Unraveling the Mysteries of the Brain


Shir Filo is a PhD student in computational neuroscience at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC). She was born and raised in Tzurit, a small village in northern Israel, where she enjoyed belonging to a tight-knit, supportive community.   

Drawn to the possibility of solving some of life’s biggest mysteries, Shir studied physics and biology in high school. She eventually chose to major in these two fields as an undergraduate student at the Hebrew University and was accepted to the Etgar track for excelling students in the life sciences.

After graduating, I realized I wanted to combine physics and biology in order to understand the most mysterious part of ourselves – the brain. Physics allows us to describe and understand the world so elegantly, and I believe that when it intersects with biology, the most interesting questions of our lives can be answered.

Developing a Quantitative MRI  

Today, Shir conducts her research in Dr. Aviv Mezer’s laboratory, developing new techniques for quantitative MRI. Currently, doctors estimate, by eye (qualitatively), whether MRI scans look normal. If they suspect a problem, the patient will undergo a painful and invasive biopsy – perhaps unnecessarily.

Yet nearly every other aspect of our healthcare is quantitative. We measure the temperature of our body in Celsius or Fahrenheit and measure the different components of our blood (red cells, white cells, platelets, etc). Why should MRI scans be any different? Shir has come up with a solution. Her biophysical models combine several MRI scans, providing quantitative information about brain tissue, including lipids and proteins.

Shir’s method can provide valuable information about the molecular changes that take place during aging, and it will be helpful for both research and clinical practice. For example, understanding what differentiates a healthily aging brain from an Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s brain, or even to estimate the grade of a brain tumor without a biopsy.

Not only is ELSC world-famous research center, but it also has a great sense of community, where everyone knows each other and are willing to help. Sometimes ELSC feels like a small village with a unique language and culture. It immediately draws you in and makes you feel like you belong.

Over the course of her studies, Shir has received numerous awards, including prizes from the University Rector and Dean for outstanding academic performance. She has co-published a number of articles and a book chapter.

September 2020


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