Inside Salk - October 2008 - page 3

THE SALK INSTITUTE AND THE FOUNDATION FOR PRADER-WILLI RESEARCH
(FPWR) have created a partnership that will foster new research to study a rare genetic
disorder that thwarts appetite regulation and leads to extreme obesity.
FPWR’s initial $50,000 grant will fund a collaborative effort between three Salk Institute
laboratories to study Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), a disorder that occurs in approximately
one out of every 15,000 births regardless of gender or race. Individuals with PWS lack the
normal hunger and satiety cues, and constantly crave food.
Without continual supervision, those with Prader-Willi eat excessively and risk
becoming extremely obese. Scientists believe it is caused by the loss of genetic
material on chromosome 15. The research performed by the Salk investigators,
Wylie Vale,
Paul Sawchenko
and
Marc Montminy,
will focus on understanding why appetite is not
properly regulated in PWS.
by more than 70 percent when combined
with exercise.
While this research focused on a particular
gene inmice, which is also conserved in
humans, this amazing breakthroughmay one
day provide much-needed relief to those who
cannot physically exercise as a result of
trauma or disease. The British Broadcasting
Company (BBC), the New York Times, ABC’s
“World News Tonight” and NBC’s “Nightly
News” and others covered the study.
Inder Verma
’s lab also received strong
coverage when NBC aired a story featuring a study
that uncovered the molecular mechanisms behind
allergies. This finding raises renewed hope for the
development of therapies to treat hypersensitive
allergic diseases, including hay fever.
NEWS BRI EFS
3
Inside Salk October 2008
Sam Pfaff, Gage Lab Partner with Reeve Foundation
TATYANA SHARPEE, AN ASSISTANT
professor in the Salk Institute’s Laboratory
for Computational Biology, has been named a
2008 Searle Scholar.
The honor comes
with a $300,000
award paid over
three years in
support of her
research titled
“Computational
Principles of Natural
Sensory Processing.”
The Searle
Scholars Program supports scientists who
have demonstrated innovative research with
the potential for making significant
contributions to biological research over an
extended period of time.
In August, Sharpee received a Career
Developmental Award from the Ray Thomas
Edwards Foundation, which honors early
career scientists with $150,000 paid over
three years. She was also named an
Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow earlier
this year. The fellowship includes a
$50,000 grant paid over two years.
The Sloan Research Fellowships support
the work of exceptional young researchers
often at pivotal stages in their work.
Sharpee, who is interested in how the
brain processes information, is an authority
on applying information theory to parse the
code used by neurobiological systems to
handle widely varying inputs. Neuro-
biologists’ perennial quest centers on
deciphering how the brain codes and
processes information.
Tatyana Sharpee Honored
Three Times in 2008
Salk ReceivesWorldwideMedia Attention
SALK RECEIVED SIGNIFICANT MEDIA
attention in August, beginning with
worldwide coverage of a very recent
discovery in
Ronald Evans
’ lab. The study
offers strong evidence for the potential
health benefits of exercise through a pill
that can be taken orally.
His lab’s research demonstrated the
power of two experimental drugs:
One tricked the body’s muscles into
thinking they had been exercised, while
a second dramatically boosted endurance
Ronald Evans
Inder Verma
Salk Receives Grant from Foundation for Prader-Willi Research
SALK’S SAMUEL L. PFAFF, A PROFESSOR
in the Gene Expression Laboratory with expertise
inmotor neuron development and stem cell
biology, has partnered with the Christopher
and Dana Reeve Foundation to be a lead
member of its International Consortium on
Spinal Cord Injury.
Fred H. Gage
’s lab at Salk will also work
with the Consortium as it expands its focus
to the study of human embryonic stem cells
in injury and repair. Gage will also oversee
a stem cell core laboratory that will serve
as infrastructure for the research network.
At Salk, Pfaff concentrates on the embryonic
development of motor neurons – cells that
transmit signals from the brain or spinal cord
to muscles throughout the body to generate
movement. Recently named a Howard Hughes
Medical Institute investigator, Pfaff has a
long history with the Reeve Foundation as
a member of its Science Advisory Council,
which oversees the Individual Grants Program.
Pfaff and his colleagues have been
seeking answers to their questions
via mouse and human embryonic
stem cell research. Further, they
have been using mouse genetics to
study the underpinnings of the
neural network known as the central
pattern generator (CPG), which
generates the coordinated and
rhythmic firing of motor neurons
needed for walking.
“Dr. Pfaff’s expertise in the
embryonic development of the spinal
cord will add significant value to our
research enterprise,” says Susan
Howley, executive vice president for
research at the Reeve Foundation.
“The spinal cord is so complex that
the role of stem cells in repair and
regeneration has to be considered within
the context of what we know about the
uninjured and injured spinal cord.”
Samuel L. Pfaff (top)
and Fred H. Gage
Tatayana Sharpee
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