LA JOLLA—Not all of your genome needs to be active at any given time. Some regions are prone to hopping around the genome in problematic ways if left unchecked; others code for genes that need to be turned off in certain cells or at certain times. One way that cells keep these genetic elements under control is with the chemical equivalent of a “do not use” sign. This chemical signal, called DNA methylation, is known to vary in different cell types or at different stages of cellular development, but the details of how cells regulate exactly where to put DNA methylation marks have remained unclear.
LA JOLLA—By creating multiple types of neurons from stem cells and observing how they interact, Salk scientists have developed a new way to study the connections between brain cells in the lab. Using the technique, which generates a partial model of the brain, the team showed how communication between neurons is altered in people with schizophrenia. The work appeared in Cell Stem Cell on May 3, 2018.
LA JOLLA—If 95 percent of your neighbors are chatty and outgoing, you probably know more about them than the 5 percent who are reclusive and shy. It’s similar for neuroscientists who study the striatum, a brain region associated with action control and learning: they know a lot more about the 95 percent of neurons that communicate with outside regions than the 5 percent that communicate only within the striatum.
LA JOLLA—For most people with hemophilia B, whose bodies can’t properly form blood clots, constant injections to replenish their clotting factors are a way of life. But now, Salk researchers have demonstrated in mice that hemophilia B can be treated for life with one single injection containing disease-free liver cells that can produce their missing clotting factor. The finding, published in the journal Cell Reports on May 1, 2018, could drastically change what it means to be diagnosed with hemophilia B, and could pave the way toward similar treatments for other, related genetic disorders.
LA JOLLA—Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is an incredibly deadly brain cancer and presents a serious black box challenge. It’s virtually impossible to observe how these tumors operate in their natural environment and animal models don’t always provide good answers.
LA JOLLA—On Friday, April 20, 2018, the Salk Institute launched a new initiative called Conquering Cancer, to harness specific and emerging scientific strategies to tackle the five deadliest cancers: pancreatic, ovarian, lung, brain (glioblastoma) and triple-negative breast.
LA JOLLA—Many neurological disorders—Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, even depression—have lagged behind in new therapies. Because the brain is so complex, it can be difficult to discover new drugs and even when a drug is promising in animal models, it often doesn’t work for humans.
LA JOLLA—With forensic science facing mounting scrutiny as it plays an increasingly prominent role in the administration of justice, six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes. Their call to action appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of April 9, 2018.
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists, together with researchers from Switzerland’s University of Basel and University Hospital Basel, discovered a protein called LHPP that acts as a molecular switch to turn off the uncontrolled growth of cells in liver cancer. The tumor suppressor, which could be useful as a biomarker to help diagnose and monitor treatment for liver cancer, could also be relevant for other cancer types. The work appeared in print in the journal Nature on March 29, 2018, and adds to the growing body of knowledge about cellular processes that either promote or prevent cancer.
LA JOLLA—Professor Tony Hunter, who holds an American Cancer Society Professorship at the Salk Institute, has received the 2018 Pezcoller–AACR International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research, one of the most prestigious honors in the field of cancer research. The prize recognizes a scientist of international renown who has made a major scientific discovery in basic cancer research or who has made significant contributions to translational cancer research.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has promoted structural biologist Dmitry Lyumkis to the rank of assistant professor for his significant early contributions to the up-and-coming field of electron microscopy known as cryo-EM. The promotion was based on recommendations by Salk faculty and nonresident fellows, and approved by Interim President Rusty Gage and the Institute’s Board of Trustees.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has promoted Xin Jin, a member of the Institute’s world-renowned neuroscience faculty, to the rank of associate professor, as his research continues to provide significant insights into diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. The promotion was based on recommendations by Salk faculty and nonresident fellows, and approved by Interim President Rusty Gage and the Institute’s Board of Trustees.
LA JOLLA—In the perennial question of nature versus nurture, a new study suggests an intriguing connection between the two. Salk Institute scientists report in the journal Science that the type of mothering a female mouse provides her pups actually changes their DNA. The work lends support to studies about how childhood environments affect brain development in humans and could provide insights into neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.
LA JOLLA—Ask a dozen people about their greatest fears, and you’ll likely get a dozen different responses. That, along with the complexity of the human brain, makes fear—and its close cousin, anxiety—difficult to study. For this reason, clinical anti-anxiety medicines have mixed results, even though they are broadly prescribed. In fact, one in six Americans takes a psychiatric drug.
LA JOLLA—Most people have heard of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology, which acts as targeted molecular scissors to cut and replace disease-causing genes with healthy ones. But DNA is only part of the story; many genetic diseases are caused by problems with RNA, a working copy of DNA that is translated into proteins.
LA JOLLA—While most fat cells in the human body store energy, everyone has a small subset of brown fat cells that do the opposite—burn energy and generate heat. Now, Salk researchers have discovered how the molecule ERRγ gives this “healthier” brown fat its energy-expending identity, making those cells ready to warm you up when you step into the cold, and potentially offering a new therapeutic target for diseases related to obesity. The paper appears in Cell Reports on March 13, 2018.
LA JOLLA—For the seventh consecutive time, the Salk Institute’s strong financial health and continuing commitment to accountability and transparency have earned a coveted 4-star (out of 4 stars) rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity and nonprofit evaluator. Receiving the highest ranking for seven consecutive ratings puts Salk in a distinguished class of nonprofits—only four percent of nonprofits evaluated achieve that status, indicating that the Salk Institute outperforms most other charities in America in this regard.
LA JOLLA—If you’ve ever wondered how strenuous exercise translates into better endurance, researchers at the Salk Institute may have your answer. In a study published in the journal Cell Reports on March 6, 2018, scientists in Ronald Evans’ lab have shown that the protein ERRγ (ERR gamma) helps deliver many of the benefits associated with endurance exercise.