LA JOLLA—Advanced pancreatic cancer is often symptomless, leading to late diagnosis only after metastases have spread throughout the body. Additionally, tumor cells are encased in a “protective shield,” a microenvironment conferring resistance to many cancer treatment drugs. Now, Salk Institute researchers, along with an international team of collaborators, have uncovered the role of a signaling protein that may be the Achilles’ heel of pancreatic cancer.
LA JOLLA—Three Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted after the latest round of faculty reviews determined they are scientific leaders who have made original, innovative and notable contributions to biological research.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative to combat climate change using plants, led by Professor Joanne Chory, executive director of the Harnessing Plants Initiative, will receive funding of more than $35 million from over 10 individuals and organizations through The Audacious Project, a highly competitive program housed at TED, the nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading. The collective commitments represent one of the largest gifts to a single project in the Institute’s history.
LA JOLLA—Nobel Laureate and Salk Distinguished Professor Emeritus Sydney Brenner passed away on April 5, 2019, in Singapore at the age of 92. Over the course of six decades, Brenner shaped the modern understanding of the genetic code.
LA JOLLA—Metastatic ovarian, prostate and breast cancers are notoriously difficult to treat and often deadly. Now, Salk Institute researchers have revealed a new role for the CDK12 protein. The findings were published in the print version of Genes & Development on April 1, 2019.
LA JOLLA—Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for major depressive disorder (MDD), yet scientists still do not understand why the treatment does not work in nearly thirty percent of patients with MDD. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered differences in growth patterns of neurons of SSRI-resistant patients. The work, published in Molecular Psychiatry on March 22, 2019, has implications for depression as well as other psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that likely also involve abnormalities of the serotonin system in the brain.
LA JOLLA—(March 22, 2019) Similar to the dozens of Sherpas that guide hikers up treacherous Himalayan mountains to reach a summit, the nervous system relies on elaborate timing and location of guidance cues for neuronal axons—threadlike projections—to successfully reach their destinations in the body. Now, Salk Institute researchers discover how neurons navigate a tricky cellular environment by listening for directions, while simultaneously filtering out inappropriate instructions to avoid getting lost. The findings appeared in Neuron on March 19, 2019.
LA JOLLA—It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for. In a famous example, people were asked to closely observe two groups of people—one group clad in black, the other in white—pass a ball among themselves. Viewers were asked to count the number of times the ball passed from black to white. Remarkably, most observers did not notice a man in a gorilla suit, walking among the players. This ability of the brain to ignore extraneous visual information is critical to how we work and function, but the processes governing perception and attention are not fully understood. Scientists have long theorized that attention to a particular object can alter perception by amplifying certain neuronal activity and suppressing the activity of other neurons (brain “noise”).
LA JOLLA—Salk researchers have found, for the first time, that a blood-clotting protein can, unexpectedly, degrade nerves—and how nerve-supporting glial cells, including Schwann cells, provide protection. The findings, published March 14, 2019, in the journal PLOS Genetics, show that Schwann cells protect nerves by blocking this blood-clotting protein as well as other potentially destructive enzymes released by muscle cells. The work could have implications for diseases as diverse as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute Board of Trustees is pleased to announce its two newest members, David Dolby and Mark Knickrehm, both innovative leaders in business and technology.
LA JOLLA—As cancer death rates drop overall, doctors have noted a frightening anomaly: deaths from colorectal cancer in people under 55 appear to be creeping up. According to the American Cancer Society, deaths in this younger group increased by 1 percent between 2007 and 2016.
LA JOLLA—The medicinal powers of aspirin, digitalis, and the anti-malarial artemisinin all come from plants. A Salk Institute discovery of a potent neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory chemical in a native California shrub may lead to a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease based on a compound found in nature. The research appears in the February 2019 issue of the journal Redox Biology.
LA JOLLA—Aging is a leading risk factor for a number of debilitating conditions, including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few. This makes the need for anti-aging therapies all the more urgent. Now, Salk Institute researchers have developed a new gene therapy to help decelerate the aging process.
LA JOLLA—What makes us human, and where does this mysterious property of “humanness” come from? Humans are genetically similar to chimpanzees and bonobos, yet there exist obvious behavioral and cognitive differences. Now, researchers from the Salk Institute, in collaboration with researchers from the anthropology department at UC San Diego, have developed a strategy to more easily study the early development of human neurons compared with the neurons of nonhuman primates. The study, which appeared in eLife on February 7, 2019, offers scientists a novel tool for fundamental brain research.
LA JOLLA—The most commonly prescribed antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), lift the fog of depression for many people. But for around a third of people with major depressive disorder, SSRIs don’t make much of a difference. Now, researchers from the Salk Institute have pinned down a possible reason why—the neurons in at least some of these patients’ brains may become hyperactive in the presence of the drugs. The study appeared in Molecular Psychiatry on January 30, 2019.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has promoted Nicola Allen and Julie Law to the rank of associate professor for their notable contributions to neurobiology and plant biology, respectively. The promotions were based on recommendations by Salk faculty and nonresident fellows, and approved by President Rusty Gage and the Institute’s Board of Trustees.
LA JOLLA—Just as plastic tips protect the ends of shoelaces and keep them from fraying when we tie them, molecular tips called telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes and keep them from fusing when cells continually divide and duplicate their DNA. But while losing the plastic tips may lead to messy laces, telomere loss may lead to cancer.
LA JOLLA—Salk researchers have mapped the genomes and epigenomes of genetically modified plant lines with the highest resolution ever to reveal exactly what happens at a molecular level when a piece of foreign DNA is inserted. Their findings, published in the journal PLOS Genetics on January 18, 2019, elucidate the routine methods used to modify plants, and offer new ways to more effectively minimize potential off-target effects.
LA JOLLA—The incidence of some neurological diseases—especially those related to aging, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases—is increasing. To better understand these conditions and evaluate potential new treatments, researchers need accurate models that they can study in the lab.