USC Center for Neuronal Longevity (CNL) Pursues Transformative Advance in Prevention and Treatment of Neurodegenerative Diseases

By Azad M. Madni, GIBT Affiliated Faculty

The USC Center for Neuronal Longevity (CNL) has a specific mission: become a world-leading center of excellence with a focus on creating adaptive, interventional bioengineered systems for delivering electromagnetic fields to prevent and treat prevalent neurodegenerative diseases of the brain and retina that today have no foreseeable cure. 

Led by Mark Humayun, MD, PhD, and a team of world-class researchers with expertise in complementary disciplines, the center is pursuing a game-changing advance in preventing neuronal loss in neurodegenerative diseases. Unlike existing approaches that focus on developing neuroprosthesis by bypassing damaged tissues to restore senses such as hearing and sight and reduce Parkinson tremor, the CNL approach focuses on achieving “neuronal longevity” by preventing neuronal loss in neurodegenerative diseases. This research focus is based on a single key insight: lost neurons cannot be restored. CNL intends to create a new class of microscale and nanoscale engineered systems that, in their final incarnation will be controllable in part by widely available portable devices. These systems, embodying this key advance, are expected to induce primary healing and/or prevent further neuronal and functional loss. 

Gianluca Lazzi, PhD, and Arthur Toga, PhD serve as CNL deputy directors, bringing their scientific expertise and track records in leading successful interdisciplinary initiatives and institutes to CNL’s management structure. CNL’s convergent research themes are specifically intended to fill gaps and overcome limitations in existing technologies, while at the same time increasing understanding of molecular mechanisms involved in neuroprotection. The resulting “bioengineered systems for neuronal longevity” will exploit CNL’s expertise in engineering, neuroscience, data science, material science, and medicine in conjunction with deep knowledge of biology and biochemistry. Equally important, the CNL team’s expertise in STEM education and pedagogy will assure effective knowledge transfer within the team.

The key research pillars of CNL are:

  1. a systemic focus rooted in extending neuronal longevity, a departure from today’s corrective strategy that calls for bypassing damaged tissues
  2. a transdisciplinary team of researchers with complementary expertise and synergistic goals to pursue this revolutionary advance
  3. a combination of testbeds that enable the realization of bioengineered systems for controlled remodeling of the retina to treat blindness, and bioengineered multi-model stimulation systems to prevent neuronal degeneration
  4. an innovative workforce development strategy that accelerates the development of an interdisciplinary workforce that reflects diversity and a culture of inclusion

The CNL intends to accomplish both societal and scientific impact by minimizing the annual economic burden of neurodegeneration, while accelerating discovery of novel bioengineered systems and creation of new tools for collaborative technology validation. For additional information on CNL, please contact: