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side Salk 12 |15




“Stem cells play hard to get,” says

Leah Boyer

, director of Salk’s

Stem Cell Core, which opened in 2008 and serves approximately half

of the labs at Salk. Many of these users are in neuroscience, a field

that has benefited greatly from the ability to grow neurons from stem

cells derived from skin cells—a technological advance developed less

than a decade ago. Boyer’s own interest in neuroscience began, in part,

after witnessing her grandmother’s battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“For 20 years I watched my grandmother’s disease unfold, transforming

her from an independent pharmacist, keen on crosswords and puzzles,

into a woman shamed by the helmet and kneepads she had to wear

in public,” says Boyer. “She is the reason why I am in San Diego, a

neuroscience stronghold, and why I am a stem cell biologist.”

Developments in stem cell science have the ability to model and

potentially treat a wide range of diseases: not only Parkinson’s and

other neurological disorders, but also threats ranging from cancer to

organ failure. Labs that study cancer mechanics, cellular aging and

many other topics rely on stem cell research to make discoveries.

The core offers a “choose-your-own-adventure” experience for the

labs, says Boyer, with access to reagents, project consultation, hands-

on-training and additional space. It also generates pluripotent stem

cell lines for Salk researchers and has developed over 300 stem cell

lines with a 92 percent success rate—numbers that are jaw-dropping

to other stem cell cores, many of which have developed 20-some stem

cell lines, says Boyer. Additionally, the core tests novel protocols and

buys reagents in bulk for the entire Institute, a process that helps keep

all of the labs up to date on the latest advances in stem cell research at

a fraction of the cost. And it does all of this with only a staff of three.

“We’re like researchers’ labs outside a lab,” says Boyer, who joined

the core after working in a Salk neuroscience lab and Harvard’s Stem

Cell Institute. “Small labs literally could not do this research if we

weren’t here.”

Aside from assisting smaller labs that don’t have experience in stem

cell work, the core also helps larger stem cell labs that need access

to more advanced equipment, qualified reagents and additional space.

In one instance, the lab of

Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte

was able to

use custom resources provided by the Stem Cell Core to help prepare

experimental stem cell conditions that led to the first reliable method


Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center Core

Provides technical and logistical access for advanced fixed and live

cell fluorescence imaging and charged particle imaging methods

Behavior Testing Core

Offers comprehensive resource for behavioral phenotyping and

standardized neurobehavioral testing

Flow Cytometry Core

Advances research projects requiring cell sorting and/or analysis of

cell populations by flow cytometry

Functional Genomics Core

Provides gene expression profiling using standard Affymetrix arrays

and custom cDNA or oligo arrays

Genome Manipulation Core

Generates homologous recombination-base gene targeted mouse

embryonic stem cell lines

Gene Transfer, Targeting and Therapeutics Core

Contributes design, consultation and production services for

retrovirus, lentivirus, adeno-associated virus, adenovirus, rabies

virus and vesicular stomatitis virus-based viral vector systems

Razavi Newman Integrative Genomics and Bioinformatics Core

Focuses on the analysis of next-generation sequencing and other

genomics data as well as develops novel analysis algorithms

Mass Spectrometry Core for Proteomics and Metabolomics

Offers an array of services from protein identification and proteomic

profiling to more complex studies using state-of-the-art instrumentation

Media Preparation Core

Provides routine and specialized cell culture media

Peptide Synthesis Core

Carries out the synthesis of inexpensive peptides and provides

unmodified, biotinylated, acetylated or phosphorylated peptides

The H.A. and Mary K. Chapman Charitable Foundations

Genomic Sequencing Core

Provides low-cost, rapid-turnaround, high-throughput sequencing

services, offers consultation and training in next-generation

sequencing-based methods and assists in method development

Helmsley Stem Cell Core

Supports the needs for human ES and reprogrammed iPS cell

culture and offers training and the physical space to carry out

experiments using pluripotent cell types

Transgenic Core

Supplies services to create transgenic and knockout mouse models