La Jolla News Nuggets

UC San Diego Health will test whether it can use small drones to transport medical samples between buildings in La Jolla.

Meet Mayoral hopefuls at Town Council forum, Monday, Feb. 17

The La Jolla Town Council will host the candidates running for the job of San Diego Mayor in a public forum, Monday, Feb. 17 at La Jolla Community Center, 6811 La Jolla Blvd.

There will be a meet-and-greet 5:30-6 p.m., with the Q&A following, 6-7:30 p.m. “Come with questions. All are welcome!” a press release for the event stated.

Confirmed candidates: Barbara Bry, Todd Gloria and Scott Sherman

Pending confirmation: Tasha Williamson. The primary election is March 3.

Salk scientists link rapid brain growth in autism to DNA damage

Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a unique pattern of DNA damage that arises in brain cells derived from individuals with a macrocephalic form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The observation, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, helps explain what might go awry in the brain during cell division and development to cause the disorder.

“Division, or replication, is one of the most dangerous things that a cell can do,” said Salk Professor Rusty Gage, the study’s senior author and president of the Institute. “Most DNA damage is repaired through a remarkably efficient repair process, but errors occur when the rate of division is altered genetically or environmentally, which can lead to long term functional defects.”

ASD, a developmental disorder of communication and behavior, affects about 1 in 59 children in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research into the underlying causes of the disorder, as well as possible treatments, has been slow.

In 2016, Gage and his colleagues discovered that brain stem cells from people with the macrocephalic form of autism grew more quickly than cells from unaffected individuals. (Brain stem cells are precursors to more-specialized types of cells, such as neurons.) The finding explained, in part, why many people with ASD also have macrocephaly, or unusually large heads: more proliferation of brain stem cells during development can lead to larger brains.

In the new research, Gage and his colleagues again looked at these neural precursor cells (NPCs). As all cell types proliferate and mature during embryonic development, it’s normal for their quickly-replicating strands of DNA to accumulate small errors, most of which are corrected and never do any harm. The researchers wondered whether this DNA damage that occurred during the stress of replication was more common in the quickly-dividing neural precursors of people with autism.

The researchers collected skin cells from individuals with both ASD and macrocephaly, as well as from neurotypical individuals (without ASD), and used stem-cell reprogramming technology to coax each person’s cells into NPCs. “What the new results are telling us is that cells from people with macrocephalic autism not only proliferate more but naturally experience more replication stress,” said Meiyan Wang, a graduate student in the Gage lab and first author of the new paper.

Fast proliferation of NPCs may lead to both macrocephaly and cellular stress that spurs DNA damage, she said. That damage could be one source of mutations associated with ASD. While the technology used in the study told the researchers where DNA damage occurred, they don’t know how much of that damage was repaired before cells matured into adult neurons and how much of it leads to lasting mutations.

“We’d like to look deeper at how replication stress and DNA damage affects neuronal function in the long term and whether adult neurons arising from these stem cells have more mutations than usual,” Wang concluded.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s blood and urine samples!

Starting later this month, UC San Diego Health will test drones to transport carefully packaged medical samples, supplies and documents between Jacobs Medical Center, Moores Cancer Center and the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine (CALM). The drones — monitored by remote operators and not equipped with cameras — will follow predetermined flight paths, all within visual line of sight as required by the FAA, along the mile-long route.

“Currently, medical samples that must be transported between health-care sites are carried by courier cars, which are naturally subject to the variabilities of traffic and other ground issues,” said Matthew Jenusaitis, UCSD Health’s chief administrative officer for innovation and transformation. “With drones, we want to demonstrate proof-of-concept for getting vital samples where they need to be for testing or assessment more quickly and simply. It’s another way to leverage emerging technologies in a way that can tangibly benefit our patients.” The program is a collaboration with UPS — which in September 2019 received FAA certification to use unmanned aircraft as delivery systems — and the drone company Matternet.

Gates Foundation grants Scripps Research $50M

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $50 million to scientists at Scripps Research’s drug development division, Calibr, to deliver new preclinical candidates against the global threats of tuberculosis and malaria — as well as to support research into pandemic preparedness, vaccine development, new contraceptives and gut-health programs.

The five-year award is a renewal of the Calibr flagship portfolio grant and brings the total commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to $135 million between 2014 and 2024.

“The Foundation’s continued generous support will tremendously accelerate our efforts to address unmet medical needs for millions of people around the globe,” said Peter Schultz, CEO of Scripps Research and Calibr.

UCSD injects hope into spinal-cord repair

A new injection technique may boost spinal-cord injury repair, reports an international research team led by physician-scientist at UCSD School of Medicine. The team delivered neural precursor cells (NSCs) to into the superficial layers of the spinal cord in rats, a less-invasive manner than direct needle injection, which carries the risk of bleeding and further spinal-cord injury.

The new technique also boosted the propagation of potentially reparative cells, the team wrote in the Jan. 29 issue of the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

USCD neurosurgeon and senior author Joseph Ciacci said that this new injection method is likely to accelerate and improve treatment potency in cell-replacement therapies for several spinal neurodegenerative disorders.

“This may include spinal traumatic injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and multiple sclerosis,” Ciacci said.

The researchers plan to test the cell delivery system in larger preclinical animal models that more closely mimic human anatomy.

UCSD student to compete on ‘Jeopardy’

Alistair Gray, a UC San Diego sophomore from Sunnyvale, may have found the coolest way ever of avoiding student-loan debt.

From April 6 to 17, he’ll be one of 15 of America’s sharpest students competing for the $100,000 grand prize on the college championship episode of TV’s “Jeopardy!”

SDCCU members donate 2,000 toys to pediatric patients

San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU) collected more than 2,000 toys for its annual holiday drive benefiting Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

“We are appreciative of our generous customers and employees for helping us make life at the hospital a little easier for pediatric patients,” said SDCCU president/ CEO Teresa Campbell.

New, unwrapped toys were collected from November 2019 through early January 2020 at SDCCU locations throughout San Diego.

City seeks input from older La Jollans to improve town’s livability

The City of San Diego wants residents, ages 50 and up, to help them identify specific priorities to make San Diego a more age-friendly community. To that end, a community listening session will be held noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 at the La Jolla Community Center, 6811 La Jolla Blvd.

“We want to hear from our older residents about what steps we can take to make our neighborhoods welcoming to people of all ages,” said City Parks & Rec Department director Andy Field.

About 2,000 residents responded to a survey posted last November by the City’s AgeWell Services program and the listening sessions are designed to gather additional input.

Meeting registration is encouraged by contacting Marla Davis at (619) 525-8247.