New faculty member joins research team working on UNE’s largest neuroscience grant

Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison

June 09, 2017

Benjamin Harrison, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biomedical Science in the University of New England College of Osteopathic medicine, was recently approved as a new principle investigator in UNE’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) for the Study of Pain and Sensory Function. The center’s mission is to significantly contribute to the scientific understanding of the neurobiology of chronic pain, facilitating the discovery and development of novel therapies.

Harrison’s project, titled, "Genetic control of nociceptor anatomical plasticity in the adult peripheral nervous system," will investigate how sets of genes within neurons promote or inhibit neuronal axon growth in peripheral tissues. Such a mechanistic study is needed, as many diseases and conditions that involve a loss or overgrowth of sensory neurons (nociceptors) are often associated with chronic or persistent pain, conditions that are very difficult to treat with existing therapeutic strategies. If mechanisms regulating neuron growth can be better understood, it could lead to the advancement of therapies to moderate these neurons to control pain.

Harrison brings a broad background in biochemistry, genomics and bioinformatics to UNE. He has specific training and expertise in models of neuroplasticity in the adult peripheral nervous system. He completed his bachelor’s degree in molecular genetics at Swansea University in Wales where, in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline, he completed his undergraduate research dissertation on transcriptomics. He then went on to receive his Ph.D. from to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In Scotland, Harrison worked at the department of developmental neurobiology at King’s College London studying protein-protein interactions in signal transduction. Having decided to focus his research on mechanisms of neuroplasticity, Harrison moved to the United States for postdoctoral training at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center.

While the primary focus of the Harrison Laboratory is understanding of the mechanisms that regulate dystrophic changes in sensory axons during chronic pain, Harrison has an ongoing project looking at the mechanisms of a genetic alteration that is highly associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease. This research project was stimulated during studies looking at the role of sets of genes that regulate neuron growth, when one such gene was determined by other researchers to be modified in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

The center is funded through a COBRE grant from The National Institute of General Medical Science.

To learn more about UNE’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence for the Study of pain and Sensory Function, visit www.une.edu/research/cobre

To apply, visit www.une.edu/admissions

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