Cancer Biology

Recent Discoveries

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Cancer Biology - Recent Discoveries

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Salk researchers awarded $2.5 million for innovative pancreatic cancer clinical trial

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor and HHMI Investigator Ronald Evans has been awarded $2.5 million by Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) as part of a multi-institution team to conduct clinical studies to open up a new avenue for immunotherapy in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. While the cancer normally excludes immune T-cells, the Evans lab discovered that modified vitamin D reprograms the cancer environment in a way that may allow the Merck drug Keytruda® to invade and destroy the tumor.


The right way to repair DNA

LA JOLLA—Is it better to do a task quickly and make mistakes, or to do it slowly but perfectly? When it comes to deciding how to fix breaks in DNA, cells face the same choice between two major repair pathways. The decision matters, because the wrong choice could cause even more DNA damage and lead to cancer.


MicroRNA helps cancer evade immune system

LA JOLLA—The immune system automatically destroys dysfunctional cells such as cancer cells, but cancerous tumors often survive nonetheless. A new study by Salk scientists shows one method by which fast-growing tumors evade anti-tumor immunity.


Salk Institute scientist Reuben Shaw receives National Cancer Institute Outstanding Investigator Award

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Reuben Shaw has received the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Outstanding Investigator Award (OIA), which encourages cancer research with breakthrough potential. Shaw, a member of Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and holder of the William R. Brody Chair, will receive $4.2 million in direct funding over the next seven years to further his work. The award is granted, according to the NCI website, to innovative cancer researchers with outstanding records of productivity to allow them to take greater risks and be more adventurous in their research.


Salk scientists solve longstanding biological mystery of DNA organization

LA JOLLA—Stretched out, the DNA from all the cells in our body would reach Pluto. So how does each tiny cell pack a two-meter length of DNA into its nucleus, which is just one-thousandth of a millimeter across?


Salk scientist awarded inaugural Sjöberg Prize for cancer breakthrough

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Tony Hunter, who holds an American Cancer Society Professorship, has been awarded $500,000 as part of the $1 million Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ inaugural Sjöberg Prize for Cancer Research for “groundbreaking studies of cellular processes that have led to the development of new and effective cancer drugs.” The prize ceremony, which is modeled after the Nobel Prize ceremony, will be held in Stockholm during the Academy’s annual meeting on March 31, 2017, in the presence of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen of Sweden.


Pancreatic tumors rely on signals from surrounding cells

LA JOLLA—Just as an invasive weed might need nutrient-rich soil and water to grow, many cancers rely on the right surroundings in the body to thrive. A tumor’s microenvironment—the nearby tissues, immune cells, blood vessels and extracellular matrix—has long been known to play a role in the tumor’s growth.


Immune receptors amplify “invader” signals by turning into mini-machines

LA JOLLA—When a receptor on the surface of a T cell—a sentry of the human immune system—senses a single particle from a harmful intruder, it immediately kicks the cell into action, launching a larger immune response. But exactly how the signal from a single receptor, among thousands on each T cell, can be amplified to affect a whole cell has puzzled immunologists for decades.


Clodagh O’Shea named HHMI Faculty Scholar for groundbreaking work in designing synthetic viruses to destroy cancer

LA JOLLA—Clodagh O’Shea, an associate professor in the Salk Institute’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, is among the first recipients of a grant from the Faculty Scholars Program, a new partnership of Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Simons Foundation for early career researchers whose work shows the potential for groundbreaking contributions in their fields. O’Shea is one of 84 Faculty Scholars who will receive $100,000–$400,000 per year over five years to support their pursuit of innovative research.


Targeting fat to treat cancer

LA JOLLA—Fat isn’t just something we eat: it may also lie at the heart of a new approach to treating cancer.


Helmsley-Salk fellow garners prestigious microscopy award

Helmsley-Salk Fellow Dmitry Lyumkis has been awarded the 2016 George Palade Award by the Microscopy Society of America. The award is given for distinguished contributions to the field of microscopy and microanalysis in the life sciences of an early career scientist.


