Zan-Min Song is a Senior Lecturer in anatomy and a clinical skills tutor of Medical School of the Australian National University (ANU). He obtained a medical degree from Chengde Medical College, China, in 1981. He then worked for 4 years as a General Practitioner in the Hospital of Saihanba Forestry, Weichang, China. He received the MMed degree in anatomy in 1988 from Jiamusi Medical College, Heilongjiang, China, followed by a short stent of lecturing in anatomy. He was awarded an overseas research fellowship in 1989 to work at the University of Adelaide, Australia. Subsequently he worked and studied at the Flinders University of South Australia and was awarded the PhD degree in neuroscience in 1994. He received postdoctoral training at Flinders University for 3 years and the University of Maryland at Baltimore, USA for 3 years. During this period, he received Young Investigator Award from NARSAD. He took a Research Fellow position at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, in 2001. He was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in ANU Medical School in 2004 and received the Best Faculty Teaching Awards in 2007 and 2014. He was awarded the status of Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK) in 2015. His research areas covered enteric neurobiology and cocaine-induced brain abnormality. His publications include over 30 peer-reviewed papers and 2 book chapters. His current research focuses on the abnormal brain development and possible stem cell treatment in a rat model of Hirschsprung's disease (spotting lethal rat) caused by an endothelin receptor B mutation.
He is a qualified medical practitioner in Australia, working part-time in the Emergency Department of the Calvary Hospital in the Australian Capital Territory. In this capacity, he is also a clinical skills tutor for ANU medical school.
Studies on brain abnormalities in Hirschsprung’s disease.
The large intestine is controlled by the nerve cells within the gut wall. Hence, the lack of these neurons has serious consequences from bowel obstruction to death. About 1/5000 infants are born with a blocked gut due to the lack of nerve cells in the wall of the large bowel, a condition known as Hirschsprung’s disease. Although surgical removal of affected gut is a life saving procedure, some patients are left with other neurological disorders, including seizures, mental retardation and brain related breathing problem or deafness. The structural and molecular changes in the brains of these patients are unknown due to the lack of brain tissues.
There is a strain of rat with Hirschsprung’s disease, which has a mutation in the same gene (endothelin receptor B) and has the same phenotype as humans with Hirschsprung’s disease. Our recent study in the neonatal rats with Hirschsprung’s disease showed an increased cell death and decreased nerve cell production in several brain regions including the cerebellum and the hippocampus. The cerebellum is responsible for motor coordination and the hippocampus is involved in learning and memory. To overcome the problem of premature death of mutated rats, we developed a surgical procedure (colostomy) to make the gut to open on the abdominal wall in neonatal rats, which allows the rats to survive into adulthood (6 weeks). This operation makes our study of the structural and molecular changes in brains and associated functional changes in adult Hirschsprung’s rats possible for the first time.
We hypothesize that the brain changes that we observed in neonatal mutant rats will extend into adulthood and create functional deficits. We will analyse the brains of adult mutant rats in three major aspects: structural changes, molecular changes and functional changes.
Since this rat model has a mutation in the same gene as some patients with Hirschsprung’s disease, this study will shed light on brain abnormalities in human Hirschsprung’s disease and will provide a scientific basis for future clinical intervention. More generally in describing the effects of a mutation in this gene in Hirschsprung’s rats, we are describing the effect of a gene on general neurological development, which may have effects relevant to the general population in health and ageing.