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Salk News

Salk Institute mourns the loss of John Adler, friend and former trustee

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute mourns the loss of businessman and philanthropist John Adler, who served on the Institute’s Board of Trustees from 1991 to 2004. He died June 11, 2024, in Greenwich, Connecticut at the age of 96.

2024 Kavli Small Equipment Grant Program Awardees

Congratulations to the awardees of the Kavli Small Equipment Grant Program, where Salk Faculty and Research Professors working in neuroscience, and related fields, submitted proposals to receive funds to purchase or build small equipment needed to further their research.

Cooperative proteins help the immune system identify and attack invaders

LA JOLLA—Bacteria, parasites, viruses—the immune system tackles them all. At the front line of the human immune response are cells called macrophages, which are responsible for correctly identifying intruders and then directing how the entire immune system responds. Researchers at the Salk Institute have now discovered a molecular mechanism that helps macrophages mount a coordinated response tailored to a specific immune challenge.

Key nutrients help plants beat the heat

LA JOLLA—Global temperatures are on the rise, with experts projecting an increase of 2.7°F by 2050. Because plants cannot regulate their own temperatures, they are especially sensitive to these temperature changes. In higher temperatures, plants instruct their root systems to grow faster, creating long roots that stretch through the soil to absorb more water and nutrients. While this response may help the plants in the short term, new research suggests it’s both unsustainable for the plants and potentially harmful for humans in the long term.

Upgrading brain storage: Quantifying how much information our synapses can hold

LA JOLLA—With each flip you make through a deck of vocabulary word flashcards, their definitions come more quickly, more easily. This process of learning and remembering new information strengthens important connections in your brain. Recalling those new words and definitions more easily with practice is evidence that those neural connections, called synapses, can grow stronger or weaker over time—a feature known as synaptic plasticity.

Wicklow Foundation gives $2 million to establish Margaret Faye Wilson Endowment at the Salk Institute

LA JOLLA—The Wicklow Foundation has donated $2 million to the Salk Institute to establish the Margaret Faye Wilson Endowment in honor of the banking and retail leader and former Salk Trustee. Wilson served on the Salk Board from 2010 to 2019 and was a generous supporter of the Institute’s research over the years. A treasured member of the community, Wilson died in July 2023.

This time, it’s personal: Enhancing patient response to cancer immunotherapy

LA JOLLA—Immunotherapy has revolutionized the way we treat cancer in recent years. Instead of targeting the tumor itself, immunotherapies work by directing patients’ immune systems to attack their tumors more effectively. This has been especially impactful in improving outcomes for certain difficult-to-treat cancers. Still, fewer than half of all cancer patients respond to current immunotherapies, creating an urgent need to identify biomarkers that can predict which patients are most likely to benefit.

The Salk Institute promotes neuroscientist Axel Nimmerjahn

LA JOLLA—In recognition of his notable and innovative contributions to science, the Salk Institute’s Axel Nimmerjahn has been promoted from associate professor to full professor. The promotion is based on Salk faculty and Nonresident Fellow recommendations and was approved by Salk’s president and Board of Trustees on April 19, 2024.

Salk Institute receives $5 million gift from Paul M. Angell Foundation to develop pancreatic cancer diagnostics and therapies

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute will receive a four-year, $5 million gift from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation to support pancreatic cancer research. The project’s leaders, Salk Assistant Professor Dannielle Engle, Professor Ronald Evans, and Professor Reuben Shaw, will establish a novel pipeline from patients to the laboratory and back to the clinic. The approach will provide a unique opportunity to uncover new diagnostics and therapies for pancreatic cancer.

Salk Institute mourns the loss of philanthropist Joan Jacobs

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute lost one of its greatest supporters and one of San Diego’s most generous philanthropists when Joan Jacobs died on May 6, 2024, in La Jolla, California. She was 91 years old.

Salk neuroscientist Martyn Goulding elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute’s Martyn Goulding, a professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and the Frederick W. and Joanna J. Mitchell Chair, was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Goulding is a neuroscientist who studies the sensorimotor circuitry in the spinal cord that controls a range of different motor behaviors, from simple reflexes such as scratching to walking and precise forelimb movements.

Salk immunologist Susan Kaech elected to National Academy of Sciences

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Susan Kaech has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Kaech is one of 120 new members and 24 international members to be elected to the academy in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The election is considered one of the highest honors accorded to a scientist in the United States. Kaech’s work has transformed the fields of immunology and cancer biology and inspires new approaches to cancer immunotherapy. Her recognition brings the number of Salk faculty elected to the National Academy of Sciences to 13.

Prebys Foundation awards $1 million to support Salk Institute’s research and diversity efforts

LA JOLLA—As part of its $7 million “Prebys Research Heroes” program, the Prebys Foundation awarded Salk Professor Tatyana Sharpee and Assistant Professor Dannielle Engle each $500,000 to fund their research. The grants will be dispensed over two years and are part of 14 grants the foundation awarded to support women pursuing research careers in San Diego.

Artificial intelligence helps scientists engineer plants to fight climate change

LA JOLLA—The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared that removing carbon from the atmosphere is now essential to fighting climate change and limiting global temperature rise. To support these efforts, Salk scientists are harnessing plants’ natural ability to draw carbon dioxide out of the air by optimizing their root systems to store more carbon for a longer period of time.

Salk Professor Satchin Panda named 2023 AAAS Fellow

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Satchidananda Panda has been named a 2023 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. Panda is among 502 new AAAS Fellows spanning 24 scientific disciplines who were nominated by their peers for their distinguished efforts to advance science. The election recognizes his contributions to the field of chronobiology, particularly for applications to obesity and human health.

Protecting brain cells with cannabinol

LA JOLLA—One in every 10 individuals above the age of 65 develops an age-related neurological disorder like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, yet treatment options remain sparse for this population. Scientists have begun exploring whether cannabinoids—compounds derived from the cannabis plant, like well-known THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol)—may offer a solution. A third, lesser-known cannabinoid called CBN (cannabinol) has recently piqued the interest of researchers, who have begun exploring the clinical potential of the milder, less psychoactive substance.

A step towards clinic-ready patient-derived organoids

LA JOLLA—Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers and is projected to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States by 2030. It is especially difficult to treat because pancreatic tumors grow so quickly and are constantly evolving, making them prone to developing drug resistance.

Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski wins Brain Prize

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Terrence Sejnowski will receive the 2024 Brain Prize for “pioneering the field of computational and theoretical neuroscience, making seminal contributions to our understanding of the brain, and paving the way for the development of brain-inspired artificial intelligence,” the Lundbeck Foundation announced today.

Modeling the origins of life: New evidence for an “RNA World”

LA JOLLA—Charles Darwin described evolution as "descent with modification." Genetic information in the form of DNA sequences is copied and passed down from one generation to the next. But this process must also be somewhat flexible, allowing slight variations of genes to arise over time and introduce new traits into the population.

More than just neurons: A new model for studying human brain inflammation

LA JOLLA—The brain is typically depicted as a complex web of neurons sending and receiving messages. But neurons only make up half of the human brain. The other half—roughly 85 billion cells—are non-neuronal cells called glia. The most common type of glial cells are astrocytes, which are important for supporting neuronal health and activity. Despite this, most existing laboratory models of the human brain fail to include astrocytes at sufficient levels or at all, which limits the models’ utility for studying brain health and disease.