Meet The Researcher

Dr Jun Yan

The University of Queensland, QLD

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I was born and raised on the campus of Beijing College of Mechanical Engineering, a university where my parents worked in Beijing, China. When I was young, I saw various machines and model blocks in the teaching classrooms and the workshops, and I played with these just like "Lego". I hoped at that age that I could be an engineer when I grew up so that I could play with them all the time. When the time came for me to choose what to study at university, bioengineering was just beginning to become popular. The Chinese pioneer of cloning, Prof Tong, Di-Zhou, had published his first result of bioengineering, a cloned fish, which influenced me so much. So I chose to learn “Engineering” in biology, and "play” with gene "Lego" to create and change lives. Since then, my career has been devoted to life sciences. I am so grateful I made it my career, which has given me opportunities to fight diseases like MS.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
After postdoctoral training, I joined my current research group and have been working on MS since then. My original intention was to apply what I had learned during my PhD to solving clinical problems, no matter what the disease. However, as an MS researcher, I have opportunities to interact with people with MS. I saw the effort that many people with MS and their families and friends put into supporting our MS research: working very hard to do fundraising activities, donating blood and tissues, and generally giving much of themselves to ensure that the research could go ahead. All this inspired me and expended my initial willing as not just to participate in MS research, but also to try my best for people with MS, too, so that together we can find a cure.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
Since I started working on MS in 2001 there have been many improvements in the treatments available for people with MS, which has been fantastic to see. But there have also been enormous advances in the technologies available in science, too, and I always feel that scientific development will enable us to fight against any disease, including MS. One such example of this is the technology that we will be using in our project, where you can take skin cells from people, and manipulate them in a laboratory dish so that they revert to a very primitive form. Then we can grow these primitive cells under conditions that would be experienced in the brain to produce little mini-brains-in-a-dish, which can then be used to study how some gene mutations that we find in people with MS affect the brain tissue.
Tell us about your current research project...
Our current research project is to investigate how NF-kB activity is regulated in the central nervous system in MS. NF-kB is a critical regulatory molecule that is involved in the cell inflammatory/pro-inflammatory responses. Our research has identified an altered NF-kB activity in peripheral blood cells from people with MS. As NF-kB is presented in not only blood cells, but also in the cells of central nervous system, it is necessary to know how NF-kB is regulated in the brain in MS. Our study will use the brain cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). We will also use brain organoid derived from hiPSCs too. The results from this study will increase our insight into the human central nervous system in MS, and will also inform us MS treatment options.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
MS is a chronic inflammatory demyelinating disease that affects the central nervous system. It is important to understand the defects of the central nervous system and brain of MS, and to create a personalized treatment plan. Due to the difficulty of accessing the brain, MS researchers can only use animal models or mortem tissues in research; this has brought large experimental errors. Our research project overcomes this difficulty by using the brain cells derived from individual somatic cells to study the brain defects of MS. These cells can be as similar as living tissue, so their results are more accurate. Therefore our project is very important as it can increase our understanding of MS defects in the brain and central nervous system, and can help design personalized treatments for MS patients.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I really enjoy working in the lab, which is equipped for experimental study for testing and analysis. As MS researchers, we use different methods to discover these unknowns in MS in the laboratory. When we have a meaningful result in the lab that allows us to understand the disease more, I feel very happy and enjoyable. Research is expensive. To maintain continuous funding is a major challenge that we face all the time. Therefore, we would like to thank these people with MS and their families and friends for their support of MS research, and we would like to thank MS Australia for its generous funding of our project.
Read More

Newsletter subscription

  • Enter your details

Jun Yan