Dr. Sun is Professor of Physiology and Ophthalmology in the Department of Physiology and Jules Stein Eye Institute, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He is also a member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1998. He came to UCLA in 2003 as an Assistant Professor and received the prestigious Early Career Scientist Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2009. He has taught in a variety of courses related to human physiology and diseases at UCLA Medical School, UCLA Dental School and UCLA Graduate School.
We are interested in the discovery and mechanistic study of new membrane receptors as therapeutic targets and the identification of small molecules that modulate their activities. In 2007, we solved a three decades-old scientific puzzle by identifying a new type of receptor using a new technical strategy. This multitransmembrane receptor mediates cellular uptake of vitamin A, a chemical compound that has diverse biological functions in different organs and is essential for human vision and human survival. Using sensitive real-time monitoring techniques that we developed, we revealed that the transmembrane transport mechanism of this receptor/transporter is unlike any known receptor or transporter and further identified small molecules the potently modulate its activity. Another long-standing scientific puzzle that we tackled was to identify the cell-surface receptor for the most potent endogenous antiangiogenic factor that is known to suppress the pathogenesis of several major diseases. This was previously an insurmountable hurdle that prevented the development of small molecule-based medicines directed at this natural therapeutic pathway. We recently identified the receptors for this factor as a new type of transmembrane receptors with a new signaling mechanism. We further developed an innovative cell-based technique to identify chemical compounds that specifically target these receptors, and we identified the first chemical compounds that mimic the factor’s function in vitro and in vivo. These novel chemical compounds are potential first-in-class drugs to treat devastating blinding diseases and cancer.