Salk Institute: Immune receptors amplify “invader” signals by turning into mini-machines

Researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, have discovered how immune receptors use a protein to amplify “invader” signals and attack a biological intruder. The T cell receptor that detects the intruder activates and releases copy after copy of a protein called ZAP70, becoming a mini-machine. This discovery sheds light on how T cells identify and react to pathogens — something researchers have for decades struggled to explain — and could help scientists develop better treatments for immune-based cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The research is supported in part by the NOMIS Foundation, and the finding was published on Nov. 21, 2016, in Nature Immunology. More details can be found in the Nov. 21 release by the Salk Institute.

The Salk Institute has been a NOMIS partner since 2008.

NOMIS researcher links heart disease, leukemia and aging disorders to dysfunction in nucleus

Salk Institute scientists in La Jolla, California have published in the Nov. 2 issue of Genes & Development a study demonstrating that the nuclear membrane acts not only as a driver of gene expression, but also disease. NOMIS board member and professor of molecular and cell biology at the Salk Institute Martin Hetzer is leading the team, who discovered that two proteins in the nuclear envelope, along with the membrane-spanning complexes they form, interact with parts of the genome to trigger key gene expression.

These proteins regulate the expression of super-enhancer-driven genes—i.e., those that help determine cell identity—and abnormal gene expression occurs when either of the proteins are suppressed. Experiments with human bone cancer and lung cancer cell lines confirmed that altering the proteins Nup153 or Nup93 result in faulty gene expression.

In the release published by Salk, Hetzer says, “People have thought the nuclear membrane is just a protective barrier, which is maybe the reason why it evolved in the first place. But there are many more regulatory levels that we don’t understand. And it’s such an important area because so far, every membrane protein that has been studied and found to be mutated or mis-localized, seems to cause a human disease.”

By better understanding this process, greater insight into diseases such as heart disease, leukemia and aging disorders, which are thought to be related to dysfunctional nuclear membrane components, can be gained.

The Salk Institute has been a NOMIS partner since 2008.

NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award builds bridges between the humanities, arts and sciences

On Oct. 6, 2016, a select group of world-renowned scientists and scholars as well as explorative research sponsors took part in the first NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award ceremony at Villa Tobler in Zurich. Unlocking new insights by bridging scientific fields was the central theme of the evening and was underscored by the unique atmosphere of the historical avant-garde venue.

The inaugural NOMIS awardee is Manos Tsakiris, professor of psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London. Tsakiris presented his new research project, which is underway at the Warburg Institute in London. Based on the premise that culture is driven by images, the Body and Image in Arts and Science project (BIAS) seeks to shed new light on the interdependency between bodily responses and cognitive mechanisms in the way humans respond to images — in particular, how biological mechanisms and cultural factors shape human relationships in a culture powered by images.

By bringing neuroscientists, psychologists and scholars from the humanities together to investigate how images are “embodied” by the brain, Tsakiris is exploring new forms of scientific collaboration and exchange.

The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award enables exceptional scientists to explore unconventional academic paths, thereby forging new directions in science.

Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services

Sound policy and effective resource allocation are the keys to preventing, managing and solving major crises, especially those involving complex human and natural systems and their interdependence. But in order to create and implement effective policy, accurate data is required, and both interpretive and predictive models based on this data need to be developed. The objective of this ambitious project, Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services (LIVES), initiated by the Luc Hoffmann Institute and the World Wildlife Fund, is to identify valid and consistent measures of risk for food, water and energy systems – at different scales and under different conditions. These measures will be combined to produce models that can help policy makers understand complex systems and their interdependence – and, more importantly, help them to understand the practical consequences of different policy decisions. This project aims to provide a fact-based understanding of the linkages between economic, environmental and social sectors and to develop valuable, practical tools for sustainable resource allocation by decision makers.

The NOMIS-funded LIVES project is currently conducting basic research to develop risk-analysis metrics for complex systems involving food, energy, water and the economy. The project is working on a number of levels simultaneously: formalizing and refining conceptual relationships, collecting massive amounts of data, and developing and testing models and applying risk analysis to policy decision making. A full-scale pilot project for this innovative approach is currently being tested in the Mekong River basin in Cambodia.

The project is being led by Dr. Louise Ann Gallagher at the Luc Hoffman Institute.