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Salk News


Imaging study of key viral structure shows how HIV drugs work at atomic level

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have discovered how a powerful class of HIV drugs binds to a key piece of HIV machinery. By solving, for the first time, three-dimensional structures of this complex while different drugs were attached, the researchers showed what makes the therapy so potent. The work, which appeared in Science on January 30, 2020, provides insights that could help design or improve new treatments for HIV.


Salk scientists link rapid brain growth in autism to DNA damage

LA JOLLA—Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a unique pattern of DNA damage that arises in brain cells derived from individuals with a macrocephalic form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The observation, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, helps explain what might go awry in the brain during cell division and development to cause the disorder.


The first roadmap for ovarian aging

LA JOLLA—Due to the modern tendency to postpone childbirth until later in life, a growing number of women are experiencing issues with infertility. Infertility likely stems from age-related decline of the ovaries, but the molecular mechanisms that lead to this decline have been unclear. Now, scientists from the U.S. and China have discovered, in unprecedented detail, how ovaries age in non-human primates. The findings, published in Cell on January 30, 2020, reveal several genes that could be used as biomarkers and point to therapeutic targets for diagnosing and treating female infertility and age-associated ovarian diseases, such as ovarian cancer, in humans.


Salk Institute welcomes new trustees Larry Jennings, Jr., and Timothy Schoen

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute Board of Trustees welcomes its newest members, Larry Jennings, Jr., and Timothy Schoen. Chaired by Daniel Lewis, the Salk Board helps drive the direction of the world-renowned biological research facility founded by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk in 1960.


Drug combo reverses arthritis in rats

LA JOLLA—People with osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” arthritis, have limited treatment options: pain relievers or joint replacement surgery. Now, Salk researchers have discovered that a powerful combination of two experimental drugs reverses the cellular and molecular signs of osteoarthritis in rats as well as in isolated human cartilage cells. Their results were published in the journal Protein & Cell on January 16, 2020.


Mitochondria are the “canary in the coal mine” for cellular stress

LA JOLLA—Mitochondria, tiny structures present in most cells, are known for their energy-generating machinery. Now, Salk researchers have discovered a new function of mitochondria: they set off molecular alarms when cells are exposed to stress or chemicals that can damage DNA, such as chemotherapy. The results, published online in Nature Metabolism on December 9, 2019, could lead to new cancer treatments that prevent tumors from becoming resistant to chemotherapy.


Alzheimer’s drug candidates reverse broader aging, study shows

LA JOLLA—In mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease, the investigational drug candidates known as CMS121 and J147 improve memory and slow the degeneration of brain cells. Now, Salk researchers have shown how these compounds can also slow aging in healthy older mice, blocking the damage to brain cells that normally occurs during aging and restoring the levels of specific molecules to those seen in younger brains.


Finding the smallest genes could yield outsized benefits

LA JOLLA—While scientists know of about 25,000 genes that code for biologically important proteins, additional, smaller genes hiding in our DNA may be just as important. But these tiny lines of genetic code have proven tough to track down.


Three types of cells help the brain tell day from night

LA JOLLA—Bright light at night interrupts the body’s normal day-night cycles, called circadian rhythms, and can trigger insomnia. In fact, circadian rhythms play a major role in health. Disrupted day-night cycles have even been linked to increased incidence of diseases like cancer, heart disease, obesity, depressive disorders and type 2 diabetes in people who work night shifts. Therefore, understanding how human eyes sense light could lead to “smart” lights that can prevent depression, foster sleep at night, and maintain healthy circadian rhythms.


Clinical study finds eating within a 10-hour window may help stave off diabetes, heart disease

LA JOLLA—Metabolic syndrome affects nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population, and increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. But lifestyle interventions such as adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical exercise are difficult to maintain and, even when combined with medication, are often insufficient to fully manage the disease.


Diabetes drug has unexpected, broad implications for healthy aging

LA JOLLA—Metformin is the most commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug, yet scientists still do not fully know how it works to control blood sugar levels. In a collaborative effort, researchers from the Salk Institute, The Scripps Research Institute and Weill Cornell Medical College have used a novel technology to investigate why it functions so well. The findings, which identified a surprising number of biochemical “switches” for various cellular processes, could also explain why metformin has been shown to extend health span and life span in recent studies. The work was published in Cell Reports on December 3, 2019.


Eight Salk professors named among most highly cited researchers in the world

LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joanne Chory, Joseph Ecker, Ronald Evans, Rusty Gage, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Terrence SejnowskiReuben Shaw and Kay Tye have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate Analytics. The list selects researchers for demonstrating “significant and broad influence” reflected by the production of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and year.


Brain biomarker predicts compulsive drinking

LA JOLLA—Although alcohol use is ubiquitous in modern society, only a portion of individuals develop alcohol use disorders or addiction. Yet, scientists have not understood why some individuals are prone to develop drinking problems, while others are not. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered a brain circuit that controls alcohol drinking behavior in mice, and can be used as a biomarker for predicting the development of compulsive drinking later on. The findings were published in Science on November 21, 2019, and could potentially have implications for understanding human binge drinking and addiction in the future.


Jean Rivier, Salk Professor Emeritus, Passes Away at 78

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Emeritus Jean Rivier, who pioneered studies on the characterization of the hypothalamic peptides that control the stress response, and developed drugs that target this response, passed away peacefully in San Diego, California, on November 13, 2019.


Salk Institute receives Charity Navigator’s highest rating for ninth consecutive time

LA JOLLA—For the ninth consecutive time, the Salk Institute has earned the highest ranking—4 out of 4 stars—from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity and nonprofit evaluator. Only three percent of the roughly 10,000 nonprofits evaluated have achieved this recognition for nine consecutive times. The coveted ranking indicates the Salk Institute outperforms most other charities in America in regard to executing best fiscal practices and carrying out its mission in a financially efficient way.


Salk’s donors give record-breaking $89 million in FY19 to fuel scientific discoveries

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today that it received more than $89 million from 1,204 individual donors and private grant makers in fiscal year 2019 (ending in June) to support the Institute’s world-renowned science. The amount is the most raised from private donors in the past decade and accounts for 49 percent of Salk’s FY19 revenue.


Unlocking the black box of embryonic development

LA JOLLA—Little is known about the molecular and cellular events that occur during early embryonic development in primate species. Now, an internationally renowned team of scientists in China and the United States has created a method to allow primate embryos to grow in the laboratory longer than ever before, enabling the researchers to obtain molecular details of key developmental processes for the first time. This research, while done in nonhuman primate cells, can have direct implications for early human development.


Salk Institute hits play on new podcast series

LA JOLLA—A new podcast series called Where Cures Begin launches this week and features one-on-one conversations with Salk researchers working at the forefront of their respective scientific fields, from cancer and neuroscience to plant biology, circadian science and more. The eight episodes of season 1, which will be released weekly beginning October 30, 2019, include interviews with the following Salk scientists:


Mysterious microproteins have major implications for human disease

LA JOLLA—As the tools to study biology improve, researchers are beginning to uncover details into microproteins, small components that appear to be key to some cellular processes, including those involved with cancer. Proteins are made up of chains of linked amino acids and the average human protein contains around 300 amino acids. Meanwhile, microproteins have fewer than 100 amino acids.


Salk scientists receive $12.9 million from NIH BRAIN Initiative

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists Nicola AllenEiman AzimMargarita Behrens, and Joseph Ecker have been named recipients in the 2019 round of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to better understand the brain.