The human enteric nervous system (ENS) is derived from vagal and sacral neural crest (NC) and represents a complex network of neurons with dozens of distinct neurotransmitters and hormone subtypes essential for gastro-intestinal (GI) function. Defects in ENS development are responsible for many human disorders including Hirschsprung disease (HSCR), a congenital disease caused by aganglionosis of the distal colon, resulting in a megacolon phenotype. In addition to its autonomous function in the gut, more and more evidence indicates that the ENS can also influence CNS function. Thus, ENS is often called as the second brain. Despite the important function of the ENS in human health and disease, ENS development remains poorly understood, owing to the lack of an easily accessible model system.
My research focuses on developing new techniques to generate ENS lineages in vitro from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). With this techniques, we will be able to perform high-throughput drug screening to identify compounds and develop cell therapy approaches to treat HSCR and other ENS related diseases. We will also be able to access the development mechanism during the ENS development and explore the connection and interaction between the ENS and CNS.