Immune System Biology

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Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Immune System Biology - News

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Tilted microscopy technique better reveals protein structures

LA JOLLA—The conventional way of placing protein samples under an electron microscope during cryo-EM experiments may fall flat when it comes to getting the best picture of a protein’s structure. In some cases, tilting a sheet of frozen proteins—by anywhere from 10 to 50 degrees—as it lies under the microscope, gives higher quality data and could lead to a better understanding of a variety of diseases, according to new research led by Salk scientist Dmitry Lyumkis.


Feed a cold, starve a fever? Not so fast, according to Salk research

LA JOLLA—The last time you had a stomach bug, you probably didn’t feel much like eating. This loss of appetite is part of your body’s normal response to an illness but is not well understood. Sometimes eating less during illness promotes a faster recovery, but other times—such as when cancer patients experience wasting—the loss of appetite can be deadly.


Curb your immune enthusiasm

LA JOLLA—Normally when we think of viruses, from the common cold to HIV, we want to boost people’s immunity to fight them. But for scientists who develop therapeutic viruses (to, for example, target cancer cells or correct gene deficiencies) a more important question is: How do we keep people’s natural immune responses at bay? In these cases, an overenthusiastic immune response actually undermines the therapy.


Salk scientists crack the structure of HIV machinery

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists have solved the atomic structure of a key piece of machinery that allows HIV to integrate into human host DNA and replicate in the body, which has eluded researchers for decades. The findings describing this machinery, known as the “intasome,” appear January 6, 2017, in Science and yield structural clues informing the development of new HIV drugs.


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.


Super-resolution microscopy reveals unprecedented detail of immune cells’ surface

LA JOLLA—When the body is fighting an invading pathogen, white blood cells—including T cells—must respond. Now, Salk Institute researchers have imaged how vital receptors on the surface of T cells bundle together when activated.


Genetic switch turned on during fasting helps stop inflammation

LA JOLLA—A molecular pathway that is activated in the brain during fasting helps halt the spread of intestinal bacteria into the bloodstream, according to a new study by a team of researchers at the Salk Institute.


Protein structure illuminates how viruses take over cells

LA JOLLA—Using cutting-edge imaging technology, Salk Institute and Harvard Medical School researchers have determined the structure of a protein complex that lets viruses similar to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) establish permanent infections within their hosts.


‘Superhero’ microbiome bacteria protect against deadly symptoms during infection

LA JOLLA–As concerns over deadly antibiotic-resistant strains of ‘superbug’ bacteria grow, scientists at the Salk Institute are offering a possible solution to the problem: ‘superhero’ bacteria that live in the gut and move to other parts of the body to alleviate life-threatening side effects caused by infections.


Janelle Ayres receives Young Faculty Award from DARPA

LA JOLLA–Salk Institute scientist Janelle Ayres has received an award of $500,000 over two years from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further her research on bolstering a person’s microbiome to help their body overcome an infection. The award comes with the possibility of an additional $500,000 for a third year.


New insight into how the immune system sounds the alarm

LA JOLLA–T cells are the guardians of our bodies: they constantly search for harmful invaders and diseased cells, ready to swarm and kill off any threats. A better understanding of these watchful sentries could allow scientists to boost the immune response against evasive dangers (e.g., cancer or infections), or to silence it when it mistakenly attacks the body itself (e.g., autoimmune disorders or allergies).


Immune system-in-a-dish offers hope for “bubble boy” disease

LA JOLLA–For infants with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), something as simple as a common cold or ear infection can be fatal. Born with an incomplete immune system, kids who have SCID–also known as “bubble boy” or “bubble baby” disease–can’t fight off even the mildest of germs. They often have to live in sterile, isolated environments to avoid infections and, even then, most patients don’t live past a year or two. This happens because stem cells in SCID patients’ bone marrow have a genetic mutation that prevents them from developing critical immune cells, called T and Natural Killer (NK) cells.


Cellular scissors chop up HIV virus

LA JOLLA–Imagine a single drug that could prevent human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, treat patients who have already contracted HIV, and even remove all the dormant copies of the virus from those with the more advanced disease. It sounds like science fiction, but Salk scientists have gotten one step closer to creating such a drug by customizing a powerful defense system used by many bacteria and training this scissor-like machinery to recognize the HIV virus.


In a healthy gut, microbes wax and wane throughout the day

LA JOLLA–Taking a single snapshot of all the bacteria that live in a mouse’s–or person’s–stomach and intestines can capture the health of the organism’s digestive system and even their risk of developing immune diseases and cancers. But it might take more than one snapshot to get a full picture, Salk researchers have discovered.


Salk scientist receives 2014 Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation Career Development Award

Janelle Ayres, Salk assistant professor in the Nomis Foundation Laboratories for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, has been selected to receive the prestigious Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation Career Development Award. Only one three-year grant is conferred annually, aiming to foster the development of a promising early career biomedical researcher in San Diego County and to help him or her make the transition to becoming an independent investigator.


A new dent in HIV-1’s armor

LA JOLLA–Like a slumbering dragon, HIV can lay dormant in a person’s cells for years, evading medical treatments only to wake up and strike at a later time, quickly replicating itself and destroying the immune system.



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.


First appointment in new Salk Fellows Program

LA JOLLA—The Salk has launched a new initiative called the Salk Fellows Program. The program brings scientists from broad disciplines to the Institute to trigger innovation and perpetuate the collaborative spirit of the Salk.


Salk microflora researcher Janelle Ayres named Searle Scholar

LA JOLLA—Janelle Ayres, assistant professor at Salk Institute’s Nomis Foundation Laboratories for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, has received the prestigious Searle Scholar award, which each year is given to only 15 researchers in the fields of chemical and biological sciences.


Potent mechanism helps viruses shut down body’s defense system against infection

LA JOLLA, CA—Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have discovered a powerful mechanism by which viruses such as influenza, West Nile and Dengue evade the body’s immune response and infect humans with these potentially deadly diseases. The findings may provide scientists with an attractive target for novel antiviral therapies.


Remembering Ian Trowbridge

Ian Trowbridge, an esteemed researcher who had been a member of the Salk faculty for almost three decades, passed away on Wednesday, February 6.


A rare feat: Two scientists at Salk score NIH New Innovator awards

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute announced today that researchers Björn Lillemeier, and Axel Nimmerjahn, have been named recipients of the prestigious 2012 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award.


Salk Scientist appointed inaugural holder of Françoise Gilot-Salk Chair

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce that faculty member Greg Lemke has been named the inaugural holder of the Françoise Gilot-Salk Chair, in recognition of his significant research accomplishments and scientific leadership.


Ferring Pharmaceuticals donates $10 million to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Saint Prex, Switzerland—Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a global, specialty biopharmaceuticals company, has donated $10 million to support research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. In addition to funding the highest scientific priorities at the Salk, the Ferring gift will enable the creation of the Françoise Gilot-Salk endowed Chair, which will be used to support research on the role that TAM receptors play in immune regulation. These receptors, which were discovered in Professor Greg Lemke‘s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, are central inhibitors of the innate immune response to bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. The Ferring gift will also continue the endowment of the Frederik Paulsen Chair in Neurosciences, named after Ferring’s founder and first established in 2000.


Salk discovery may lead to safer treatments for asthma, allergies and arthritis

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have discovered a missing link between the body’s biological clock and sugar metabolism system, a finding that may help avoid the serious side effects of drugs used for treating asthma, allergies and arthritis.