Salk scientists uncover how a cell’s “fuel gauge” promotes healthy development

LA JOLLA—(April 25, 2016) Salk scientists have revealed how a cellular “fuel gauge” responsible for monitoring and managing cells’ energy processes also has an unexpected role in development. This critical link could help researchers better understand cancer and diabetes pathways.


Scientists find key driver for treatment of deadly brain cancer

LA JOLLA—Glioblastoma multiforme is a particularly deadly cancer. A person diagnosed with this type of brain tumor typically survives 15 months, if given the best care. The late Senator Ted Kennedy succumbed to this disease in just over a year.


Salk Cancer Center appoints Reuben Shaw as new director

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has named Professor Reuben Shaw as the new director of Salk’s National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center. Shaw is a member of Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and the holder of the William R. Brody Chair.


Salk researcher Beverly Emerson named 2015 AAAS Fellow for contributions to science

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Beverly Emerson has been named a 2015 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society. She earned the recognition for her distinguished contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms by which genes are transcriptionally regulated and how these processes can malfunction to cause disease.


Salk professor Ron Evans to co-lead ‘Dream Team’ of pancreatic cancer researchers from US, UK

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute will co-lead a new transatlantic ‘Dream Team’ of researchers that will launch a fresh attack on pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer on both sides of the Atlantic. Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), Cancer Research UK, and The Lustgarten Foundation selected the team and will provide $12 million in funding over three years.


Molecular “brake” stifles human lung cancer

LA JOLLA–Scientists at the Salk Institute have uncovered a molecule whose mutation leads to the aggressive growth of a common and deadly type of lung cancer in humans.


Geoffrey Wahl named a National Cancer Institute Outstanding Investigator Award recipient to further his cancer research

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Geoffrey Wahl will receive the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Outstanding Investigator Award (OIA), which encourages cancer research with breakthrough potential. Wahl, a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, will receive $7.9 million over a seven-year period to further his cancer research.


New drug squashes cancer’s last-ditch efforts to survive

LA JOLLA–As a tumor grows, its cancerous cells ramp up an energy-harvesting process to support its hasty development. This process, called autophagy, is normally used by a cell to recycle damaged organelles and proteins, but is also co-opted by cancer cells to meet their increased energy and metabolic demands.


Targeting telomeres, the timekeepers of cells, could improve chemotherapy

LA JOLLA–Telomeres, specialized ends of our chromosomes that dictate how long cells can continue to duplicate themselves, have long been studied for their links to the aging process and cancer. Now, a discovery at the Salk Institute shows that telomeres may be more central than previously thought to a self-destruct program in cells that prevents tumors, a function that could potentially be exploited to improve cancer therapies.


Tony Hunter wins BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine

LA JOLLA–Tony Hunter, professor and director of the Salk Institute Cancer Center, in La Jolla, California, has received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Biomedicine category for “carving out the path that led to the development of a new class of successful cancer drugs.”


Salk scientists unveil powerful method to speed cancer drug discovery

LA JOLLA–For decades, researchers have struggled to translate basic scientific discoveries about cancer into therapeutics that effectively–and with minimal side effects–shrink a tumor.


Salk scientists deliver a promising one-two punch for lung cancer

LA JOLLA–Scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered a powerful one-two punch for countering a common genetic mutation that often leads to drug-resistant cancers. The dual-drug therapy–with analogs already in use for other diseases–doubled the survival rate of mice with lung cancer and halted cancer in pancreatic cells.


Findings point to an “off switch” for drug resistance in cancer

LA JOLLA–Like a colony of bacteria or species of animals, cancer cells within a tumor must evolve to survive. A dose of chemotherapy may kill hundreds of thousands of cancer cells, for example, but a single cell with a unique mutation can survive and quickly generate a new batch of drug-resistant cells, making cancer hard to combat.



Modified vitamin D shows promise as treatment for pancreatic cancer

LA JOLLA–A synthetic derivative of vitamin D was found by Salk Institute researchers to collapse the barrier of cells shielding pancreatic tumors, making this seemingly impenetrable cancer much more susceptible to therapeutic drugs.


Simple method turns human skin cells into immune-fighting white blood cells

LA JOLLA—For the first time, scientists have turned human skin cells into transplantable white blood cells, soldiers of the immune system that fight infections and invaders. The work, done at the Salk Institute, could let researchers create therapies that introduce into the body new white blood cells capable of attacking diseased or cancerous cells or augmenting immune responses against other disorders.


