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Salk News

Faulty DNA disposal system causes inflammation

LA JOLLA—Cells in the human body contain power-generating mitochondria, each with their own mtDNA—a unique set of genetic instructions entirely separate from the cell’s nuclear DNA that mitochondria use to create life-giving energy. When mtDNA remains where it belongs (inside of mitochondria), it sustains both mitochondrial and cellular health—but when it goes where it doesn’t belong, it can initiate an immune response that promotes inflammation.

Lung cancer hijacks immune cell metabolism to fuel its own growth

LA JOLLA—Lung adenocarcinoma is the most common lung cancer and the cause of most cancer-related deaths in the United States. There are several ways lung adenocarcinoma can arise, one of which is a mutation in a protein called EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor). Non-mutated EGFR helps cells grow in response to injury, but mutated EGFR promotes out-of-control growth that can turn into cancer. Modern immunotherapies don’t work against EGFR-driven lung adenocarcinoma, and while some drugs exist to treat the cancer, patients typically develop a resistance to them within just a few years. This gap in the treatment toolchest inspired Salk Institute researchers to probe for weak spots in the cancer’s growth pathway.

Salk Professor Joanne Chory honored with Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Joanne Chory has been selected by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to receive a Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science for her achievements in plant science. She will receive a 14-karat gold medal and a $10,000 honorarium at the Franklin Institute Awards Ceremony in April 2024. Chory joins other extraordinary scientists and engineers as a Franklin laureate, including Nikola Tesla, Marie and Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Jane Goodall, among others.

Salk Institute names Jan Karlseder as Chief Science Officer

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has named Jan Karlseder as its new senior vice president and chief science officer (CSO). Karlseder, a professor in Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research, and Donald and Darlene Shiley Chair for Research on Aging, will assume the role on February 1, 2024.

Salk Institute Professor Ronald Evans honored with Japan Prize

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Ronald Evans has been named the 2024 recipient of the Japan Prize in the field of Medical Science and Pharmaceutical Science. The Japan Prize Foundation awards this prestigious international award annually to “express Japan’s gratitude to international society.”

Salk researchers earn $1.3 million W. M. Keck Foundation award to study aging brain

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Rusty Gage and Assistant Professor Pallav Kosuri have been awarded $1.3 million by the W. M. Keck Foundation to fund a novel investigation into the way brain and heart cell functions decline over time due to ribosubstitution events—cellular repair of DNA damage with RNA building blocks rather than DNA building blocks. The award combines the biological discovery of ribosubstitution made by Senior Research Associate Jeff Jones in Gage’s lab with the technological advancements established by Postdoctoral Researcher Yuening Liu in Kosuri’s lab. The W. M. Keck Foundation was established with the goal of generating far-reaching benefits for humanity by supporting outstanding science, engineering, and medical research.

Salk Distinguished Professor Emeritus Roger Guillemin, Nobel Prize laureate, celebrates 100th birthday

Roger Guillemin, Salk Distinguished Professor Emeritus and recipient of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, celebrates turning 100 years old on January 11.

Iron influences plant immunity and may promote resiliency against climate change

LA JOLLA—Plants and animals alike rely on iron for growth and regulation of microbiomes—collections of bacteria, fungi, and more that co-exist in places like the human gut or the soil around a plant’s roots. Plants face a special challenge when acquiring iron, since the strategies plants use to increase iron availability alter the root microbiome and can inadvertently benefit harmful soil-dwelling bacteria.

Salk Institute’s Terrence Sejnowski named Scientist of the Year by ARCS San Diego

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Terrence Sejnowski has been named 2024 Scientist of the Year by the ARCS Foundation of San Diego. The ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Students) San Diego chapter is honoring Sejnowski for his pioneering research in neural networks and computational neuroscience.

Salk scientists uncover key brain pathway mediating panic disorder symptoms

LA JOLLA—Overwhelming fear, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate—these are the symptoms of a panic attack, which people with panic disorder have frequently and unexpectedly. Creating a map of the regions, neurons, and connections in the brain that mediate these panic attacks can provide guidance for developing more effective panic disorder therapeutics.

