Development of Neuron-Glial Digital Twins

Supervisor: Maurizio De Pittà

Location: Neuron-Glia Interaction Lab, Krembil Research Institute

Eligibility: You must be a student of the Master’s Program in Biomedical Communications (MScBMC) [] at the University of Toronto at Mississagua (UTM)

Stipend: $10K/year on top of salary provided by the MScBMC program


Cellular digital twins are an emerging technology in personalized medicine. When applied to people, they build in silico representations of individual patients that dynamically reflect the molecular and physiological status of the patient’s organs at the cellular and tissue levels of resolution. Combining this notion with the fact that any brain pathology is a neuron-glial pathology makes neuron-glial digital twins extremely attractive for neuroscientists and medical professionals like neuroanatomopathologists and neurologists. Neuron-glial digital twins can indeed be adopted as high-fidelity models for the subcellular resolution of brain function that neuroscientists and clinicians can harness for histopathologic markers and drug design, with disruptive potential for future diagnostics and therapeutics.

While we know the essential molecular pathways underpinning neuron-glial interactions, we do not understand how the anatomy of such interactions shapes their function in the healthy and diseased brain. We thus aim to create 3D digital copies (i.e., twins) of prototypical glial cells that can realistically provide glimpses on intracellular molecular reactions at multiple levels of resolution. To this aim, we exploit visual effects (VFX) software to virtualize glial cells from experimentally-acquired data. At the same time, we take advantage of VFX-based animations to simulate dynamical features of neuron-glial physiology. This project aims to develop a prototypical VFX-based 3D reconstruction of glial cells and their essential intracellular molecular signals.



The project bears the potential to set several milestones:

  • It pioneers the use of VFX technology to aid neuroscience and clinical practice by developing unprecedented glial digital twins.
  • It pioneers the first highly-realistic simulation of prototypical glial cells, helping to resolve whole-cell signals and physiology, which current experiments cannot.
  • It paves the road for automated cell models to assess potential functional outcomes of new drugs in the treatment of many glial-related brain disorders.



For this project, we are looking for someone interested in the following:

  • Exploiting VFX software for educational purposes. This includes the advancement of fundamental knowledge in Neuroscience and Medicine and the development of high-fidelity glial reproductions for educational purposes tackling the lay audience like patients and undergraduates.
  • Learning VFX by Houdini FX software developed by Toronto-based SideFX. 
  • Developing design documents that explain application structure, look, and workflows. This will help the student build pre-production communication skills.
  • Learning about some of the hottest topics in current neuroscience research. Working in a computational neuroscience lab in a top-notch research facility in close interactions with other neuroscientists and medical doctors.


Contact and further information

Interested students are encouraged to reach out to Dr. De Pitta at the Krembil Research Institute ( upon coordination with their supervisor in the Master’s program. The project has an estimated duration of 18 months