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Building a better brain

LA JOLLA—When you build models, whether ships or cars, you want them to be as much like the real deal as possible. This quality is even more crucial for building model organs, because disease treatments developed from these models have to be safe and effective for humans. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute have studied a 3D “mini-brain” grown from human stem cells and found it to be structurally and functionally more similar to real brains than the 2D models in widespread use. The discovery, appearing in the December 20, 2016, issue of Cell Reports, indicates that the new model could better help scientists understand brain development as well as neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia.


Salk Institute hires star scientists in plant biology and cancer research

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute is pleased to welcome Wolfgang Busch as an associate professor and Edward Stites as an assistant professor, leaders of plant science and cancer research, respectively.


Turning back time: Salk scientists reverse signs of aging

LA JOLLA—Graying hair, crow’s feet, an injury that’s taking longer to heal than when we were 20—faced with the unmistakable signs of aging, most of us have had a least one fantasy of turning back time. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute have found that intermittent expression of genes normally associated with an embryonic state can reverse the hallmarks of old age.


Small but mighty: tiny proteins with big roles in biology

LA JOLLA—We all know how hard it is to find something small like a dropped contact lens that blends into the background. It’s similarly tough for biologists to find tiny proteins against the complex background of the cell. But, increasingly, scientists are learning that such microproteins, which are overlooked by traditional detection methods, also have important biological roles to play.


The Goldilocks effect in aging research

LA JOLLA—Ever since researchers connected the shortening of telomeres—the protective structures on the ends of chromosomes—to aging and disease, the race has been on to understand the factors that govern telomere length. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute have found that a balance of elongation and trimming in stem cells results in telomeres that are, as Goldilocks would say, not too short and not too long, but just right.


Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble

LA JOLLA—Ribosomes—macromolecular machines consisting of RNA and proteins that twist, fold and turn—are responsible for making all of the protein within a cell and could hold the key to deciphering a range of diseases. Despite the intricacies of ribosomes, cells are able to churn out 100,000 of them every hour. But because they assemble so speedily, researchers haven’t been able to figure out how they come together.


Salk Institute names Ted Waitt board chairman

LA JOLLA—Ted Waitt, chairman of the Waitt Foundation and cofounder of Gateway, Inc., a pioneer in the direct marketing of personal computers, has been named chairman of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies’ Board of Trustees. He assumes his new role immediately.


Immune receptors amplify “invader” signals by turning into mini-machines

LA JOLLA—When a receptor on the surface of a T cell—a sentry of the human immune system—senses a single particle from a harmful intruder, it immediately kicks the cell into action, launching a larger immune response. But exactly how the signal from a single receptor, among thousands on each T cell, can be amplified to affect a whole cell has puzzled immunologists for decades.


Salk Institute awarded $25 million grant from Helmsley Charitable Trust

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute for Biological Studies has received a $25 million grant—a renewal of the largest research gift in the Institute’s 56-year history—that will be used to continue exploring an ambitious range of projects aimed at understanding the role chronic inflammation plays in driving human disease.


Salk Institute ranked #2 in world for life sciences collaborations by Nature Index

LA JOLLA—(November 17, 2016) The Salk Institute ranks second in the world for high-quality, high-impact scientific collaborations in the life sciences, and in the top 50 for both overall collaboration and bilateral collaboration, according to a new report by Nature Research.


New gene-editing technology partially restores vision in blind animals

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute researchers have discovered a holy grail of gene editing—the ability to, for the first time, insert DNA at a target location into the non-dividing cells that make up the majority of adult organs and tissues. The technique, which the team showed was able to partially restore visual responses in blind rodents, will open new avenues for basic research and a variety of treatments, such as for retinal, heart and neurological diseases.


“Princess Leia” brainwaves help sleeping brain store memories

LA JOLLA—Every night while you sleep, electrical waves of brain activity circle around each side of your brain, tracing a pattern that, were it on the surface of your head, might look like the twin hair buns of Star Wars’ Princess Leia. The Salk Institute scientists who discovered these circular “Princess Leia” oscillations, which are described in the journal eLife, think the waves are responsible each night for forming associations between different aspects of a day’s memories.


A rare feat: Salk Institute receives Charity Navigator’s highest rating for sixth consecutive year

LA JOLLA—For the sixth consecutive year, the Salk Institute’s strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency has earned a coveted four-star (out of four stars) rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity and nonprofit evaluator.


New technique could increase success of infertility treatment

PORTLAND, Ore, and LA JOLLA, Calif.—Families struggling with infertility or a genetic predisposition for debilitating mitochondrial diseases may someday benefit from a new breakthrough led by scientists at OHSU and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


Molecular conductors help plants respond to drought

LA JOLLA—We can tell when plants need water: their leaves droop and they start to look dry. But what’s happening on a molecular level?


Heart disease, leukemia linked to dysfunction in nucleus

LA JOLLA—We put things into a container to keep them organized and safe. In cells, the nucleus has a similar role: keeping DNA protected and intact within an enveloping membrane. But a new study by Salk Institute scientists, detailed in the November 2 issue of Genes & Development, reveals that this cellular container acts on its contents to influence gene expression.


Salk scientists adapt computer program to gauge eye spasm severity

LA JOLLA—If two clinicians observe the same patient with blepharospasm—uncontrollable muscle contractions around the eye—they’ll often come away with two different conclusions on the severity of the patient’s symptoms. That’s because the rating scales for blepharospasm are notoriously subjective and unreliable.


Salk professor awarded multimillion dollar NIH Pioneer Award for innovations in cell biology

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte has been awarded a 2016 National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award, a highly coveted grant that supports the most innovative biomedical research, for his work in stem cell biology and regeneration.


Salk neuroscientist granted $1 million to harness sound to control brain cells

LA JOLLA—Salk Associate Professor Sreekanth Chalasani has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative for developing a way to selectively activate brain, heart, muscle and other cells using ultrasonic waves, which could be a boon to neuroscience research as well as medicine.


Salk Fellow Jesse Dixon receives NIH Director’s Early Independence Award

LA JOLLA—Helmsley-Salk Fellow Jesse Dixon is among 16 scientists nationwide to receive the Director’s Early Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to pursue promising and innovative research. Dixon is the third Salk Fellow to receive the prestigious award since it was established in 2010.