UC San Diego Health Researchers Join Pancreatic Cancer “Dream Team”

November 10, 2015

International effort will seek to develop and test new therapies for deadly malignancy —

In an effort to advance research on one of the deadliest forms of cancer, University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researchers Andrew Lowy, MD, and Tannishtha Reya, PhD, have been recruited for their expertise in preclinical modeling, clinical trials and stem cell biology to join a “dream team” of international pancreatic cancer researchers.

The three-year, $12-million effort, sponsored by Stand Up To Cancer, Cancer Research UK and The Lustgarten Foundation, will pursue a three-pronged strategy to better understand and reset so-called “super-enhancers” that may be abnormally active in pancreatic tumors. Super-enhancers are bits of DNA that can cause over-expression of genetic signals, fueling cancer cell growth. … Read the full story from the UC San Diego Newsroom


Tannishtha Reya, PhD, is Professor of Pharmacology in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Professor of Medicine in the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

Leading Metabolics Researcher Joins UC San Diego School of Medicine

Alan Saltiel will head unified effort to create comprehensive diabetes center —

Alan R. Saltiel, PhD, whose studies of the hormone insulin have helped drive research of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders across the nation, is joining University of California, San Diego School of Medicine as professor and director of a new Comprehensive Diabetes Center.

Saltiel, who most recently served as director of the Life Sciences Institute at University of Michigan, will bring together and expand UC San Diego’s diverse programs to better understand and treat diabetes and other metabolic disorders. … Read the full story from the UC San Diego Newsroom


Dr. Saltiel joins the Department of Medicine as professor in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Dianne McKay Receives CIRM Basic Biology Grant

Eight stem cell scientists at the University of California, San Diego have been awarded a total of $8.165 million to fund research tackling significant, unresolved issues in human stem cell biology. … Read the full story from the UC San Diego News Center


Dianne McKay, MDDianne B. McKay, MD, professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Nephrology-Hypertension, is one of the eight UC San Diego researchers to receive a Basic Biology V Award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine this week.

McKay is medical director of the Kidney Transplant Program at UC San Diego Health System.

Toward a New Model of the Cell

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Genes

Turning vast amounts of genomic data into meaningful information about the cell is the great challenge of bioinformatics, with major implications for human biology and medicine. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and colleagues have proposed a new method that creates a computational model of the cell from large networks of gene and protein interactions, discovering how genes and proteins connect to form higher-level cellular machinery. …Read the full story from the UCSD Newsroom


Trey Ideker, PhDThe new approach comes from the medical genetics laboratory of Trey Ideker, PhD, in the departments of bioengineering and medicine. Postdoctoral fellow Janusz Dutkowski, PhD, is lead author and Michael Kramer, PhD, a coauthor of the study report in Nature Biotechnology.

Ideker, senior author, is professor of bioengineering and medicine and chief of the Division of Medical Genetics in the Department of Medicine.

Citation for the report:  Dutkowski J, Kramer M, Surma MA, Balakrishnan R, Cherry JM, Krogan NJ, Ideker T. A gene ontology inferred from molecular networks. Nature Biotechnology (2012) doi:10.1038/nbt.2463. Published online 16 December 2012  Read the abstract

Biomarking Time

Methylome modifications offer new measure of our “biological” age

Women live longer than men. Individuals can appear or feel years younger – or older – than their chronological age. Diseases can affect our aging process. When it comes to biology, our clocks clearly tick differently.

In a new study, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues elsewhere, describe markers and a model that quantify how aging occurs at the level of genes and molecules, providing not just a more precise way to determine how old someone is, but also perhaps anticipate or treat ailments and diseases that come with the passage of time. … Read the full story from the UCSD Newsroom


Trey Ideker, PhDTrey Ideker, PhD, is co-senior author of the study report. He is professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Medical Genetics, professor of bioengineering and faculty investigator in the UCSD Institute for Genomic Medicine.The overall goal of Ideker’s work is to map and model molecular networks of cellular processes in health and disease, particularly in cancer and the response to genotoxic stress.

Coauthors of the study report include Rob DeConde, a graduate student in Ideker’s laboratory.

Read the abstract of the study report in PubMed

Citation: Hannum G, Guinney J, Zhao L, Zhang L, Hughes G, Sadda S, Klotzle B, Bibikova M, Fan J-B, Gao Y, Deconde R, Chen M, Rajapakse I, Friend S, Ideker T, Zhang K: Genome-wide Methylation Profiles Reveal Quantitative Views of Human Aging Rates. Molecular cell doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2012.10.016. PMID: 23177740

In Memoriam: Wiley Vale, PhD

Dr. Vale

Wylie W. Vale, Jr, PhD
1941 – 2012

Wiley W. Vale, Jr, PhD, a renowned and beloved Salk Institute and UC San Diego scientist whose pioneering work identified key brain hormones and growth factors, died on January 6 at the age of 70.