Genetic signal prevents immune cells from turning against the body

LA JOLLA–When faced with pathogens, the immune system summons a swarm of cells made up of soldiers and peacekeepers. The peacekeeping cells tell the soldier cells to halt fighting when invaders are cleared. Without this cease-fire signal, the soldiers, known as killer T cells, continue their frenzied attack and turn on the body, causing inflammation and autoimmune disorders such as allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.


Salk researcher Tony Hunter to receive 2014 Royal Medal in biological sciences

LA JOLLA–Salk Institute professor Tony Hunter has been awarded the 2014 Royal Medal for biological sciences by the Royal Society, a fellowship of some of the world’s most eminent scientists based in the United Kingdom.


New gene discovered that stops the spread of deadly cancer

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have identified a gene responsible for stopping the movement of cancer from the lungs to other parts of the body, indicating a new way to fight one of the world’s deadliest cancers.


No extra mutations in modified stem cells, study finds

LA JOLLA—The ability to switch out one gene for another in a line of living stem cells has only crossed from science fiction to reality within this decade. As with any new technology, it brings with it both promise—the hope of fixing disease-causing genes in humans, for example—as well as questions and safety concerns. Now, Salk scientists have put one of those concerns to rest: using gene-editing techniques on stem cells doesn’t increase the overall occurrence of mutations in the cells. The new results were published July 3, 2014 in the journal Cell Stem Cell.


Salk Institute welcomes four new faculty

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute is pleased to welcome a new full professor and three new assistant professors, all exceptional leaders in their respective fields. The new faculty will facilitate innovative and collaborative breakthroughs in understanding human health and disease.


Pedal the Cause funds local ground-breaking cancer research with inaugural grant awards

LA JOLLA—Pedal the Cause, the region’s only multiday cycling fundraiser where 100 percent of the net proceeds goes to support cancer research in San Diego, today announced five research projects funded by the inaugural 2013 event. The Pedal the Cause grants offer enough support for initial experiments, which will ideally lead to grants from federal sources and to large-scale studies.


Salk professor named grantee in new pancreatic cancer research program

LA JOLLA—Ronald M. Evans, director of the Gene Expression Laboratory at Salk and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is one of three scientists chosen to receive $5 million in research funding as part of The Lustgarten Foundation’s new “Distinguished Scholars” program, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding achievements in research to focus their efforts on finding a cure for pancreatic cancer.


Salk’s Glenn Center for Aging Research receives an additional $3 million gift from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has received a $3 million gift from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research to allow the Institute to continue conducting research to understand the biology of normal human aging and age-related diseases.


Ability to isolate and grow breast tissue stem cells could speed cancer research

LA JOLLA—By carefully controlling the levels of two proteins, researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered how to keep mammary stem cells—those that can form breast tissue—alive and functioning in the lab. The new ability to propagate mammary stem cells is allowing them to study both breast development and the formation of breast cancers.


Salk Institute study identifies novel regulator of key gene expression in cancer

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified a key genetic switch linked to the development, progression and outcome of cancer, a finding that may lead to new targets for cancer therapies.


Geoffrey Wahl elected to Academy of Arts and Sciences class of 2014 for outstanding scientific work

LA JOLLA—The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) elected Salk Professor Geoffrey M. Wahl to its society, whose ranks include Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize recipients and Oscar winners, as well intellectual luminaries such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Wahl joins 13 other Salk professors as members into the prestigious AAAS.


Salk cancer metabolism expert Reuben Shaw promoted to full professor

LA JOLLA—Reuben Shaw, a member of the Salk Institute’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute early career scientist, has been promoted from associate professor to full professor.
After a rigorous evaluation process by Salk senior faculty, non-resident fellows and scientific peers, the promotion was announced Friday.


Scientists reveal potential link between brain development and breast cancer gene

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have uncovered details into a surprising—and crucial—link between brain development and a gene whose mutation is tied to breast and ovarian cancer. Aside from better understanding neurological damage associated in a small percentage of people susceptible to breast cancers, the new work also helps to better understand the evolution of the brain.


