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Women & Science presentation gives insight into brain diseases

Nicola Allen

Local female business and community members gathered on October 7 to hear a presentation from Nicola Allen, assistant professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory.

Allen studies enigmatic cells in the brain called astrocytes and their impact on neurodevelopment and degenerative diseases like autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

From left: Reena Horowitz and Joani Nelson

Prior to Allen’s talk, Rebecca Newman, vice president of External Relations, welcomed the crowd of 70 saying, “This is the 100th-year anniversary of the birth of Jonas Salk, and for us at the Institute, it is going to be a year of celebration of his vision.” Newman spoke of Salk’s vision for collaboration among scientists and the potential for innovation across disciplines.

Allen is one such scientist who has embraced innovation in her exploration of astrocytes, the study of which have only recently edged into the field of neurobiology as a viable research area. It was once thought that the only purpose of astrocytes was to serve as scaffolding for neurons. Yet, in the last decade astrocytes have been shown to be critical in brain function.

From left: Nicola Allen, Faye Hunter and Julia Miller

Allen’s lab explores how these prolific cells influence connections between neurons as the brain develops and ages. One of her major goals is to find out if and how one could use proteins from astrocytes to encourage new connections to form between neurons in damaged or aging brains, potentially restoring brain function.

The Women & Science program is in its third year and continues to gain momentum by engaging the community in biological science and technology. The next Women & Science presentation will take place this summer.

Learn more about the program at: or contact Betsy Reis, director of Donor Relations, at (858) 453-4100 x1426 or