Prof has radical new take on chronic disease

A new paper by UC San Diego School of Medicine professor Robert Naviaux suggests that chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and some neurological disorders may persist because the body’s natural healing cycle becomes blocked by miscommunication at the metabolic and celullar levels. (Chronic disease, according to the National Institutes of Health, causes more than half of all deaths worldwide.)

“Emerging evidence shows that most chronic illnesses are caused by the biological reaction to an injury, not the initial injury or the agent of the injury,” says Naviaux, who also directs UCSD’s Mitochondrial and Metabolic Disease Center. “Chronic disease results when cells are caught in a repeating loop of incomplete recovery and re-injury, unable to fully heal. This biology is at the root of virtually every chronic illness known, including susceptibility to recurrent infections, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetic heart and kidney disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s dementia, cancer and autism spectrum disorder.”

The paper, publishing shortly in the journal Mitochondrion, departs radically from modern Western medical thinking, which is based upon the treatment of acute, immediate harm caused by events such as heart attacks, infections and physical injury. If accurate, it may place science on the cusp of writing a second book of medicine.

“The idea would be to direct treatments at the underlying processes that block the healing cycle,” Naviaux says. “New treatments might only be given for a short period of time to promote healing, not unlike applying a cast to promote the healing of a broken leg. When the cast is removed, the limb is weak, but over time, muscles recover and bone that was once broken may actually be stronger.”

SIO aerosol center nabs second $20M grant

The largest federally funded UCSD research center has received a second $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue its work for another five years.

The Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE) plans to continue research on how aerosols such as sea spray, dust, wildfire smoke and microorganisms influence atmospheric chemistry, cloud formation and human health.

CAICE’s main study tool is a facility on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) campus that allows replicating in miniature an enclosed ocean-atmosphere system. Its next phase will add a new variable — smog — to the mix to study how human contributions to atmospheric chemistry mesh with natural ones.

“Our renewed funding enables us to use an ocean-atmosphere ‘time machine’ to perform experiments that can help us better predict how our planet will evolve if we continue on the current trajectory,” said CAICE director Kim Prather, who is also a faculty member at SIO and UCSD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The NSF funding comes at a critical time when scientists are grappling with understanding how human emissions are contributing to the steady increase in extreme weather events and the number of wildfires.

La Jolla scientist pens superbug memoir

The story of UC San Diego scientist Steffanie Strathdee’s desperate race to save her husband Tom from an antibiotic resistant superbug — which she revealed to the Light in May — is soon to be a compelling medical memoir.

“The Perfect Predator,” on Hachette Books, won’t be released until next May but pre-orders are now being taken on Amazon.

“The story interweaves Tom’s vivid hallucinations and contrasts his version of events in his mind at the time, with what was happening in real life,” Strathdee says. “Often, after writing or re-reading passages, we both cried, and so did our kids. Writing the book was cathartic.”

Student accepts school’s film award

In Paris recently, a short film by La Jolla’s San Diego French-American School and the German Pacific School of San Diego (GPSSD) in North Clairemont won second place in a contest held by European historical-research network EUSTORY.

The 15-minute movie, “Chess Peace,” described the initial animosity between French and German soldiers during World War I and their evolution toward a more peaceful outcome. It competed against 133 entries in the contest. About 40 students (half from each school) worked on the project.

The award was accepted at the ceremony by GPSSD student Sofia Herrier, who lives in La Jolla.

High grades for UCSD

UC San Diego has been ranked the 12th-best college in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

The magazine’s Best Colleges guidebook also rated the campus’s Jacobs School of Engineering 18th among public engineering schools offering doctorates.

The rankings are based on academic reputation, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduate rate performance and alumni giving.

“We are proud that we continue to gain recognition for the exceptional educational experience we offer students,” said UCSD chancellor Pradeep Khosla. “Through our teaching, research and service, our campus spurs breakthroughs that positively impact the state, nation and world.”

Comedy for a cause, Oct. 6

Rotary Club of La Jolla holds its third annual Laughing Under the Stars program 5:30-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6 at the La Jolla Farms home of Claire Reiss. The evening will feature wine and hors d’oeuvres by Waters Catering, a silent auction and entertainment by three comedians.

Proceeds will support Rotary Club of La Jolla programs, including local senior residents of La Jolla’s League House. Tickets are $200 and can be purchased at (858) 731-6694 or

Take a hike, guides offer trail tours

Canyoneers (citizen scientists and volunteers trained by the San Diego Natural History Museum) are leading more than 75 free hikes in the year through June 2019. Mostly offered on weekends — with a few midday hikes on select dates — they cover diverse terrain, ranging from the coast to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and from the Tijuana Estuary to Palomar Mountain.

The hike schedule and interactive map are online at

Salk makes breast cancer breakthrough

A Salk Institute team has identified a master switch, the gene Sox10, that appears to control tumor cells that make triple-negative breast cancers so difficult to treat.

The team, led by Professor Geoffrey Wahl, discovered that some aggressive breast cancers return to a flexible, earlier state found in fetal breast tissue. This cellular reprogramming, reported in the journal Cancer Cell, may be the key to cancer’s ability to form new cell types, evolve drug resistance and metastasize to other locations in the body.

“It’s what you could call the imprecision in precision medicine,” Wahl said, “in the sense that we might target one type of cell, but there are other cells within the tumor that can change to become drug resistant, analogous to how a chameleon changes colors to evade predators.”

The discovery could open new avenues for diagnosing and treating breast and other types of aggressive cancers.

Photo contest winners show at Conrad site

The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) in Balboa Park, as part of a partnership with the La Jolla Music Society, is displaying selected photographs from its 13th annual Youth Exhibition at the construction site of the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center through early 2019. The photographs were submitted by students from San Diego and Tijuana asked to interpret what music looks like.

“Understanding perception of one sense can sometimes come by synthesizing it using another one of our senses, as is the case of paraphrasing one fine art with the tools of another: poetry to illustrate a dance, musical composition to accompany lyrics or, in this case, photography to interpret music or sound,” said MOPA executive director Deborah Klochko.