Even though a large portion of the research work at Sanford-Burnham historically has been carried out by postdoctoral trainees, graduate students have always had a presence at the Institute. In the past, these individuals were officially enrolled at UC San Diego or other universities and carried out their research in a lab at Sanford-Burnham because of its particular expertise. Although this type of arrangement still continues, the situation changed in 2006 when the Institute founded its own graduate training program designed to confer Ph.D. degrees. The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Sanford-Burnham was recently recognized by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) as a Candidate for Accreditation.*
According to the Dean of the program, Dr. Guy Salvesen, “Our eventual goal of full accreditation will serve as proof of what we already know; namely, that a Ph.D. degree from the Institute is a rigorous one of high quality that stacks up well against a degree from any of the other outstanding institutions that students might choose.”
Scientists from around the world met in San Diego October 16-20 to discuss their work on proteases at the International Proteolysis Society’s bi-annual meeting. The event, organized by Sanford-Burnham’s Dr. Guy Salvesen and Stanford University’s Dr. Matt Bogyo, brought together more than 300 researchers from a wide variety of fields to provide educational, training, and networking opportunities at all levels.
Proteolysis is a basic cellular function in which enzymes (called proteases) cleave other proteins. Sometimes a cell needs proteases to stop an aberrant protein from sending the cell astray. Other times, proteolytic cleavage activates a protein, cutting it free from an anchor that was holding it back. Needless to say, proteolysis needs to be carefully regulated, as it affects everything from cellular movement to cell lifespan.
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.
Every day we gain a better understanding of how cells work. In the past 20 years, new tools to examine gene expression and function have illuminated many different mechanisms that guide all aspects of cellular behavior. However, to fully understand normal cellular functions and how they malfunction in disease, we need more in-depth information about the many proteins our genes produce. Which proteins are being produced? How are they modified? What is each protein’s ultimate function and how do they interact on a system-wide level?
New technologies in the proteomics facility at Sanford-Burnham are providing reams of data that could help answer these and many other questions. In a room full of advanced technology, the Thermo LTQ-Orbitrap Velos mass spectrometer system stands apart. The system has been part of the proteomics toolbox for about a year and has proven its value identifying proteins several times over.
Dr. Laurence Brill, director of Advanced Proteomics in Sanford-Burnham’s Proteomics Facility, notes that the Velos system is 10 times more sensitive and three times faster than previous machines, but there’s a lot more to the core’s success than the excellent equipment. “We use very stringently applied analytical methods that take years to develop and refine,” says Dr. Brill. “We are thinking very carefully about the goals and biology of each assay and making them reproducible from run to run.”