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Inquest

Inquest is an online research publication that is updated often to highlight research stories, events and other relevant news at Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies.

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Recent blog posts

The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have awarded Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies (TPIMS) a $3,094,096 grant to identify and characterize novel small molecule RORγ antagonists for the treatment of inflammatory autoimmune diseases.  Dr. F. Javier Piedrafita, a cancer cell biologist with expertise in nuclear hormone receptors and protein kinases, and Dr. Adel Nefzi, an organic chemist with expertise in combinatorial chemistry have teamed up as Principal Investigators in this bi-coastal research project at Torrey Pines Institute to discover and optimize novel ligands of RORγ to evaluate in animal models of multiple sclerosis.  The team will be supported by other faculty members of TPIMS, Dr. Vipin Kumar, an expert in autoimmune disease and Dr. Maria A Ortiz, an expert in nuclear hormone receptors who was involved in the original cloning of RORγ.

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BOCA RATON, FLORIDA - Akron Biotech, an innovative biotech company focused on serving the growing demands of the cell therapy industry, is pleased to announce it was awarded a Phase 1 Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop enzyme-based formulations for the isolation of stem cells from various tissues. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Gregg Fields, Vice President of Scientific Affairs at Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, and will involve the use of novel engineered enzyme formulations to improve viability and quality of isolated stem cells with no toxicities.

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FLORIDA DRUG DISCOVERY ACCELERATION PROGRAM

The Florida Drug Discovery Acceleration Program is funded by the state of Florida for the 2013-2014 fiscal year through the Department of Health. This program allows for Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies (TPIMS) to share its large collection of compound libraries and expertise to Florida Institutions to accelerate drug discovery and commercialization statewide. Through this program, these compound libraries and services are provided at no cost to our collaborators at universities and non-profit institutes within the state of Florida.

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Twenty students gain research experience

Indian River State College (IRSC) and Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies (TPIMS) have launched an innovative new Work-Study Internship program that engages students in cutting-edge bioscience research while they earn a paycheck and receive a $1,250 per semester scholarship at the same time.  The 20 students selected for the introduction of the program are biology majors who are assigned to work on specific laboratory experiments combating diseases under the direction of a scientific mentor.

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Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, a non-profit institute dedicated to conducting basic research to advance the understanding of human disease and the improvement of human health, announced today the initiation of a research collaboration with Envoy Therapeutics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited.

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Dr. Richard A. Houghten of Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies has been named a Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

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Heavy alcohol consumption is known to be the main cause of alcohol liver disease (ALD), but understanding the cellular interactions involved in livery injury following alcohol ingestion is poorly understood.   By investigating “natural killer T-cells” and their functions in ALD, Dr. Vipin Kumar and his colleagues at Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies are identifying new mechanisms to protect liver injury associated with ALD, thanks to a $2 million grant awarded by the National Institute of Health and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Heavy alcohol consumption leads to diseases such as fatty liver, hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis and in some cases liver cancer. Dr. Kumar has found that distinct subset of NKT cells play differential role in liver injury and can be manipulated to block ALD and significantly protect liver injuries.

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The toll of advanced breast cancer on women’s lives remains unacceptably high and new approaches are needed to treat the disease.  By investigating a new cell surface receptor that appears to control the breast cancer invasion and metastasis, Dr. Barbara M. Mueller and researchers at Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies are identifying new mechanisms to treat late-stage breast cancer, thanks to a $2 million grant awarded by the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute.

The discovery of the new protein, known as the plasminogen receptor (Plg-RKT), may be the missing link that increases breast cancer progression.  Dr. Mueller is collaborating with Dr. Lindsey A. Miles from The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla CA, who first described this receptor. Dr. Mueller will use the grant funds to assess the potential therapies of blocking the plasminogen receptor to treat advanced breast cancer.

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Every year an 11th grader is recognized in each of Florida’s school districts as the Sunshine State Scholar.  This Florida Education Foundation statewide initiative was revitalized in 2011 by recognizing these outstanding students in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM areas, while offering solutions to pursue post-secondary education in STEM areas.  With the help of a local organization in each county, like Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in St. Lucie County, students have found practical options for hands-on involvement in STEM-based industries through summer internships.

St. Lucie County Sunshine State Scholar Roxana Vega has completed an internship in the biology lab of renowned Alzheimer’s scientist Dr. Madepalli Lakshmana.  “In our laboratory, Roxana Vega screened novel thiazole derivatives to identify amyloid beta peptide lowering compounds as possible therapeutic leads for Alzheimer’s disease,” stated Dr. Lakshmana. “During her internship, she did excellent work and I really appreciated her commitment, knowledge and her fast learning skills.”

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Science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM areas, are increasingly related to our everyday lives, including the products we buy, services we use and careers that will be available.  In fact, STEM careers are predicted to make up 80% of future jobs. With this foresight and commitment to the local community, Torrey Pines Institute’s summer internship program hosted 13 local high school and college students with hands-on, STEM-related internships, including biology and chemistry (science), computational engineering (technology), facility management (engineering), and biostatistics (math).

Ten of the internships were based in the science areas of biology and chemistry, where interns studied under renowned scientists.  Biological and chemical methods were taught and applied, such as liquid phase chemistry and western blot techniques.  “As an intern, you are given similar responsibilities as the scientists working in the lab,” stated Lisa Tack, a molecular biology major at IRSC.  “You walk through the protocols, then run experiments on your own, asking questions of your colleagues as needed, and then present your data at weekly lab meetings.  I greatly valued this unique experience”.

