Atena Zahedi graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Southern California. During her academic training at USC, she applied pertinent scientific formulas and MATLAB computational software in order to simulate neural signals and systems. One fascinating project was modeling the David Willshaw neural network in the developing and functioning visual system, which showcased synaptic plasticity.
She began her graduate work as a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Bioengineering at University of California, Riverside in 2011. The focus of her research was on light-sensitive probes for the study and treatment of Alzheimer's Disease (AD), a neurodegenerative disorder where AB-deposits lead to synaptic loss in the brain. A promising approach to restore spine loss is spatial and temporal regulation of Actin-regulating proteins such as Rac, with the help of novel Optogenetic tools. Under the mentorship of Dr. Iryna Ethell from Biomedical Sciences Department, she uses photoactivatable versions of these proteins in order to reverse the underlying actin reorganization involved in synaptic degeneration and discern the effects of activation in mouse models in vitro and in vivo. She is also using advanced modeling software (Comsol, ImageJ, Chimera, etc.) to study the signaling pathways during neuronal growth and synapse formation.