We are rapidly demystifying cancers, exposing the molecular mechanisms underlying tumors and leading the search for the next generation of targeted cancer therapies. We see a future where every cancer and every patient has a cure.



Understanding early cell development

After an egg is fertilized, cells begin to divide and form a blastocyst, a two-layered cluster of cells. The way a blastocyst develops has implications for whether a pregnancy is successful, how organs form, and potentially even for diseases later in life, but studying blastocysts has been a challenge. Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte and colleagues created mouse blastocyst-like structures, dubbed “blastoids,” that had the same structure as natural blastocysts, and offering a powerful new tool to advance research by circumventing the need for natural embryos.

The Izpisua Belmonte lab also wanted to study a critical milestone in development after the formation of the blastocyst: gastrulation. This stage occurs when an embryo transforms into a three-layered structure, from which all future tissues and organs will be derived. Izpisua Belmonte led an international team to uncover new insights into gastrulation by creating a method enabling primate embryos to grow in the laboratory longer than ever before. The research, while done in nonhuman primate cells, could potentially inform approaches to regenerative medicines.

Read October 31, 2019 News Release

Read October 17, 2019 News Release

A road map for ovarian health and aging

Izpisua Belmonte’s lab published additional work uncovering how ovaries age in nonhuman primates in unprecedented detail. This road map reveals several genes that could be used as biomarkers and could point to therapeutic targets for diagnosing and treating female infertility and age-associated ovarian diseases, such as ovarian cancer, in humans.

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Cell Stem Cell

Team links rapid brain growth in autism to DNA damage

Research into the developing brain, led by Professor and Salk President Rusty Gage, first author Meiyan Wang and colleagues, revealed a unique pattern of DNA damage that arises in brain cells derived from individuals with a macrocephalic form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They found that cells from people with this type of ASD not only proliferate more, but also naturally experience more replication stress, spurring DNA damage. The observation helps explain what might go awry in the brain during cell division and development to cause the disorder.

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Journal of Biological Chemistry

Experimental drug boosts levels of good fats

Professor Alan Saghatelian, first author Meriç Erikci Ertunc and a collaborative team of scientists have identified two genes that can regulate levels of healthy fats called FAHFAs, in mice. Because FAHFAs decrease inflammation and increase insulin sensitivity, a better understanding of the activity of their regulatory genes may eventually lead to therapies for people with diabetes and inflammation. They found that the loss of the genes led to higher-than-normal levels of the beneficial FAHFAs, while blocking the genes’ activity with an experimental drug also increased FAHFA levels.

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