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Talents in science

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Joshua E. Burda, PhD. is a Neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. His target is to investigate the contribution of astrocytes. Here is our short interview. 

City or countryside, what’s better?
I like both. I live in West Hollywood, Los Angeles. A great thing about L.A. is that you’re never too far from the outdoors. I like to do a lot of camping, hiking and cycling in my leisure time.

What motivates you to go to work every day?
I think it’s an honor studying something that I know in my heart is meaningful and will be impactful for treating people living with spinal cord injury. There are lot of patients on the other side that are waiting for a cure. This is a bit of pressure but very motivating.

Do you know someone who is spinal cord injured?
Yes, actually, one of my good friends from graduate school – also a neuroscientist – had an injury when he was teenager and has been in a wheelchair ever since.

Can you explain your research project in a few, simple words?
People with incomplete spinal cord injuries often experience varying degrees of spontaneous recovery of functions that were lost after the injury. This natural recovery is thought to take place when neural circuits connecting the brain and the spinal cord reorganize themselves. Although this process is not well understood, we strongly believe that astrocytes, a special kind of support cell in the nervous system, play a key role. My project aims to uncover the molecular pathways that astrocytes and nerve cells use to regulate such processes of spontaneous recovery. The idea is then to use this knowledge to create therapies that enhance nervous system regeneration after injury.

How much do we know about the biology of a spinal cord injury at this point?
I think we understand around 20 per cent. This might sound like a small number, but spinal cord injury is a highly complex problem. The good news is that we likely do not need to understand 100 per cent – the crucial piece of the puzzle could be just a few experiments away.

What are your dreams and plans for the future?
Running my own laboratory at a biomedical research institute has been my primary goal for many years. Over the coming years, I will be applying for faculty positions that will allow me to reach this goal. My hope is to develop my laboratory at a research institute in California and to continue collaborating with Michael Sofroniew and other scientists in the hunt to uncover important spinal cord injury biology and the development of effective therapies.

When will there be a cure?
I’m often asked by my friends and family, “Where do you see all this going in the future?” I firmly believe that cures for spinal cord injury-associated disabilities are near. Right now is one of the most exciting times in the history of neuroscience research. Our current level of understanding of nervous system development, injury and regeneration, taken with the powerful tools we now have to address the many important remaining questions, is allowing research to progress at previously unimaginable speeds.

Dr Burda’s research is partly funded by Wings for Life. The target is to investigate the contribution of astrocytes to functional recovery after spinal cord injury. Learn more here