Malene Hansen, Ph.D., assistant professor in our Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research and native of Denmark, gave a faculty promotion seminar last week. It was her chance to show off her science and service to a committee that will evaluate her for promotion to associate professor. Check out her lab members in attendance. They’re showing their support with Danish flag scarves! Best of luck to Hansen and her team.
The prevalence of diabetes in Florida has increased nearly 70 percent in the past ten years. To address this challenge, “we have established a ‘new-age’ Diabetes and Obesity Research Center here in Orlando,” said Dr. Daniel Kelly, scientific director of Sanford-Burnham’s Orlando campus, located in the emerging Medical City at Lake Nona, as he addressed an enthusiastic audience at Bring It! Orlando on November 3.
For the many corporate and individual supporters attending the fundraising event, the fight against diabetes had personal significance as diabetes now affects one in 10 Floridians, and most alarmingly, has spread to the pediatric population.
Nearly 250 enthusiastic supporters turned out to show their support for Sanford-Burnham’s research efforts on Saturday, October 15, at the Institute’s gala, “Mining for a Cure.” The evening highlighted the Institute’s pioneering spirit, likening the search for treatments and cures for disease to the prospecting efforts of the adventurous California gold miners of the 1840s. We are happy and grateful to announce that the event raised more than $1.7 million for medical research.
Dr. John Reed, Sanford-Burnham’s CEO, spoke about the Institute’s 35 years of discoveries, mentioning that our accomplishments today would not be possible if not for the vision of Dr. William and Lillian Fishman, who founded the Institute in 1976. He highlighted how much progress Institute researchers have made in disease areas such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, children’s diseases, and many others. Dr. Reed reminded the audience that through their philanthropic gifts, Sanford-Burnham can accelerate the translation of laboratory discoveries into benefits for patients.
I have known (or known of) Malin Burnham since I moved to San Diego in 1978. I am an immigrant–at least that’s how Malin described those of us who have actively chosen San Diego as our home at an event held to honor him at the San Diego Foundation this week. Malin and his family have made a gift of $5 million to establish the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement. According to the Foundation, the Center will mobilize the San Diego region in the quest for solutions to community issues.
Malin is no stranger to quests. He joked at the ceremony that he has tried to move the airport 14 different times. As the planes taking off directly over Liberty Station punctuated the speeches with awkward pauses, I had to hope that he has a 15th try in him. Malin has been at the forefront, or behind the scenes, at almost every important moment in San Diego’s recent history. Whether it’s education reform, border issues, building the innovation economy, or San Diego’s stature as a world-class sailing venue, Malin has brought a great many people along with him on his civic journey.
Sanford-Burnham’s founders, William and Lillian Fishman, appreciated the important impact that postdoctoral fellows have on medical research and created a tradition of fostering the development of young scientists. The Fishman Fund Award was established in 2001 by Mary Bradley and Reena Horowitz to honor that tradition. Each year, five individual awards of $6,000 each are given to select postdocs for career development. This year’s award was presented on September 8. Read about each of the winners, their research, and their career goals below.
In theory, our system of advanced science education is designed to move students through graduate school and then postdoctoral training en route to taking their places as principal investigators (PIs) heading their own research laboratories. In reality, even in past years there were clearly more scientists being trained than there were openings for lab heads and faculty positions. To some extent this bottleneck was alleviated over the past two decades by the boom in the biotechnology industry, which has offered an outside-of-academia source of jobs for trained scientists. However, the slumping economy has hit the biotech industry just as hard as everyone else, with downsizing taking a large bite out of available industrial jobs. And now, with competition for grant funding more intense than ever and academic job opportunities increasingly scarce, postdoctoral researchers often feel that they are in a holding pattern waiting for the occasional faculty or industrial position to open up. How can postdocs deal most effectively with this situation in terms of preparing themselves to compete for rare openings?
On July 28, the Sanford-Burnham Science Network (SBSN), an organization of postdocs and graduate students, sponsored a discussion of the tricky transition from postdoc to PI. The session was chaired by SBSN leaders Dr. Caroline Kumsta and Dr. Rachel Wilkie, both postdocs at the Institute. Dr. Malene Hansen and Dr. Stefan Riedl, two young Sanford-Burnham faculty members, led the discussion by sharing their own steps leading from postdoctoral researcher to assistant professor.
Editor’s note: We often hear how important it is to make a good first impression. We thought it would be interesting to learn about newcomers’ first impressions of Sanford-Burnham, so we interviewed some new employees who each play a different role at the Institute’s La Jolla campus.
One of our most recent employees, Dr. Mihee Kim, has been a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Robert Oshima’s lab since June of this year. From previous positions at Harvard and NIH, Mihee had experience both with stem cells and with proteins that bind to nucleic acids (such as DNA). She is combining those disciplines in the Oshima lab’s attempt to understand the role of the Ets2 transcription factor (a protein that controls the expression of other genes) in the behavior of cancer stem cells. Mihee had heard of Sanford-Burnham because a former Harvard colleague, Dr. Dieter Wolf, took a position as professor here in 2007. She had no preconceived impressions of the Institute, but has been pleased to learn that our claims of having a collaborative culture are not overstated. Being somewhat new to working with animal models, Mihee has already established interactions with postdocs in several Institute labs to develop a robust system for identifying intestinal stem cells. She has also found the imaging and flow cytometry shared services to be very effective resources for interaction and for providing both training and expert analysis.