Salk Institute welcomes San Diego philanthropist Amy Jacobs as new trustee

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute Board of Trustees welcomes its newest trustee, Amy Jacobs. Chaired by Marna C. Whittington, the Salk Board helps drive the direction of the world-renowned biological research facility founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk.

Salk teams assemble first full epigenomic cell atlas of the mouse brain

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute researchers, as part of a worldwide initiative to revolutionize scientists’ understanding of the brain, analyzed more than 2 million brain cells from mice to assemble the most complete atlas ever of the mouse brain. Their work, published December 13, 2023 in a special issue of Nature, not only details the thousands of cell types present in the brain but also how those cells connect and the genes and regulatory programs that are active in each cell.

Salk Institute celebrates 50th anniversary and renewal of National Cancer Institute designation

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute marks 50 years as a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Center with good news: NCI has renewed the designation and grant support for another five years.

How drugs can target the thick “scar tissue” of pancreatic cancer

LA JOLLA—Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers—only about one in eight patients survives five years after diagnosis. Those dismal statistics are in part due to the thick, nearly impenetrable wall of fibrosis, or scar tissue, that surrounds most pancreatic tumors and makes it hard for drugs to access and destroy the cancer cells.

Salk Fellows Program welcomes physicist Adam Bowman

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has appointed Adam Bowman to the Salk Fellows Program, where he will join current Salk Fellow Talmo Pereira. Joining in March 2024, Bowman is an applied physicist who develops new technologies for optical microscopy.

Repairing nerve cells after injury and in chronic disease

LA JOLLA—Each year in the United States there are more than 3 million cases of peripheral neuropathy, wherein nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord are damaged and cause pain and loss of feeling in the affected areas. Peripheral neuropathy can occur from diabetes, injury, genetically inherited disease, infection, and more. Salk scientists have now uncovered in mice a mechanism for repairing damaged nerves during peripheral neuropathy. They discovered that the protein Mitf helps turn on the repair function of specialized nervous system Schwann cells.

Seven Salk scientists named among best and most highly cited researchers in the world

LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joseph Ecker, Ronald Evans, Satchidananda Panda, Rusty Gage, and Kay Tye, as well as Assistant Professor Jesse Dixon, have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate. The 2023 list includes 6,849 researchers from 67 countries, all of whom demonstrate “significant and broad influence reflected in their publication of multiple highly cited papers over the last decade.” This is the ninth consecutive year that Ecker and Gage have made the list. Joseph Nery, a research assistant II in the Ecker lab, was also included on the list.

Genetic architecture may be key to using peacekeeping immune cells to treat autoimmunity or fight cancer

LA JOLLA—Regulatory T cells are specialized immune cells that suppress the immune response and prevent the body from attacking its own cells. Understanding how these cells work is key to determining how they might be manipulated to encourage the destruction of cancer cells or prevent autoimmunity. Cell behavior is influenced by chromatin architecture (the 3D shape of chromosomes) and which genes are accessible to proteins—like Foxp3, which promotes regulatory T cell development.

Jerry Sheehan named Salk Institute’s chief information officer

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has appointed Jerry Sheehan as the Institute’s chief information officer (CIO). He will assume the position December 4. Sheehan served most recently as vice president and CIO at San Diego State University, where he led the development and deployment of information technology infrastructure and services for research, instruction, and administration.

Salk Institute receives Charity Navigator’s highest rating for twelfth consecutive time

LA JOLLA—For the twelfth consecutive time, the Salk Institute has earned the highest ranking—4 out of 4 stars—from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity and nonprofit evaluator. The coveted ranking indicates the Salk Institute has demonstrated strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency, outperforming most other charities in the United States with respect to executing best fiscal practices and carrying out its mission in a financially efficient way.