Meet Associate Professor Jan Kaslin, a researcher at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute based at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Jan uses zebrafish models of Sanfilippo and other diseases to understand how the disease develops and what can be done to repair damage to the nervous system.
We are very grateful to all the researchers around the world, like Jan, who are working tirelessly to solve Sanfilippo!
1. Why did you become a scientist?
I’m curious and have always been interested in science. I just want to figure out how things work and explore the unknown. Although I find all walks of science interesting, understanding how animals and humans work is my main passion.
2. What got you interested in Sanfilippo research?
I didn’t know much about Sanfilippo disease and research before the Sanfilippo Children's Foundation contacted me. However, when reading up on the disease I got very interested as the underlying pathology is much less understood than I anticipated. Sanfilippo and related diseases are also extremely intriguing from the therapeutic point of view. In principle simple to cure but in reality, it's very tricky. I find this challenge very motivating.
3. How would you describe your research to a non-scientist?
I primarily work on how to repair the brain and spinal cord. Unfortunately, our brain has limited capability to repair and this is a problem. However, there are other animals such as fish that are very good at repairing their nervous system. My laboratory studies how regenerating animals cope with damage and are able to repair their brain. Some of these mechanisms are relevant for Sanfilippo disease as they potentially can be used to halt or reverse neuronal degeneration. In addition, our developed models are excellent for drug screening and testing of gene therapies.
4. What do you think is most exciting about Sanfilippo research today?
I think we are on the brink of truly making major breakthroughs in understanding the disease and also findings new ways to tackle and potentially cure it. I’m saying this because there are new animal and human tissue culture models of the disease. In addition, there are new sensitive methods to capture different changes over time in cells and organs as the disease progresses. Furthermore, the understanding that we likely need to use multiple strategies simultaneously to halt or revert the disease is exciting and drives innovation and creativity.
5. Has there been a defining moment or a person that has influenced the direction of your work?
I try to find joy in every single successful experiment as big findings are built on small ones. Therefore the defining moments are joyful but fleeting. You are really not better than your last experiments or discoveries and I'm always looking forward to the next exciting finding.
There are many excellent scientists that are inspiring and influence my work in different ways but there is no single event or person.
However, the Sanfilippo Children's Foundation has directly influenced my work. Without the foundation I would not be working on Sanfilippo disease or have been introduced to the many amazing researchers in the field. The Sanfilippo Children's Foundation's work in bringing researchers together and enabling interdisciplinary collaborations is really outstanding.
6. When you’re not busy with research, what do you like to do?
I like being outdoors and I fish when I can. I also like to exercise and have been practising different martial arts. I currently try to do some tai chi or boxing every day with variable success. Some days that means 5 minutes and other days 2 hours.