Med School, he is the Co-chair of the Committee on Awards and Honors and has taught in a number of courses. Extramurally, he serves on the review boards of the Journal of Neuroscience and the Journal of Neurosurgery and has served on review committees for the NIH and private foundations.
He has been invited to speak at many research centers and symposia, including most recently the University of Southern California/UCLA/UC Irvine workshop on Plasticity and Repair in Neurodegenerative Disorders, Williams College, The Wadsworth Center/SUNY Albany, the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Northwestern Univ. Med. Ctr., an NIH Roadmap Workshop on Transforming Regenerative Medicine, the American Academy of Neurology Symposium on the "Future of Neuroscience", the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation Symposium (Salzburg, Austria), the Symposium on Development and Plasticity of the Nervous System at the University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), the Lasker/IRRF Initiative for Innovation in Vision Research, and at the Burke Institute/Cornell Medical Center. His research has been reported in the international media and has received television coverage on CBS, CNN and the BBC.