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Salk News


Salk Institute appoints David Lawrence executive director of Harnessing Plants Initiative

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today the appointment of David Lawrence to the position of executive director of the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI). In his new role, Lawrence will oversee program management and administrative support for the project, as well as help deliver real-world applications based on Salk research findings. For example, he will help scale and deploy Salk Ideal Plants™ worldwide—crops that can capture excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it deep in root systems.


The Lustgarten Foundation and Salk Institute announce strategic pancreatic cancer research partnership

LA JOLLA/NEW YORK—The Lustgarten Foundation and Salk Institute today announced a new strategic partnership supported by a $5 million grant and focused on identifying and validating potential targets for new pancreatic cancer drugs. The effort will be led by four co-principal investigators, all prominent cancer researchers in the Salk Dedicated Program in Pancreatic Cancer: Professors Reuben ShawRonald EvansTony Hunter and Assistant Professor Dannielle Engle. The partnership is part of the Lustgarten Advancing Breakthrough Science (LABS) Program.


In a first for “sonogenetics,” researchers control mammalian cells with sound

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have engineered mammalian cells to be activated using ultrasound. The method, which the team used to activate human cells in a dish and brain cells inside living mice, paves the way toward non-invasive versions of deep brain stimulation, pacemakers and insulin pumps. The findings were published in Nature Communications on February 9, 2022.


Salk Institute Trustees elect Marna C. Whittington as Board chair

LA JOLLA—Marna C. Whittington, the former CEO of Allianz Global Investors Capital, was elected as chair of the Salk Institute’s Board of Trustees on November 12, 2021. Whittington replaces Daniel C. Lewis, former president of the global commercial management-consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.


Salk Professor Samuel Pfaff named 2021 AAAS Fellow

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Samuel Pfaff has been named a 2021 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. Pfaff is among 564 new AAAS Fellows spanning 24 scientific disciplines who were nominated by their peers for their distinguished efforts to advance science.


Active ingredient in cannabis protects aging brain cells

LA JOLLA—Decades of research on medical cannabis has focused on the compounds THC and CBD in clinical applications. But less is known about the therapeutic properties of cannabinol (CBN). Now, a new study by Salk scientists shows how CBN can protect nerve cells from oxidative damage, a major pathway to cell death. The findings, published online January 6, 2022, in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, suggest CBN has the potential for treating age-related neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s.


Salk appoints Julie A. Auger executive director of Research Operations

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today the appointment of Julie A. Auger to the position of executive director of Research Operations. Auger will oversee all shared scientific resources at the Institute in her new role, including the scientific technology cores, animal research and shared scientific resources. The position reports to the Chief Science Officer for the Institute.


Salk Institute announces departure of Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today that Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a world-renowned researcher who has pioneered innovations in developmental biology, regenerative medicine and aging research at the Salk Institute, will be closing his Salk laboratory to join Altos Labs, a newly created life sciences company centered on human health research. Izpisua Belmonte, who has been at Salk for nearly thirty years, will depart to lead the San Diego division of Altos Institutes of Science to study cellular rejuvenation programming with the goal of improving human health.


Plants rely on the CLASSY gene family to diversify their epigenomes

LA JOLLA—What determines how a cell’s genome is regulated to ensure proper growth and development? Turns out, the parts of the genome that are turned on or off in each cell-type or tissue play a major role in this process. Now, a team at Salk has shown that the CLASSY gene family regulates which parts of the genome are turned off in a tissue-specific manner. The CLASSYs essentially control where the genome is marked by DNA methylation—the addition of methyl chemical groups to the DNA that act like tags saying, “turn off.” Because DNA methylation exists across diverse organisms, including plants and animals, this research has broad implications for both agriculture and medicine. The work, published in Nature Communications on January 11, 2022, identifies the CLSY genes as major factors underlying epigenetic diversity in plant tissues.


Salk Professor Ronald Evans awarded $1.2 million by Larry L. Hillblom Foundation to study a new druggable pathway that could help treat diabetes

LA JOLLA—Professor Ronald Evans will receive $1.2 million over four years as part of a Network Grant from the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation to examine a molecular pathway that regulates blood sugar and fat independent of insulin. The research will advance our understanding of type 2 diabetes and could lead to the development of new therapies for treating the disease. Other members of the team include Professors Jin Zhang and Alan Saltiel from the University of California San Diego.