Salk scientist Vicki Lundblad wins accolades

LA JOLLA—Vicki Lundblad, professor of the Salk Institute’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, has been awarded the Becky and Ralph S. O’Connor Chair and elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.


Salk scientists identify factors that trigger ALT-ernative cancer cell growth

LA JOLLA, CA—Highly diverse cancers share one trait: the capacity for endless cell division. Unregulated growth is due in large part to the fact that tumor cells can rebuild protective ends of their chromosomes, which are made of repeated DNA sequences and proteins. Normally, cell division halts once these structures, called telomeres, wear down. But cancer cells keep on going by deploying one of two strategies to reconstruct telomeres.


Salk scientists discover more versatile approach to creating stem cells

LA JOLLA, CA—Stem cells are key to the promise of regenerative medicine: the repair or replacement of injured tissues with custom grown substitutes. Essential to this process are induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which can be created from a patient’s own tissues, thus eliminating the risk of immune rejection. However, Shinya Yamanaka’s formula for iPSCs, for which he was awarded last year’s Nobel Prize, uses a strict recipe that allows for limited variations in human cells, restricting their full potential for clinical application.


Critical pathway in cell cycle may lead to cancer development

LA JOLLA,CA—A team of scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has identified why disruption of a vital pathway in cell cycle control leads to the proliferation of cancer cells. Their findings on telomeres, the stretches of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect our genetic code and make it possible for cells to divide, suggest a potential target for preventive measures against cancer, aging and other diseases. The findings were published July 11, 2013 in Molecular Cell.


Salk researchers identify potential biomarker for cancer diagnosis

LA JOLLA,CA—Scientists studying cancer development have known about micronuclei
for some time. These erratic, small extra nuclei, which contain fragments, or whole
chromosomes that were not incorporated into daughter cells after cell division,
are associated with specific forms of cancer and are predictive of poorer prognosis.


Three Salk faculty awarded endowed chairs

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk scientists Beverly M. Emerson, Christopher R. Kintner, and Paul E. Sawchenko were selected as inaugural holders of new endowed chairs created through the Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair Challenge. In 2008, Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs created a challenge grant to establish endowed chairs for senior scientists. For every $2 million that a donor contributes toward an endowed chair at the Institute, the Jacobses will add $1 million to achieve the $3 million funding level required to fully endow a chair for a Salk senior scientist. To date, 17 out of 20 chairs have been established.


Protein preps cells to survive stress of cancer growth and chemotherapy

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have uncovered a survival mechanism that occurs in breast cells that have just turned premalignant-cells on the cusp between normalcy and cancers-which may lead to new methods of stopping tumors.


Timing of cancer radiation therapy may minimize hair loss, researchers say

LA JOLLA, CA—Discovering that mouse hair has a circadian clock – a 24-hour cycle of growth followed by restorative repair – researchers suspect that hair loss in humans from toxic cancer radiotherapy and chemotherapy might be minimized if these treatments are given late in the day.


Salk Institute promotes three top scientists

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce the promotions of faculty members, John Reynolds to the rank of full professor and Clodagh O’Shea and Tatyana Sharpee to associate professors based on recommendations by the Salk faculty and non-resident fellows, and approved by President William R. Brody and the Institute’s Board of Trustees.


American Association for Cancer Research appoints Salk scientists to inaugural class of fellows

LA JOLLA, CA—The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to accelerating scientific progress to prevent and cure cancer, has selected four Salk scientists and two of the Institute’s non-resident fellows to be inducted in its first class of the fellows of the AACR Academy.


Diabetes drug could hold promise for lung cancer patients

LA JOLLA, CA—Ever since discovering a decade ago that a gene altered in lung cancer regulated an enzyme used in therapies against diabetes, Reuben Shaw has wondered if drugs originally designed to treat metabolic diseases could also work against cancer.


Salk Institute awarded historic $42 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute for Biological Studies has received a $42 million gift-the largest in the Institute’s history-to establish the Helmsley Center for Genomic Medicine (HCGM), a research center dedicated to decoding the common genetic factors underlying many complex chronic human diseases.


