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Salk News

Salk promotes two dynamic scientists who study the microbiome and neurobiology

LA JOLLA—Two Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted based on their innovative and notable contributions to biological research.

Salk Institute welcomes new trustees Jay T. Flatley and Joon Yun

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute Board of Trustees welcomes its newest trustees, Jay T. Flatley, MS, and Joon Yun, MD. Chaired by Ted Waitt, the Salk Board helps drive the strategic direction of the Institute founded by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk in 1960.

Identical twins; not-so-identical stem cells

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists and collaborators have shed light on a longstanding question about what leads to variation in stem cells by comparing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from identical twins. Even iPSCs made from the cells of twins, they found, have important differences, suggesting that not all variation between iPSC lines is rooted in genetics, since the twins have identical genes.

Salk’s research center on aging receives additional $3 million award from Glenn Foundation for Medical Research

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has received a $3 million award from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research for the second time in 4 years, enabling the Institute to continue investigating the biology of normal human aging and age-related diseases.

Salk scientists expand ability of stem cells to regrow any tissue type

LA JOLLA—When scientists talk about laboratory stem cells being totipotent or pluripotent, they mean that the cells have the potential, like an embryo, to develop into any type of tissue in the body. What totipotent stem cells can do that pluripotent ones can’t do, however, is develop into tissues that support the embryo, like the placenta. These are called extra-embryonic tissues, and are vital in development and healthy growth.

Salk researcher Eiman Azim named Searle scholar

LA JOLLA—Eiman Azim, assistant professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, has received the prestigious Searle Scholar award, which each year is given to only 15 researchers in the fields of chemical and biological sciences.

New method predicts who will respond to lithium therapy

LA JOLLA—For roughly one-third of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, lithium is a miracle drug, effectively treating both their mania and depression. But once someone is diagnosed, it can take up to a year to learn whether that person will be among the 30 percent who respond to lithium or the 70 percent who do not.

Hard choices? Ask your brain’s dopamine

LA JOLLA—Say you’re reaching for the fruit cup at a buffet, but at the last second you switch gears and grab a cupcake instead. Emotionally, your decision is a complex stew of guilt and mouth-watering anticipation. But physically it’s a simple shift: instead of moving left, your hand went right. Such split-second changes interest neuroscientists because they play a major role in diseases that involve problems with selecting an action, like Parkinson’s and drug addiction.

Your brain’s got rhythm

LA JOLLA—Not everyone is Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson, but even those of us who seem to have two left feet have got rhythm—in our brains. From breathing to walking to chewing, our days are filled with repetitive actions that depend on the rhythmic firing of neurons. Yet the neural circuitry underpinning such seemingly ordinary behaviors is not fully understood, even though better insights could lead to new therapies for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS and autism.

Salk scientist awarded inaugural Sjöberg Prize for cancer breakthrough

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Tony Hunter, who holds an American Cancer Society Professorship, has been awarded $500,000 as part of the $1 million Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ inaugural Sjöberg Prize for Cancer Research for “groundbreaking studies of cellular processes that have led to the development of new and effective cancer drugs.” The prize ceremony, which is modeled after the Nobel Prize ceremony, will be held in Stockholm during the Academy’s annual meeting on March 31, 2017, in the presence of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen of Sweden.

Don’t kill the messenger RNA

LA JOLLA—FedEx, UPS, DHL—when it comes to sending packages, choices abound. But the most important delivery service you may not have heard of? mRNA. That’s short for messenger RNA, which is how your DNA sends blueprints to the protein-assembly factories of your cells. When a protein is faulty, delivering synthetic mRNA to cells could trigger production of a functional version. And that’s a message people with a variety of genetic diseases want to hear.

Finding our way around DNA

LA JOLLA—Most of us would be lost without Google maps or similar route-guidance technologies. And when those mapping tools include additional data about traffic or weather, we can navigate even more effectively. For scientists who navigate the mammalian genome to better understand genetic causes of disease, combining various types of data sets makes finding their way easier, too.

The Internet and your brain are more alike than you think

LA JOLLA—Although we spend a lot of our time online nowadays—streaming music and video, checking email and social media, or obsessively reading the news—few of us know about the mathematical algorithms that manage how our content is delivered. But deciding how to route information fairly and efficiently through a distributed system with no central authority was a priority for the Internet’s founders. Now, a Salk Institute discovery shows that an algorithm used for the Internet is also at work in the human brain, an insight that improves our understanding of engineered and neural networks and potentially even learning disabilities.

New findings highlight promise of chimeric organisms for science and medicine

LA JOLLA—Rapid advances in the ability to grow cells, tissues and organs of one species within an organism of a different species offer an unprecedented opportunity for tackling longstanding scientific mysteries and addressing pressing human health problems, particularly the need for transplantable organs and tissues.

Feed a cold, starve a fever? Not so fast, according to Salk research

LA JOLLA—The last time you had a stomach bug, you probably didn’t feel much like eating. This loss of appetite is part of your body’s normal response to an illness but is not well understood. Sometimes eating less during illness promotes a faster recovery, but other times—such as when cancer patients experience wasting—the loss of appetite can be deadly.

Curb your immune enthusiasm

LA JOLLA—Normally when we think of viruses, from the common cold to HIV, we want to boost people’s immunity to fight them. But for scientists who develop therapeutic viruses (to, for example, target cancer cells or correct gene deficiencies) a more important question is: How do we keep people’s natural immune responses at bay? In these cases, an overenthusiastic immune response actually undermines the therapy.

Pancreatic tumors rely on signals from surrounding cells

LA JOLLA—Just as an invasive weed might need nutrient-rich soil and water to grow, many cancers rely on the right surroundings in the body to thrive. A tumor’s microenvironment—the nearby tissues, immune cells, blood vessels and extracellular matrix—has long been known to play a role in the tumor’s growth.

Salk president co-authors New York Times bestselling book on slowing human aging

LA JOLLA—In their powerful new road map for greater health throughout our lives, Salk President and Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn and health psychologist Elissa Epel explain an important aspect of the aging process in humans at a fundamental level. Based on this science, they share the changes people can make to their daily habits that will help keep them vital and disease-free.

Worms have teenage ambivalence, too

LA JOLLA—Anyone who has allowed a child to “help” with a project quickly learns that kids, no matter how intelligent or eager, are less competent than adults. Teenagers are more capable—but, as every parent knows, teens can be erratic and unreliable. And it’s not just in humans; obvious differences in behavior and ability between juveniles and adults are seen across the animal kingdom.

Salk scientists crack the structure of HIV machinery

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists have solved the atomic structure of a key piece of machinery that allows HIV to integrate into human host DNA and replicate in the body, which has eluded researchers for decades. The findings describing this machinery, known as the “intasome,” appear January 6, 2017, in Science and yield structural clues informing the development of new HIV drugs.