LA JOLLA—Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers, and some forms rank among the most difficult to treat. Its various types and involvement of many different cells makes targeting such tumors difficult. Now, Salk Institute researchers have used a state-of-the-art technology to profile each cell during normal breast development in order to understand what goes wrong in cancer.
LA JOLLA—Father of genetics Gregor Mendel spent years tediously observing and measuring pea plant traits by hand in the 1800s to uncover the basics of genetic inheritance. Today, botanists can track the traits, or phenotypes, of hundreds or thousands of plants much more quickly, with automated camera systems. Now, Salk researchers have helped speed up plant phenotyping even more, with machine-learning algorithms that teach a computer system to analyze three-dimensional shapes of the branches and leaves of a plant. The study, published in Plant Physiology on October 7, 2019, may help scientists better quantify how plants respond to climate change, genetic mutations or other factors.
LA JOLLA—In 2017, Salk scientists reported that tilting a frozen protein sample as it sat under an electron microscope was an effective approach to acquiring better information about its structure and helping researchers understand a host of diseases ranging from HIV to cancer. Now, they have developed a mathematical framework that underlies some of those initial observations.
LA JOLLA—Colorectal cancer is a common lethal disease, and treatment decisions are increasingly influenced by which genes are mutated within each patient. Some patients with a certain gene mutation benefit from a chemotherapy drug called cetuximab, although the mechanism of how this drug worked was unknown.
LA JOLLA—During high stress situations such as making a goal in soccer, some athletes experience a rapid decline in performance under pressure, known as “choking.” Now, Salk Institute researchers have uncovered what might be behind the phenomenon: one-way signals from the brain’s emotion circuit to the movement circuit. The study, which was published online on September 6, 2019, in eLife, could lead to new strategies for treating disorders with disrupted movement, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression, along with aiding in recovery from spinal cord injuries or physical performance under pressure.
LA JOLLA—The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which gives us our ability to solve problems and plan ahead, contains billions of cells. But understanding the large diversity of cell types in this critical region, each with unique genetic and molecular properties, has been challenging.
LA JOLLA—Plants can do many amazing things. Among their talents, they can manufacture compounds that help them repel pests, attract pollinators, cure infections and protect themselves from excess temperatures, drought and other hazards in the environment.
LA JOLLA—Iron is essential for plant growth, but with heavy rainfall and poor aeration, many acidic soils become toxic with excess iron. In countries with dramatic flood seasons, such as in West Africa and tropical Asia, toxic iron levels can have dire consequences on the availability of staple foods, such as rice.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today that The Kavli Foundation has committed $3 million to support ongoing neuroscience research at Salk as part of the joint UCSD-Salk Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind (KIBM). The gift—matched by an additional $3 million from Salk—will add $6 million to the KIBM Endowment, to enable faculty in neuroscience to work on the most impactful questions in the field. The Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind was established through a $15.5 million endowment commitment from The Kavli Foundation, shared between Salk and UC San Diego.
LA JOLLA—Your immune system comes ready for battle against bacteria, viruses, fungi and even cancer. But in cases of autoimmune disease, the immune system’s superpowers turn it into a supervillain. Now, Salk Institute scientists have discovered a way to stop certain immune system cells from mistakenly attacking the body. Their findings, published the week of August 26, 2019, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest a new way to target Th17 helper T cells, a type of immune cell that produces interleukin 17, a molecule known to be at the root of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Previous efforts targeting Th17 helper T cells have had limited success.
LA JOLLA—The ability to edit genes in living organisms offers the opportunity to treat a plethora of inherited diseases. However, many types of gene-editing tools are unable to target critical areas of DNA, and creating such a technology has been difficult as living tissue contains diverse types of cells.
LA JOLLA—Star-shaped cells called astrocytes help the brain establish long-lasting memories, Salk researchers have discovered. The new work adds to a growing body of evidence that astrocytes, long considered to be merely supportive cells in the brain, may have more of a leading role. The study, published in the journal GLIA on July 26, 2019, could inform therapies for disorders in which long-term memory is impaired, such as traumatic brain injury or dementia.
LA JOLLA—Light touch plays a critical role in everyday tasks, such as picking up a glass or playing a musical instrument. The sensation is also an essential part of the body’s protective defense system, alerting us to objects in our environment that could cause us to fall or injure ourselves. In addition, it is part of the detection system that has evolved to protect us from biting insects, such as those that cause malaria and Lyme disease, by eliciting a feeling of an itch when an insect lands on your skin.
LA JOLLA–Joseph Ecker, professor and director of Salk’s Genomic Analysis Laboratory and Margarita Behrens, a research professor in Salk’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, will receive over $1.6 million over three years as part of a Seed Network Grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).
LA JOLLA—Neurodevelopmental disorders arising from rare genetic mutations can cause atypical cognitive function, intellectual disability, and developmental delays, yet it is unclear why and how this happens. Scientists suspected a mutation in a complex of proteins could be the culprit for a group of rare genetic disorders and, now, Salk Institute researchers have identified the molecular mechanism linking this mutation with abnormal nervous system development. The team’s findings, published in Molecular Cell on July 30, 2019, bring researchers one step closer to understanding neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Nicolaides-Baraitser syndrome and others.
LA JOLLA—The vast majority of deadly lung cancer cases (85 percent) are termed non-small-cell lung carcinomas (NSCLCs), which often contain a mutated gene called LKB1. Salk Institute researchers have now discovered precisely why inactive LKB1 results in cancer development. The surprising results, published in the online version of Cancer Discovery on July 26, 2019, highlight how LBK1 communicates with two enzymes that suppress inflammation in addition to cell growth, to block tumor growth. The findings could lead to new therapies for NSCLC, and you can see news coverage of the story here.
LA JOLLA—Around 85 percent of lung cancers are classified as non-small-cell lung cancers, or NSCLCs. Some patients with these cancers can be treated with targeted genetic therapies, and some benefit from immunotherapies—but the vast majority of NSCLC patients have no treatment options except for chemotherapy.
LA JOLLA—The world is filled with millions upon millions of distinct smells, but how mammals’ brains evolved to tell them apart is something of a mystery.
LA JOLLA—Hidden underground networks of plant roots snake through the earth foraging for nutrients and water, similar to a worm searching for food. Yet, the genetic and molecular mechanisms that govern which parts of the soil roots explore remain largely unknown. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered a gene that determines whether roots grow deep or shallow in the soil.