Most amazing, she says, is the fact that, “people actually respond in a helpful way to e-mail requests for advice and reagents. I never had that experience before!”
Mihee is excited about the freedom she has been given by Dr. Oshima to explore multiple aspects of Ets2/cancer stem cell function according to her own curiosity and intuition.
Paul Diaz, director of operations in the laboratory of Dr. John Reed, recently shared his passion for his work in Lab Manager Magazine:
The privilege of conducting research dedicated to finding cures for human diseases is one reason Paul Diaz starts his workday with enthusiasm.
“The life of a scientist can be stressful, but in what other profession does it seem like someone is paying you to indulge in a guilty pleasure?” says Diaz. “I wake up and can hardly wait to see the latest results and make the next discovery.”
Read more about the Reed lab’s research, Diaz’s role, and his management tips in “Perspectives on a Drug Discovery Lab.”
High-achieving students from Rice University, Yale University, University of Florida and MIT returned to their homes in Orlando this summer to find training opportunities not previously available prior to Sanford-Burnham’s opening at Lake Nona in Medical City. For those hoping to become future scientists, summer is a time to land a coveted internship to study advanced sciences and work with practicing professionals.
Choosing lab time over beach time, a number of college and high school students are working alongside Sanford-Burnham researchers and learning about the daily realities of medical research. These scientists of tomorrow are gaining hands-on experience assisting in biology, chemistry, and histology labs. Some are participating in the search for biomarkers that may one day help clinicians diagnose a disease, while others are learning how to prepare slides of cells so that scientists can investigate cancer. These interns are mentored and exposed to the thrill of discovery; they also learn that patience and determination are required to pursue a career in science. For some who were unaware of the variety of career opportunities available in the life sciences, a summer spent in the lab helps to shape their future career choice.
At a time when scientists are having increasing difficulty acquiring financial support from federal sources, alternative sources of funding are becoming more important for maintaining the momentum of critical research at universities, research institutes and even industrial laboratories. At Sanford-Burnham, research assistant professor Dr. Kazuki N. Sugahara was recently awarded a one-year, $75,000 grant from The San Diego Foundation, via the The Blasker-Rose-Miah Fund. This marks one of the few times that a Sanford-Burnham investigator has received funding from this source, underscoring the novelty and importance of the project. This key piece of local funding will allow Dr. Sugahara to continue his research on the use of tissue-penetrating peptides that can detect developing tumors and enhance the delivery of cancer therapeutic drugs.
This month we welcomed Sanford-Burnham’s newest faculty member, Dr. Randal J. Kaufman. Dr. Kaufman joins the Institute as professor and director of the Degenerative Disease Research Program, in the Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research.
“I am looking forward to the opportunities for collaboration that Sanford-Burnham affords,” Dr. Kaufman says. “This promises to be a very productive environment for my area of research.”
Dr. Kaufman’s current research is focused on understanding the fundamental mechanisms that regulate protein folding and the cellular responses to the accumulation of unfolded proteins within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). When proteins fail to fold correctly, they don’t work properly. Certain types of misfolded proteins defy eradication by the cellular protein degradation machinery and accumulate with age, causing cellular toxicity. In many degenerative diseases, including neurological, metabolic, genetic and inflammatory diseases, it’s thought that the accumulation of misfolded proteins leads to cellular dysfunction and death.
A group of 12 San Diego high school students has been waking up early all week and making the most of their summer break. If you look at their Facebook pages you might see updates saying things things like, “OMG, silencing DAF2 gene in C. elegans–amazing.” An internship program taking place at Sanford-Burnham demonstrates that the right educational opportunities have the power to get young people excited about science and perhaps change their lives.
That was the case for Tony Chau, who completed the Sanford-Burnham/Preuss School UCSD Summer Internship program in 2009. This fall he heads to Duke University, complete with a scholarship, to double major in Biomedical Engineering and Economics. “The internship program helped me greatly through the rest of high school and in applying to college,” he recalls. “The people I met and the experiences I had will stay with me throughout my career.”
Bring It! is a game show-themed fundraising experience now in its third year in San Diego. This year, Sanford-Burnham again partnered with HeadNorth, an organization that supports spinal cord injury patients. Life Technologies, leading supplier of stem cell research products to labs around the world, was the presenting sponsor.
But the Bring It! audience didn’t focus on tragedy. Their passion for stem cell research brought them there to play games and raise money. The fundraiser’s theme, “Rock on for Stem Cell Research,” gave participants the chance to live out their rock star fantasies, while helping stem cell treatments become a reality.
On April 21, Sanford-Burnham will partner with the HeadNorth Foundation for the third time to present Bring It!, a game show-style event that challenges teams to compete in a wide range of challenges. This year’s theme, “Rock on for Stem Cell Research” promises a full evening of networking and fun for a great cause, held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds Activity Center. HeadNorth is a San Diego-based nonprofit dedicated to providing help and hope for spinal cord injury survivors. It was founded in 2006 by Eric Northbrook after a motorcycle accident severed his spinal cord.