Salk researchers find a new route for regulating blood sugar levels independent of insulin

LA JOLLA—The discovery of insulin 100 years ago opened a door that would lead to life and hope for millions of people with diabetes. Ever since then, insulin, produced in the pancreas, has been considered the primary means of treating conditions characterized by high blood sugar (glucose), such as diabetes. Now, Salk scientists have discovered a second molecule, produced in fat tissue, that, like insulin, also potently and rapidly regulates blood glucose. Their finding could lead to the development of new therapies for treating diabetes, and also lays the foundation for promising new avenues in metabolism research.


San Diego Nathan Shock Center announces pilot grant awardees

LA JOLLA—The San Diego Nathan Shock Center (SD-NSC) of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, a consortium between the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) and the University of California San Diego, has announced its second-year class of pilot grant awardees. Recipients from six different institutions will receive up to $15,000 to pursue research that advances our understanding of how humans age, with the ultimate goal of extending health span, the number of years of healthy, disease-free life.


Salk scientists receive the 2021 ASPIRE award to study pancreatic cancer

LA JOLLA—Professor Ronald Evans and Assistant Professor Dannielle Engle have been granted a 2021 ASPIRE (Accelerating Scientific Platforms and Innovative Research) award to study the cellular and molecular drivers of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancers with few effective treatment options. The $250,000 award, supported by the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, enables innovative approaches to solving impactful problems in cancer research. The 23 scientists chosen to lead 2021 ASPIRE projects represent disciplines across the spectrum of cancer research at top academic institutions worldwide.


Pain and anxiety impact breathing on a cellular level

LA JOLLA—You’re startled by a threatening sound, and your breath quickens; you smash your elbow and pant in pain. Why a person’s breathing rate increases dramatically when they’re hurting or anxious was not previously understood. Now, a team of Salk scientists has uncovered a neural network in the brain that coordinates breathing rhythm with feelings of pain and fear. Along with contributions to the fields of pain management, psychological theories of anxiety, and philosophical investigations into the nature of pain, their findings could lead to development of an analgesic that would prevent opioid-induced respiratory depression (OIRD), the disrupted breathing that causes overdose deaths.


Improving drug options for colorectal cancer patients

LA JOLLA—Patients with colorectal cancer were among the first to receive targeted therapies. These drugs aim to block the cancer-causing proteins that trigger out-of-control cell growth while sparing healthy tissues. But some patients are not eligible for these treatments because they have cancer-promoting mutations that are believed to cause resistance to these drugs.


Which side is which?: How the brain perceives borders

LA JOLLA—In the classic “Rubin’s vase” optical illusion, you can see either an elaborate, curvy vase or two faces, noses nearly touching. At any given moment, which scene you perceive depends on whether your brain is viewing the central vase shape to be the foreground or background of the picture.


Reading the mind of a worm

LA JOLLA—It sounds like a party trick: scientists can now look at the brain activity of a tiny worm and tell you which chemical the animal smelled a few seconds before. But the findings of a new study, led by Salk Associate Professor Sreekanth Chalasani, are more than just a novelty; they help the scientists better understand how the brain functions and integrates information.


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

LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joanne Chory, Joseph Ecker, Rusty Gage, Satchidananda Panda, Reuben Shaw and Kay Tye have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate. The list identifies researchers who demonstrate “significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers.” Chory, Ecker and Gage have been named to this list every year since 2014, when the regular annual rankings began. This is Tye’s fifth, Shaw’s third and Panda’s first time receiving the designation. Additionally, Ecker appeared in two separate categories: “plant and animal science” and “molecular biology and genetics” and is one of 3.4 percent of researchers selected in two fields. Joseph Nery, a research assistant II in the Ecker lab, was also included on the list.


Salk Institute announces historic $100M challenge gift from Irwin and Joan Jacobs

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today that Irwin and Joan Jacobs, longtime supporters of the renowned scientific research organization, have pledged $100M to launch Salk’s five-year, $500M philanthropic and scientific Campaign for the Future. The gift is structured as a challenge match, adding $1 to every $2 pledged by June 30, 2022 as a donor naming or endowment gift. The Campaign for the Future will provide funds to construct the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Science and Technology Center on Salk’s iconic campus in La Jolla, support key scientific programs, and increase Salk’s endowment.


Salk Institute awards Medal for Research Excellence to neurobiologist and geneticist Cori Bargmann

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has awarded neurobiologist and geneticist Cori Bargmann its prestigious Medal for Research Excellence, which recognizes a scientist who has made significant contributions in the area of basic scientific research. Bargmann, who leads the science program at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and is the Torsten N. Wiesel Professor at The Rockefeller University, received her award on November 11, 2021.