La Jolla News Nuggets

La Jolla High School graduate Eve Weston has produced an award-winning virtual-reality sitcom.

At UCSD: suicidal bacteria, pot-hastened cancer, dengue-thwarting mosquitoes

In the past two weeks, UC San Diego researchers have made three unrelated and unusual discoveries:

1) Some bacteria cells infected by bacteriophage viruses (phages) self-destruct to keep the infection from spreading to other cells.

A pair of papers, published Jan. 10, 2020 in the journal Molecular Cell, provide new information that could be employed to improve treatment of multidrug-resistant bacterial infections by refining phage therapy or even purposefully triggering bacterial self-destruction.

“Abortive infection is an old concept, but it’s still controversial — a bacterial cell essentially takes one for the team, killing itself rather than being used to produce more phages,” said senior author Kevin Corbett, associate professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UCSD School of Medicine.

“It’s been debated whether or not it’s logical, from an evolutionary standpoint, for single-celled organisms to do this. But if we think of bacteria as a cooperative community, a biofilm, rather than as individual cells, it makes sense.”

After falling out of favor a century ago, phages are once again being explored as a therapy for multidrug-resistant bacterial infections.

2) THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, triggers a molecular mechanism that accelerates cancer growth in patients with HPV-positive head and neck squamous-cell carcinoma.

Previous studies have linked daily marijuana exposure to an increased prevalence of HPV-related throat cancer. However, a mechanism linking cannabis exposure to increased growth of the cancer was unknown.

Reporting in the Jan. 13 online edition of Clinical Cancer Research, researchers at UCSD School of Medicine outlined how the presence of THC in the bloodstream activates a pathway that prevents programmed cell death from occurring, allowing cancer cells to grow uncontrollably.

3) Mosquitoes can be engineered to repel dengue virus.

UCSD biologists proved this fact because they actually did it. Working with an international team of scientists, they synthetically engineered mosquitoes that halt the transmission of the dengue virus. They discuss their achievement in a paper published Jan. 16 in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

“This development means that in the foreseeable future there may be viable genetic approaches to controlling dengue virus in the field, which could limit human suffering and mortality,” said UCSD associate professor Omar Akbari, whose lab is now in the early stages of testing methods to simultaneously neutralize mosquitoes against dengue and a suite of other viruses such as Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.

State of the City: Help the homeless population

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s sixth and final State of the City address, given Jan. 15 at Balboa Theatre, focused primarily on the housing and homeless crises.

“It’s not acceptable to condone living outdoors in urban areas,” Faulconer said. “It’s not humane to let people with severe mental illness wander our streets. It’s not responsible to turn a blind eye to drug abuse. It’s time to clean up the unsafe homeless encampments that symbolize California’s failure to act. To anyone who says it’s not compassionate to move a person off the street … I say it’s not compassionate to let a person die on it.”

Faulconer said he plans to finish his term by trying to get City Council to pass Complete Communities, a new housing reform to build more homes, invest in existing communities and turn his One San Diego pledge into policy.

Faulconer also announced that mental-health teams will be dispatched to City shelters and that the City will soon debut its first shelter specifically dedicated to mental health.

Though San Diego has one of the largest homeless populations in the U.S., overall homeless numbers dropped in 2019, a fact Faulconer credited to an increase in homeless shelters, safe parking lots and other services.

Drug combo reverses arthritis in rats at Salk

A combination of two previously studied osteoarthritis drugs work better than either drug alone, Salk researchers have discovered.

Osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” arthritis, gives sufferers limited treatment options: pain relievers or joint-replacement surgery.

But a combination of two experimental drugs reverses the cellular and molecular signs of osteoarthritis in rats — as well as in isolated human cartilage cells. The results were published in the Jan. 16 edition of the journal Protein & Cell.

Previous research had pinpointed two molecules, alpha-KLOTHO and TGF beta receptor 2 , as potential drugs to treat osteoarthritis. Each drug alone had only moderately curbed osteoarthritis in animal models of the disease.

“What’s really exciting is that this is potentially a therapy that can be translated to the clinic quite easily,” said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, lead author and a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory.

“We are excited to continue refining this promising combination therapy for human use.”

La Jolla High grad wins TV award

La Jolla native and 1997 LJHS graduate Eve Weston — now an L.A.-based writer, director and producer — recently won the Best Project for Television award from DreamlandXR at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Weston won for creating one of the world’s first virtual-reality sitcoms.

Intended to be viewed in a VR headset, “The BizNest” — starring Ellie Araiza from FX’s “Legion” and “The Bridge,” and the Emmy-nominated Epic Lloyd —- uses the space around the viewer in all directions, a process Weston describes as “like watching ‘The Office’ from the desk next to Jim.”

“It was really exciting and flattering to be recognized by my peers for my work,” Weston said.

Here’s the trailer:

Four Holocaust workshop left

The UC San Diego Library continues its 2019-20 season of the Holocaust Living History Workshop (HLHW) series. The four remaining workshops focus on the themes of trauma, memory and resilience.

On Feb. 19, Israeli communications scholar Amit Pinchevski will discuss his new book, “Transmitted Wounds.”

On April 15, scholars Anna Shternshis and Psoy Korolenko discuss their rediscovery, and re-recording, of songs about the Holocaust written while it happened.

On May 6, history professor Anna Hájková examines sex work, sexual violence, and the coercion of Jewish women and men in concentration camps, ghettos, and in hiding.

On June 3, Holocaust survivor Gabriella Karin will discusses the trauma she experienced being separated from her parents and placed in a Slovakian convent for three years.

The public is invited to all the events, which are free and held on the UC San Diego campus in Geisel Library’s Seuss Room from 5 to 7 p.m. Registration is required, however at

Won’t you help shore up La Jolla Shores?

La Jolla Shores residents and/or business owners are needed to serve on the board of the La Jolla Shores Association.

The community group meets 6:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Questions? Visit