San Diego is a powerhouse for cancer research, home to two National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated centers for basic research—our Cancer Center and the Salk Institute Cancer Center—and the University of California, San Diego Moores Cancer Center, the region’s only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center.
Space Florida to send two experiments from Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute to the International Space Station
We’re excited to announce today that two of our research teams have won Space Florida’s International Space Station (ISS) Research Competition. Eight teams were selected from a pool of international applicants to send experiments to space in late 2013. The competition was initiated by Space Florida, the state’s spaceport and aerospace authority, and NanoRacks, LLC. Sanford-Burnham’s research will fly as payloads to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and research will be conducted on board the U.S. National Lab at the ISS.
Here’s what the two teams are hoping to accomplish:
Science and art have a lot in common. That was the clear conclusion drawn by a panel of experts at the world-renowned La Jolla Playhouse on November 11, at an event titled The Art in Science/The Science in Art. Collaboration, the willingness to take risks, and the making of what one panelist called “intuitive leaps” all rose to the fore as shared traits. Although perhaps the most significant thing the two disciplines have in common, they realized, is the ongoing need for funding.
“You hear a lot about patrons of the arts,” remarked Sanford-Burnham adjunct faculty member Dr. Pamela Itkin-Ansari. “I think we also need more patrons of science.” Based on their enthusiastic applause, the audience agreed.
Each year, the Sanford-Burnham Science Network, our organization of postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, holds a symposium for young scientists to practice presenting their work and gain valuable feedback from their peers and our faculty members. This year, the La Jolla group’s event was held at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.
Here are five random things we learned last week at the 11th annual symposium:
Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D., director of Sanford-Burnham’s Tumor Development Program, once said, “Current cancer therapies are like trying to kill a zombie by kicking it in the shins.”
Everyone knows you can only kill a zombie with a shot to the brains—anywhere else might slow it down temporarily, but only a very targeted hit to the head will get rid of it for good. (See the CDC’s Zombie Preparedness Guide.) So what Wechsler-Reya means is that the current methods for destroying or removing tumor cells are not aimed at what may, in some cases, be the actual “brains” of the problem—cancer stem cells.
Like other types of stem cells, cancer stem cells can self-renew, producing more cells. They also differentiate, specializing into other cell types. Those are very useful features when scientists are using stem cells to repair or replace diseased or damaged tissue (rebuilding heart muscle tissue after a heart attack, for example). However, cellular proliferation is also a hallmark of cancer.
In some cancers, stem cells may be the initial source of the problem, giving rise to tumors. They might also be the reason some tumors are resistant to standard cancer therapies such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. What’s more, cancer stem cells can allow tumors to recur—even if the bulk of a tumor is removed, a few remaining cancer stem cells rise up to rebuild a new tumor. Like zombies, they are hard to get rid of.
Scientists are now trying to learn how stem cells turn to the dark side in cancer so that they can figure out how to better detect, prevent, and treat tumor growth—targeting the zombie’s brains, not just its shins.
Meet the four cancer stem cell (zombie)-fighting scientists who spoke at the 2012 Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa:
Scientists from all over San Diego—and beyond—gathered last Friday for Sanford-Burnham’s 34th annual symposium. This year’s theme: Frontiers in Stem Cell Biology for Drug Discovery. The topic was timely, given the recently announced 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded to John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for their “discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.” Yamanaka figured out how to turn a normal adult cell, such as a skin cell, into a stem cell that has the potential to become any other type of cell in the body. These special, laboratory-made stem cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
The symposium’s discussions centered on the idea that stem cells –especially iPSCs—can be used to model an individual’s own unique disease in a laboratory dish. These human cell-based models can then be used to test new and existing drugs for their toxicity and efficacy against disease.
Speakers came from Sanford-Burnham, Harvard, UT Southwestern, Mass General Hospital, UC San Diego, Stanford, and more. They talked about using stem cells to study and develop new therapies for conditions such as motor neuron disease, heart disease, autism, brain injury, Huntington’s disease, and spinal muscular atrophy.
We live-tweeted the event. For a snapshot of the day, including interesting tidbits, pictures, quotes, and links for more information, check out the Storify version of our tweets below. Then join the discussion on Twitter — look for us at @SanfordBurnham and #SBsymposium.
