Neurobiologist receives early career fellowship from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

March 21, 2013

Wei Wei, PhD

Wei Wei, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago, has been named a 2013 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awards fellowships annually in science, mathematics, economics and computer science to early-career scholars of outstanding promise "in recognition of distinguished performance and a unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field."

Wei studies how neural circuits are assembled during development to perform specific visual tasks, such as motion detection, and how their specific, intricate wiring patterns impact visual processing.

She has developed an innovative approach, combining genetic labeling with state-of-the-art circuit-analysis techniques, to characterize and manipulate selected synapse types and to correlate synaptic-level mechanisms with circuit function.

The retina is a classic model system for studying how synaptic circuits implement and perform neural computations, Wei said. Visual processing begins when light strikes retinal photoreceptors. The retina collects that information and sends abstract visual features, such as color, motion and contrast, to higher brain centers through at least 15 parallel channels, each with its own dedicated neural circuit. Further visual processing of these extracted visual features occurs in higher brain centers.

"Our work is designed to provide definitive answers to the outstanding questions that remain about how these retinal circuits function," she said. "It will also provide insight into the general principles of synaptic development and organization in sensory processing."

It may also contribute to better vision care. "Dysfunction of retinal circuits is the ultimate cause of visual impairment in most eye diseases," Wei said. Understanding how retinal circuits process visual information during normal vision is essential for better diagnosis and developing more effective treatments for eye disease.

The Sloan Research Fellowship is for two years, and each winner receives $50,000. More information about the award is available at www.sloan.org/sloan-research-fellowships.

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