Vale was Professor and Helen McLoraine Chair in Molecular Neurobiology and Head of the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

He was highly regarded as the global authority on peptide hormones and growth factors that provide communication between the brain and endocrine system. Vale and his collaborators identified the central switchboard, a group of neuropeptides and their receptors that mediate the body’s responses to stress and stress-related disorders.

Among these neuropeptides is corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), characterized by Vale and colleagues in 1981. The work has had far-reaching effects in medical research and clinical medicine.

At UCSD, Vale held an adjunct professorship in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism. He contributed for many years as a researcher and educator in the School of Medicine and the Neurobiology Section of the Division of Biological Sciences.

“This is a great loss for those of us at UCSD who knew and worked with Wylie, and a great loss for endocrine science,” said Wolfgang H. Dillmann, MD, Helen M. Ranney Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine.

“Wylie and his group of peptide chemists and neuroendocrinologists trained several PhD students in the Biomedical Sciences and Neurosciences graduate programs who have taken leadership positions in research and academia,” said Palmer Taylor, PhD.

Taylor is Sandra and Monroe Trout Professor of Pharmacology, founding Dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences.

Vale’s coworkers and friends in the School of Medicine included numerous faculty members in the departments of reproductive medicine, neurosciences, psychiatry and surgery.

In 2004, Vale and colleagues at UCSD established the firmest link between a family of hormones that helps the body adapt to stress and possible new treatments for congestive heart failure.

Vale discovered that the hormone urocortin-2 has a positive impact on heart function, and the hormone was shown to significantly enhance heart muscle contractions. | Read the abstract of the study report in PNAS

In that effort, Vale collaborated with Drs. Kirk Peterson, Kenneth Chien and coworkers at the Seaweed Canyon Cardiovascular Physiology Laboratory and the Institute for Molecular Medicine.

Kirk L. Peterson, MD, FACP, FACC, the Edith and William M. Perlman Professor of Clinical Cardiology, is Director of the Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center, Director of the Seaweed Canyon Physiology Laboratory and professor emeritus in cardiology.

Kenneth Chien, MD, PhD, is professor emeritus in cardiology and former director of the Institute for Molecular Medicine.

Vale was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine. In 1992-1993, he served as president of the Endocrine Society.

He co-founded two biotechnology companies, Neurocrine Biosciences and Acceleron Pharma, Inc.

The Vale family and the Endocrine Society have placed tribute pages on the Web where remembrances can be entered and viewed. Vale family tribute | Endocrine Society tribute

For more about Dr. Vale and his work, please see the Salk Institute press release.

Matters of the Heart: A Q&A with Ehtisham Mahmud

News Feature from the UC San Diego Health System Newsroom

Matters of the Heart: A Q&A with Ehtisham Mahmud
A profile of Dr. Ehtisham Mahmud
Professor and Chief of Cardiovascular Medicine
Co-director of UC San Diego Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center
Director, Interventional Cardiology and Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory

by Scott LaFee

Every 34 seconds, on average, an American has a heart attack. Every minute, someone in the United States dies from a heart disease-related event. Both men and women are afflicted equally, if differently. More than one-quarter of the annual deaths in this country are due to cardiovascular disease in its myriad manifestations. It claims more lives each year than cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and accidents combined.”… Read the full profile from the UC San Diego Health System newsroom

Research Profile: Dr. Steven Chessler Awarded R01 Grant for Diabetes Research

Dr. Steven ChesslerSteven D. Chessler, MD PhD, has received a 5-year, nearly $2 million R01 grant award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) for his diabetes research.

Dr. Chessler, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology & Metabolism, focuses his investigations on diabetes and pancreatic islet function.This major funding award will further his studies of the insulin-secreting pancreatic islet beta cells.In type 1 diabetes, autoimmune processes cause damage and dysfunction in these beta cells.

In type 2 diabetes, the beta cells gradually fail, though the reason is unknown.  |  Read the public abstract of Dr. Chessler’s R01 grant

“To develop new treatments for diabetes,” Dr. Chessler says, “we have to gain a better understanding of the biology of the beta cells and the pancreatic islets in which they reside.”

Dr. Chessler and his coworkers have already uncovered new aspects of the insulin secretion system.In a study they reported in Endocrinology last year, they found that beta cells express three families of synaptic cell surface proteins that occur in neurons in the central nervous system.Further, they found that two of the protein families, neuroligins and neurexins, appear to play a role in insulin secretion.  |   Read the abstract of the Endocrinology report

With the R01 award, Dr. Chessler will take the next steps to define the precise role of these cell-surface proteins in beta cell function and assess their potential as therapeutic targets.

Through this work, Dr. Chessler also hopes to identify safe and noninvasive ways to detect and monitor the quantity of pancreatic islet beta cells.

Such a tool would help researchers determine whether a potential new treatment is effective in preventing or reversing the loss of the insulin production capability.

Dr. Chessler’s grant is “Neuroligins and Neuroligin-Neurexin Interactions in Islet Beta Cell Function.”