Infectious Disease

Recent Discoveries

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Giant leap in diagnosing liver disease

LA JOLLA—Chronic liver disease represents a major global public health problem affecting an estimated 844 million people, according to the World Health Organization. It is among the top causes of mortality in Australia, the UK and the United States. At the same time, it is both difficult to manage and there is no FDA-approved anti-fibrotic liver therapy. The microbiome—a complex collection of microbes that inhabit the gut—may be an unexpected indictor of health. Now, a collaborative team of Salk Institute and UC San Diego scientists have created a novel microbiome-based diagnostic tool that, with the accuracy of the best physicians, quickly and inexpensively identifies liver fibrosis and cirrhosis over 90 percent of the time in human patients.


Salk researchers accelerate, expand COVID-19 research

LA JOLLA—As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the globe, the Salk Institute joins in efforts to understand the fundamental science behind the novel coronavirus to pave the way to treatments and cures. COVID-19 exploits a vulnerability in the immune system’s armor: because the SARS-CoV-2 virus—the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19—appeared in humans recently, our immune systems have no experience with the virus—and sometimes have difficulty fighting it.


How targeting killer T cells in the lungs could lead to immunity against respiratory viruses

LA JOLLA—A significant site of damage during COVID-19 infection is the lungs. Understanding how the lungs’ immune cells are responding to viral infections could help scientists develop a vaccine.


Imaging study of key viral structure shows how HIV drugs work at atomic level

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have discovered how a powerful class of HIV drugs binds to a key piece of HIV machinery. By solving, for the first time, three-dimensional structures of this complex while different drugs were attached, the researchers showed what makes the therapy so potent. The work, which appeared in Science on January 30, 2020, provides insights that could help design or improve new treatments for HIV.


Salk promotes three leading scientists in the fields of infectious disease, neurobiology and biological networks

LA JOLLA—Three Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted after the latest round of faculty reviews determined they are scientific leaders who have made original, innovative and notable contributions to biological research.


Salk’s Janelle Ayres awarded $1.8 million by NOMIS Foundation for novel research on mechanisms to promote health

LA JOLLA—Associate Professor Janelle Ayres has been awarded $1.8 million over two years by the NOMIS Foundation to study health as an active process in which microbes—including the trillions of microorganisms that call the human body home—initiate interactions that promote the health of the host.


Salk’s Janelle Ayres receives NIH Pioneer Award for novel approaches to infectious disease

LA JOLLA—Associate Professor Janelle Ayres has been awarded a 2018 NIH Director’s Pioneer Award by the National Institutes of Health for her innovative research into host-pathogen interactions that promote the health of the host.


Bribing bacteria to play nicely is good for everyone

LA JOLLA—Antibiotic use is driving an epidemic of antibiotic resistance, as more susceptible bacteria are killed but more resilient strains live on and multiply with abandon. But if antibiotics aren’t the end-all solution for infectious disease, what is?


Janelle Ayres receives $1 million from W. M. Keck Foundation for infectious disease research

LA JOLLA—Associate Professor Janelle Ayres is the recipient of a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to study new ways to treat deadly infections including sepsis and the flu, both of which require novel therapies beyond antibiotics and antivirals to effectively combat.


Salk Institute’s Janelle Ayres wins Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists

LA JOLLA—Salk Associate Professor Janelle Ayres has been named one of three winners of the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists, one of the world’s largest unrestricted prizes for early career scientists. Ayres, the laureate in the life sciences category, will receive $250,000 for her pioneering research in physiology and the study of the how bacteria interact with humans. Ayres’ work is revolutionizing our understanding of host-pathogen interactions and has the potential to solve one of the greatest current public health threats: anti-microbial resistance.


Janelle Ayres is finalist for Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists

LA JOLLA—Associate Professor Janelle Ayres is one of 31 US finalists selected to compete for the world’s largest unrestricted prizes for early career researchers, the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists. The Blavatnik National Awards recognize both the past accomplishments and the future promise of the most talented scientific and engineering researchers aged 42 years and younger at America’s top academic and research institutions.


Immune cell policing offers insights into cancer, autoimmune disease

LA JOLLA—Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are the traffic cops of the immune system. They instruct other types of immune cells on when to stop and when to go. Learning how to direct the activity of Tregs has important implications for improving cancer immunotherapy as well as developing better treatments for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.


Salk promotes two dynamic scientists who study the microbiome and neurobiology

LA JOLLA—Two Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted based on their innovative and notable contributions to biological research.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Molecular “trip switch” shuts down inflammatory response

La Jolla, CA – Like a circuit breaker that prevents electrical wiring from overheating and bringing down the house, a tiny family of three molecules stops the immune system from mounting an out-of-control, destructive inflammatory response against invading pathogens, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found.


Bone marrow cells hand natural killer cells their license to attack dangerous invaders

La Jolla, CA – A collaboration between scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Pasteur Institute in Paris has uncovered the molecular signals that trigger maturation of natural killer cells, an important group of immune system cells, into fully armed killing machines. Their findings will be published in a forthcoming issue of Nature Immunology.