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Salk News

Salk Institute mourns the loss of Distinguished Professor Emerita Ursula Bellugi

LA JOLLA—Ursula Bellugi, Distinguished Professor Emerita and Founder’s Chair at the Salk Institute, 2008 inductee to the National Academy of Sciences and winner of the Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, died peacefully on April 17, 2022, in La Jolla, CA, at the age of 91.

How obesity can rewire the immune system and the response to immunotherapy—and how to change that

LA JOLLA—When mice with atopic dermatitis—a common type of allergic skin inflammation—are treated with drugs that target the immune system, their thickened, itchy skin generally heals quickly. But scientists have now discovered that the same treatment in obese mice makes their skin worse, instead. That is because obesity changes the molecular underpinnings of allergic inflammation, both in mice and humans.

Richard Murphy, former Salk Institute president and CEO, dies at 77

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute mourns the loss of Richard “Rich” Murphy, who died March 24, 2022, in La Quinta, California at the age of 77. Murphy served as the Institute’s president and CEO from 2000 to 2007.

Salk scientist Tony Hunter receives 2022 AACR Lifetime Achievement Award in Cancer Research

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Tony Hunter will receive the 2022 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research at the April annual meeting of AACR, the largest cancer research organization in the world dedicated to preventing and curing all cancers. This major award is a significant recognition of Hunter’s contributions to cancer research, which have led to the development of the highly effective leukemia drug GleevecTM.

Salk Institute appoints Sue Bacino Vice President of Human Resources

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today the appointment of Sue Bacino as Vice President of Human Resources (HR) to advance the overall mission of Salk through the acquisition, retention and support of a diverse, world-class faculty and staff.

How the brain encodes social rank and “winning mindset”

LA JOLLA—If you’re reaching for the last piece of pizza at a party and see another hand going for it at the same time, your next move probably depends both on how you feel and whom the hand belongs to. Your little sister—you might go ahead and grab the pizza. Your boss—you’re probably more likely to step back and give up the slice. But if you’re hungry and feeling particularly confident, you might go for it.

Salk scientists receive 2022 Mark Foundation Endeavor Award to study lung cancer

LA JOLLA—Professors Reuben Shaw, Susan Kaech, Christian Metallo and Alan Saghatelian have received a 2022 Mark Foundation for Cancer Research Endeavor Award to support their research exploring the metabolic changes that help lung cancers develop. The $3 million Endeavor Award promotes collaborative science to tackle some of the toughest challenges in cancer research. The Salk team—one of four teams chosen out of nearly 200 applications submitted by institutions around the world—hopes their work will lead to the development of more effective lung cancer treatments.

New technology enables unprecedented glimpse inside single brain cells

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute researchers have developed a new genomic technology to simultaneously analyze the DNA, RNA and chromatin—a combination of DNA and protein—from a single cell. The method, which took five years to develop, is an important step forward for large collaborations where multiple teams are working simultaneously to classify thousands of new cell types. The new technology, published in Cell Genomics on March 9, 2022, will help streamline analyses.

Cellular rejuvenation therapy safely reverses signs of aging in mice

LA JOLLA—Age may be just a number, but it’s a number that often carries unwanted side effects, from brittle bones and weaker muscles to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute, in collaboration with Genentech, a member of the Roche group, have shown that they can safely and effectively reverse the aging process in middle-aged and elderly mice by partially resetting their cells to more youthful states. The study was published in Nature Aging on March 7, 2022.

Tiny worms make complex decisions, too

LA JOLLA—How does an animal make decisions? Scientists have spent decades trying to answer this question by focusing on the cells and connections of the brain that might be involved. Salk scientists are taking a different approach—analyzing behavior, not neurons. They were surprised to find that worms can take multiple factors into account and choose between two different actions, despite having only 302 neurons compared to approximately 86 billion in humans.

Salk Professor Martyn Goulding wins Brain Prize

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Martyn Goulding will receive the 2022 Brain Prize for pioneering research on the neuronal circuits that control movement, the Lundbeck Foundation announced today.

Salk Institute mourns the passing of Paul Farmer, champion of global health equity

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute mourns the loss of Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, a champion of global health equity and recipient of the inaugural Salk Institute Medal for Health and Humanity in 2005 (now known as the Salk Medal for Public Service). Farmer died in his sleep in Rwanda on February 21. He was co-founder and chief strategist of Partners In Health, an international non-profit organization that provides health care, infrastructure and advocacy for the communities that need it most. He was also professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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.