Our researchers are a fierce driving force behind therapeutic development and future treatment. Let’s find out what makes them so passionate about KIF1A! Each month, one of our invested members of the KIF1A Research Network will be in the spotlight. Wayne Poon, Ph.D., is next up to share a bit about himself and what makes science so exciting!

Headshot-Wayne-Poon-Neucyte

Wayne Poon, Ph.D.

Head of Neuroscience at NeuCyte & Assistance Research Professor at UC Irvine

Dr. Wayne Poon shared, “I currently hold a joint appointment as Head of Neuroscience at NeuCyte and Assistant Research Professor at UC Irvine. As Head of Neuroscience at NeuCyte, I guide the functional genomics effort to establish monogenic phenotypic screens for CNS drug discovery. For KIF1A.ORG, we are establishing phenotypic screens, including axonal trafficking and seizurogenic phenotypes that will be employed to test the efficacy of select compounds targeting relevant disease mechanisms. These efforts will rely on my past disease modeling expertise using iPSC-based genetic models of neurodegenerative diseases and experience investigating axonal trafficking deficits.

As an Assistant Research Professor at UCI, my lab is using methods to differentiate human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to iPSC-derived CNS cells including microglia-like cells (iMGLs) and astrocytes to uncover both cell autonomous and non-autonomous phenotypes of AD [Alzheimer’s disease] genetic risk factors that can serve as preclinical human models to discover therapeutics. Using both patient and CRISPR/Cas9 gene-edited iPSCs, we have identified APOE4 non-cell autonomous transcriptomic signatures that will be used to develop phenotypic screening platforms to guide development of APOE4 AD therapeutics. In addition to APOE4, my lab is also investigating other AD risk genes expressed in microglia. In addition to AD, we work closely with Dr. Erik Ullian (UCSF) to uncover neuron and microglia phenotypes due to GRN haploinsufficiency using an iPSC-based organoid model system that is amenable to high-throughput screening.”

 

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

I would want to have the ability of time travel. To go forward in time and bring back technology. Imagine if we had the polio vaccine before polio or the HIV drugs before the emergence of AIDS; it is sad that we lost some great people who succumbed to AIDS, if they had the anti-virals, they would be alive today. 

When did you know you wanted to be a scientist? Why were you drawn to this field?

I knew I wanted to be a scientist in college. It was the concept that you are seeking answers to scientific questions and problems. Science attempts to be black and white in terms of the conclusions you draw from the data and the results if the studies are designed correctly. It is nice to have something that can be black and white.  It is kind of like sports. You have a winner and loser. It is resolved. Life is unfortunately not black and white but just many many shades of grey, so to navigate those nuances are challenging. Science is simple.

What do you love most about your job?

The scientific ecosystem. Personally, I am learning every day. Every day, no matter what endeavor, you end up learning something about biology, something about yourself, something. You meet new and different people every day, other great scientists, old and new, people established in a field or those just starting out, lots of amazing scientists and people, working together to solve a problem, advance mankind, etc.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Finding enough time in the day to do everything I would like to do.

What development are you most excited about in terms of KIF1A research?

Stem cell-based KIF1A models. Stem cell technology has enabled the creation of model systems to study KAND. We are fortunate that patients donated specimens for iPSC generation. It is an invaluable resource that will allow scientists at NeuCyte and elsewhere to build pre-clinical models to screen and hopefully identify a therapeutic.

I couldn’t get through a day at work without: 

Lunch

I am most motivated by:

Finding answers. Unresolved questions keep me up. I end up pondering how to figure out a way to find the answers.

When you are not working, what do you like to do?

I love watching sports⁠—all sports.