The large number of pure neurons produced will allow Sun and her team to study their biological form and structure, the genes they express, the development of synapses and the electric and chemical communication activities within the synapse network.
We will be able to study the cellular properties of neurons in a very defined way that will maybe tell us what goes wrong in diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons, Sun said. Were currently creating many models of human neurological diseases that may provide the answers were looking for. We dont know what causes prefrontal dementia, Huntingtons disease or schizophrenia. The key is likely in the quality of neuronal communications. By studying the chemical and electrical transmissions, we may be able to determine what goes wrong that leads to these debilitating diseases and find a way to stop or treat it.
Sun will be among the first researchers to be able to study true neuron function.
A second important discovery in Suns study showed that two embryonic stem cells lines derived in similar manners, and therefore expected to behave similarly when differentiating, did not. Using the same techniques to prod the two embryonic stem cells lines to differentiate, Sun found that one line had a bias to become neurons that are found in the forebrain. The other line differentiated into neurons found in rear portions of the brain and spinal cord. The finding was surprising, and significant, Sun said.