On April 12, Dr. Evan Snyder, who directs the Stem Cells and Regenerative Biology program at Sanford-Burnham, was interviewed by Shally Zomorodi of Fox 5 News about recent advances in stem cell research. Dr. Snyder singled out four different areas where researchers are making great progress: diseases in a dish; using stem cells to protect other cells; recreating organs for transplant and using stem cells to treat diseased tissues or cancers (particularly in the brain) with targeted gene therapy. Dr. Snyder noted that all these approaches are fairly advanced.
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.
When Dr. Jannine Cody’s daughter Elizabeth was born with a chromosome 18 defect, physicians told her the girl would never progress beyond a vegetative state. Chromosome 18 conditions result from gene deletions or duplications in that chromosome. Not willing to accept this prognosis, Dr. Cody focused herself on studying the disease, eventually earning her Ph.D. in Human Genetics. She is now a researcher at the University of Texas, San Antonio and founder and president of the Chromosome 18 Registry and Research Society. Her daughter Elizabeth is now in her 20s and has gone to college.
Bone marrow (stem cell) transplants have been a life-saving tool for patients with leukemia and lymphoma. However, like most cancer treatments, they come with significant risk. Patients can be immune-compromised for as long as a year, making them vulnerable to pathogens that most people would fight off easily.
One such pathogen is cytomegalovirus (CMV), a member of the herpes virus family. People usually get CMV early in life (from childhood to early adulthood), experience mild symptoms and move on. However, for immune-compromised patients, CMV can be a serious and deadly complication.
On January 27, a group of biotech leaders met at the Amylin Pharmaceuticals headquarters in San Diego to discuss the challenges of treating diabesity (the confluence of diabetes and obesity) and how the biotech community is meeting those challenges. Sponsored by Xconomy.com, the event featured panel discussions and quick presentations that highlighted the terrible consequences of the diabesity epidemic and the strategies being used to stem the tide.Sanford-Burnham’s Chief Business Officer, Dr Paul Laikind, gave a quick overview of the Institute’s approach to finding new treatments. He highlighted the critical importance of the Prebys Center, our small molecule compound screening center, and how Sanford-Burnham is using this technology for early stage drug discovery. He also discussed our recently announced partnerships with Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Takeda Pharmaceutical, which will lead to new discoveries and hopefully new medicines. The Takeda collaboration is particularly relevant, as it will target obesity.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by an overactive immune response that kills off insulin-producing beta cells. While beta cells can be transplanted to replace the ones that have been lost, the immune system will eventually kill those off as well.
For transplantation to be a viable treatment, the immune system must be controlled. Current transplant recipients take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent their T cells from attacking replacement beta cells, presenting patients with a stark choice between diabetes and a suppressed immune system.
Sanford-Burnham adjunct assistant professor Dr. Pamela Itkin-Ansari is taking a different approach. Her laboratory has placed human pancreatic precursor cells in an immuno-protective device and transplanted them into mice. She was testing whether precursor cells will mature into productive beta cells in the body and whether the encapsulation device, made from a material akin to Gore-Tex, could prevent the immune system from attacking transplanted cells.
Last week I attended the Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa, an annual event organized by CONNECT. The meeting included all the stellar scientific panels I expected and one I didn’t expect: “Patient Advocacy 2.0 – Can they participate?”
The panel discussed opportunities for patient participation and the ethics involved. I was captivated by panel member Dani Grady’s story of surviving breast cancer and her advocacy for increased cancer research funding, education, improved patient care and more patient participation in clinical trials. It was interesting to hear how a patient’s perspective can improve clinical trials and the drug approval process. But as I sat there, I couldn’t help wondering… how can patients participate in basic research – the earliest phase of biomedical discovery, during which the molecular underpinnings of disease are only just beginning to be understood?
So I did a little research of my own.
As a young scientist in the 1990s, Dr. Evan Snyder, now director of Sanford-Burnham’s Stem Cells and Regenerative Biology Program, had never worked on cancer. But when his close friend Dr. James Galambos died from a glioblastoma, he promised the family he would do everything he could to find a cure. In 2000, Dr. Snyder, Dr. Karen Aboody, now at City of Hope, and colleagues published a paper that described how stem cells could be used to treat cancer. A recent article on the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(CIRM) website highlighted this breakthrough:
Neural stem cells, it revealed, are attracted to tumors like moths to a light. If they could be made to carry a chemotherapeutic payload, they could serve as weapons against the wanton spread of metastatic brain cancer.
CIRM committed $37 million to successfully move this promising research into clinical trials. To learn more about how stem cells can be used to target tumors, read Manipulated Medicine.
The City of Hope trial has also been featured on CBS News.