BME Professor Published Article in Nature Photonics

Michael W. Berns published in Nature Photonics journal

Professor Michael W. Berns, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and his research team have had an article published online in the Nature Photonics journal and it is the cover story of the journals January 2012 print issue.

Berns and his colleagues use an optically driven micromotor to study the control of nerve fiber movement called axons. The micromotor relies on the use of circularly polarized light with angular momentum to trap and spin a birefringent particle to create a controlled amount of microfluidic shear force against a living cell. Berns and his team of researchers demonstrated that the growth of a single nerve cell turns in a specific direction related to the micromotor spin direction and subsequent microfluidic flow direction. This is the first study to demonstrate that fluid shear forces can cause the turning of a nerve fiber and that there are “right turn” and “left turn” responses depending on the rotation of the spinning particles and the direction of the shear force.

Axonal path-finding is crucial to nerve repair and nerve regeneration. The group’s approach offers a new tool to study axon growth since the response to fluid flow is new. It also offers a way to accurately direct axonal growth in vitro, allowing one to make neurons connect to each other in specific patterns; and to build specific nerve circuits that could be used to study nerve function or to devise nerve circuits that could be used as bio-electronic devices.  This research may open the possibility for developing a new way to repair damaged nerves.

Berns is a co-founder of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic (BLI) and is The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Professor, Chairman and CEO of the Beckman Laser Institute non-profit corporation. Since 1972, he has been a professor in the School of Biological Science’s Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, and since 1982 the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery. In 1998, he became a professor in the Samueli School’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and in 1999 was instrumental in founding the Center for Biomedical Engineering which ultimately evolved into the School’s Department of Biomedical Engineering where he has since served as a professor.

Berns’ research team consists of Postdoctoral Scholar Tao Wu, Ph.D., BLI; Research Fellow Timo A. Nieminen, Ph.D., University of Queensland; Assistant Professor Samarendra Mohanty, Ph.D., the University of Texas at Arlington; Junior Specialist Jill A. Miotke, BLI; Professor Ronald L. Meyer, Ph.D., Department of Developmental and Cell Biology; and Professor Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, Ph.D., University of Queensland.

The article can be found online here