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Summertime typically brings memories of hot days and relaxation, but at Torrey Pines Institute's Summer Internship Program for Teachers, local science teachers are given the opportunity to learn novel research techniques and develop working relationships with renown scientists, all while enjoying a productive learning environment in a distinguished lab setting.  The program also provides experiences that aid in teacher’s curriculum development, which can be shared with their students and colleagues back at school.

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Scientists from Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies and their collaborators have discovered that a long-chain sugar molecule contributes to blood cell production in the bone marrow. In healthy people, the bone marrow produces about 500 billion red and white blood cells every day. When the bone marrow is damaged by radiation, chemotherapeutic drugs, or disease, the decrease in blood cell production can compromise the immune system and lead to lethal infections.

Millions of patients around the world suffer from acute and chronic illnesses caused by blood cell deficiencies. The study, published in the July 20th issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, could pave the way for new therapeutics that stimulate production of blood cells and improve the way that bone marrow stem cells are used to treat diseases.

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Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies kicked off its fifth year of summer internships on May 16th. During the summer of 2012, the Institute will be hosting 13 students, including high school students from local area high schools and college students that are currently attending Indian River State College and Florida Atlantic University, as well as students returning home for the summer from Wake Forest University, the University of Florida and Florida State University. These internships not only give the students opportunity to use skills they learn in the classroom, but the internships also expose students to novel techniques used by key researchers in disease areas such as Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, pain, cravings and addiction. The interns’ majors include biology, molecular biology, chemistry, computational chemistry, mathematics and engineering and computer science.

“As a local graduate of South Fork High School, I enjoy the ability to return home during the summer while learning practical lab skills that are essential for my career,” stated Jonathan Capps, one of the 13 summer interns who is currently majoring in Chemistry at the University of Florida. “Interning at such a well-respected research organization like Torrey Pines Institute provides an advantage that other students are unable to receive in a traditional classroom experience.”

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Bacterial infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat due to the development and spread of antibiotic resistance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, virtually all important bacterial pathogens are becoming resistant to currently available antibiotics. Therefore, developing new antibiotics capable of treating infections from multi-drug resistant bacteria is of vital importance. Historically, natural products have served as important source of biologically active compounds. Among natural products, cyclic depsipeptides are particularly attractive candidates for new drug discovery due to their broad spectrum of biological activities. Occurrence of multi-drug resistant bacteria and urgent demands for new and more potent antibiotics place this class of natural products in the center of the attention for development of new antibacterial agents.

Dr. Predrag Cudic, Associate Member, Bioorganic Chemistry of Torrey Pines Institute, and his research on new antimicrobial drugs, was featured on the inside cover of the May 2012 issue of ChemMedChem, one of top journals for research at the interface of chemistry, biology and medicine.  Dr. Cudic’s cyclic peptide research was shown for the unique approach his lab took in identifying new compounds that may fight against drug-resistant infections.  The approach focused on the fusaricidin class of cyclic depsipeptide natural products as promising lead compounds for the development of new antibacterial agents capable of reverting infections caused by multi-drug resistant bacteria.  The team found that chemical modification of cyclic depsipeptide natural products may be equally potent with improved stability and minimal toxicity. Moreover, they are synthetically more accessible than the natural product, simplifying the drug discovery process.

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Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., leading to an increase in obesity-mediated health complications including insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In spite of this, the molecular changes that promote these disorders are still poorly defined, but researchers at Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies are beginning to discover the relationship between fat cells, obesity and type-2 diabetes.

Dr. Fahumiya Samad, Associate Member/Obesity & Diabetes Research, discovered many years ago that tissue factor (TF) a protein with a primary function of blood clotting was expressed in the fat tissue, and subsequently increased in the fat from obese mice.  Puzzled as to what a blood clotting protein is doing in the fat, Dr. Samad collaborated with Dr. Wolfram Ruf of the Scripps Research Institute and discovered an unexpected finding that TF contributes to weight gain, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.  Specifically, the research teams found that TF signaling in adipocytes, or fat cells, promotes obesity, whereas signaling in adipose tissue macrophages promotes local inflammation and insulin resistance leading to type-2 diabetes. Thus, the inhibition of TF signaling could be used to improve insulin-resistance, type-2 diabetes and reduce weight gain in obese individuals.

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On February 22, 2012, the Obama administration declared Alzheimer's disease as "one of the most feared health conditions" and issued a draft plan on the nation's first strategic course of action to fight the rise of the mind-destroying disease.  With over 5 million Americans already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and the toll being forecasted to reach up to 16 million by 2050, the government has issued a goal to find effective diagnostic and treatment methods for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.  In addition, the government has ramped up research efforts by budgeting an extra $50 million to the National Institute of Health’s dementia research.

Alzheimer's Research at Torrey Pines Institute

As a growing concern among aging Americans and the only major disease with an increasing death rate (the death rates for cancer, stroke and heart disease are declining- Alzheimer’s Association, Facts and Figures, 2011), Alzheimer’s disease research has become one of the hottest topics in biomedical research.  In collaboration with Alzheimer’s Community Care, Torrey Pines Institute’s Associate Member of Neurobiology, Dr. Madepalli Lakshmana presented his research and goals to a group of 150 caretakers and staff at the Treasure Coast Hospice Center in Fort Pierce, Florida.   Dr. Lakshmana’s research aims to find disease modifying therapy through the understanding of molecular mechanisms responsible for the generation and accumulation of toxic amyloid beta peptide within the amyloid plaques. The aggregation of amyloid beta peptide in the form of insoluble clumps is considered to be responsible for the reduced synaptic connections as well as massive loss of healthy neurons within the brain that leads to loss of memory, the primary feature of the disease.

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