Aggressive brain tumors can originate from a range of nervous system cells

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have long believed that glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor, begins in glial cells that make up supportive tissue in the brain or in neural stem cells. In a paper published October 18 in Science, however, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that the tumors can originate from other types of differentiated cells in the nervous system, including cortical neurons.


Cold viruses point the way to new cancer therapies

LA JOLLA, CA—Cold viruses generally get a bad rap—which they’ve certainly earned—but new findings by a team of scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies suggest that these viruses might also be a valuable ally in the fight against cancer.


Salk professors awarded chair appointments

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce that professors E.J. Chichilnisky, Jan Karlseder, and Kuo-Fen Lee have each been selected as the recipient of an endowed chair to honor their consistent scientific excellence and support their biological research.


Salk scientists discover molecular link between circadian clock disturbances and inflammatory diseases

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have known for some time that throwing off the body’s circadian rhythm can negatively affect body chemistry. In fact, workers whose sleep-wake cycles are disrupted by night shifts are more susceptible to chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.


Speeding up drug discovery with rapid 3D mapping of proteins

LA JOLLA, CA—A new method for rapidly solving the three-dimensional structures of a special group of proteins, known as integral membrane proteins, may speed drug discovery by providing scientists with precise targets for new therapies, according to a paper published May 20 in Nature Methods.


Salk Institute announces faculty promotions

LA JOLLA, CA—Faculty members Reuben Shaw and Lei Wang, have been promoted to the position of Associate Professor at the Salk Institute after a rigorous evaluation process by Salk senior faculty, Non-Resident Fellows, and scientific peers. The career milestone distinguishes these two investigators as leading authorities in their respective disciplines who have made original, innovative and notable contributions to biological research.


Prestigious endowed chairs awarded to Salk scientists

The Salk Institute is pleased to announce that faculty members Geoffrey M. Wahl and Martyn Goulding were celebrated as the recipients of endowed chairs in recognition of their significant scientific accomplishments at a special reception on March 29. Joseph Ecker, professor in Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, who was named holder of the International Council Chair in Genetics in September 2011, was also honored at the ceremony.


Salk scientists open new window into how cancers override cellular growth controls

LA JOLLA, CA—Rapidly dividing cancer cells are skilled at patching up damage that would stop normal cells in their tracks, including wear and tear of telomeres, the protective caps at the end of each chromosome.


Renato Dulbecco, Nobel Laureate and pioneering cancer researcher, dies at 97

LA JOLLA, CA—Renato Dulbecco, M.D., Nobel Prize winner and a global leader in cancer research passed away February 19 at his home in La Jolla. Born on February 22, 1914, he was just shy of his 98th birthday.


Salk researchers find new drug target for lung cancer

LA JOLLA,CA—Drugs targeting an enzyme involved in inflammation might offer a new avenue for treating certain lung cancers, according to a new study by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


Complex wiring of the nervous system may rely on just a handful of genes and proteins

LA JOLLA, CA—Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a startling feature of early brain development that helps to explain how complex neuron wiring patterns are programmed using just a handful of critical genes. The findings, published in Cell, may help scientists develop new therapies for neurological disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and provide insight into certain cancers.


Salk scientists use an old theory to discover new targets in the fight against breast cancer

LA JOLLA, CA—Reviving a theory first proposed in the late 1800s that the development of organs in the normal embryo and the development of cancers are related, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have studied organ development in mice to unravel how breast cancers, and perhaps other cancers, develop in people. Their findings provide new ways to predict and personalize the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


Salk scientist Ronald M. Evans wins 2012 Wolf Prize in Medicine

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk Institute scientist Ronald Evans has been selected as the recipient of the prestigious 2012 Wolf Prize in Medicine, Israel’s highest award for achievements benefiting mankind. According to the Wolf Prize jury, Evans was selected for his discovery of the gene super-family encoding nuclear receptors and elucidating the mechanism of action of this class of receptors.


Salk Institute molecular biologist Inder M. Verma named PNAS editor-in-chief

WASHINGTON, DC—The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announces the appointment of Inder M. Verma, Ph.D., as editor-in-chief of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the official NAS journal. He will formally assume the editorship on November 1, and the transition to the new position will occur over several weeks.