In Vivo Imaging of Cell Dynamics in Animal Models of Neurological Disorders

Friday, January 25, 2013 - 2:00pm
Fung Auditorium | Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall
Chris Schaffer, Ph.D.

Associate Processor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Cornell University

In Vivo Imaging of Cell Dynamics in Animal Models of Neurological Disorders


Our lab develops and uses advanced optical techniques to observe and manipulate in vivo biological systems, with the goal of constructing a microscopic-scale understanding of normal and disease-state physiological processes in the central nervous system. The scientific questions we address center principally on elucidating the cellular-scale interactions that lead to brain cell dysfunction. We develop novel optical methods that enable us to attack these problems in ways not previously possible, and because many of our research questions involve interactions among different components of an organism (e.g. effect of altered blood flow on brain cell health) we focus almost exclusively on in vivo approaches. In recent work, we are unraveling the pathways by which cortical microvascular dysfunction interacts with and exacerbates Alzheimer’s disease. We have discovered that the number of brain capillaries not flowing is elevated in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and that these capillary stalls are caused by firm adherence of leukocytes to inflamed capillaries. This result may partially explain the decreased cerebral blood flow seen in Alzheimer’s patients and points to novel therapeutic strategies. We have also explored how clots or hemorrhages in small brain blood vessels affect the health and function of nearby brain cells. Very recently, we are extending the capability to study cellular dynamics to the spinal cord, where we have explored the heterogeneity of axon dieback after spinal cord injury.


Chris Schaffer received his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Florida and his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University, where he worked with Eric Mazur. As a post-doc at University of California, San Diego, Chris worked with David Kleinfeld in the Physics and Neuroscience programs. He is currently an Associate Professor at Cornell University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. His research centers on the development of optical tools for in vivo manipulation of biological structures and the use of these tools to study the role of cortical microvascular lesions in neurological disease, with a current focus on the role of microvascular disruptions in Alzheimer’s disease. He is currently on sabbatical in Washington, DC, working as a science policy advisor for Representative Edward Markey in the United States Congress.