La Jolla News Nuggets: Neuroscience prize, sunbathing OK at beaches, school funding, more

Scripps Research professor and neurobiologist Ardem Patapoutian has been awarded a share of the 2020 Kavli Prize in neuroscience.

Scripps professor wins Kavli Prize in neuroscience

Scripps Research professor and neurobiologist Ardem Patapoutian has been awarded the 2020 Kavli Prize in neuroscience, a prestigious distinction presented by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and the Kavli Foundation. He is the first Scripps Research scientist to win the Kavli Prize.

Patapoutian is sharing the neuroscience award — which includes a prize of $1 million — with David Julius of UC San Francisco. They were recognized for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms of touch, temperature and pain.

A decade ago, Patapoutian discovered pressure-sensitive proteins, PIEZO1 and PIEZO2, that enable the sense of touch and underlie the function of many other tissues and cell types. That has led to new findings that shed light on how to treat a variety of illnesses, from heart failure to chronic pain.

Patapoutian’s discoveries “opened the door to understanding mechanobiology, an emerging field of science that intersects biology, engineering and physics,” the Kavli Prize committee said.

Sunbathing allowed at beaches in SD County

Sitting on local beaches is now allowed with social distancing or face coverings.

Effective June 2, people can sit and lounge at local beaches provided they maintain physical distancing or wear a face covering when close to others as continued precautions against the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency officials.

Sitting on the beach will be allowed for sunbathing and relaxing with towels and chairs if you do it with people in your own household. However, group activities such as football and volleyball are prohibited.

Districts call for more state funding to reopen schools

San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten and Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner say the proposed 2020-21 state budget does not provide funding necessary to safely reopen school campuses in the fall.

“Reopening schools is integral to the future well-being of our students as well as restarting the economy,” the superintendents said in a joint statement May 29. “However, opening our schools will not be as easy as separating desks or placing pieces of tape on the floor. We will need to ensure the safety and well-being of all in our school community — students, staff and families. Facilities will need to be reconfigured and supplies purchased to sanitize schools on a regular basis. Personal protective equipment will need to be provided to students and staff. More teachers and staff will be needed to do this extra work in schools and to provide both in-school and online learning programs. And state authorities have to provide the funding for all of these necessary pieces. ...

“Public health authorities must solve some very real issues for the safe return of our school community. For example, our two school districts employ about 90,000 people and serve approximately 825,000 students who live with another couple million people. A robust system of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing will need to be in place before we can consider reopening schools.

“Local health authorities, not school districts, have to lead the way on testing, contact tracing and a clear set of protocols on how to respond to any occurrence of the virus.”

UCSD mobilizes food and housing resources for students

UC San Diego is mobilizing its Basic Needs Initiative of student resources such as mobile food pantries, housing assistance grants and grocery gift cards. Any undergraduate or graduate student who is facing challenges with access to adequate food, stable housing or general financial resources can submit a request through the basic-needs assistance form.

The COVID-19 Special Relief Fund includes basic-needs emergency grants that offer support for food and housing needs, as well as a recent $100,000 gift from the UC San Diego Alumni Association that goes to help students cover other costs such as child care, transportation and medical needs.

All students also may apply for short-term emergency loans of up to $1,500 per quarter with no interest or fees.

UC San Diego hires 2 ‘star’ neuroscientists

UC San Diego has hired a pair of prominent brain scientists who are expected to shift at least $20 million in research funding to the La Jolla campus, which operates one of the world’s top-ranked neuroscience programs.

The university lured Scott Sternson and Loren Looger away from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia campus near Ashburn, Va., where scientists create new ways to look at brain activity in real time.

Looger and Sternson, both 46, are HHMI investigators, an elite group of scientists known for taking on unusually difficult problems, especially the workings of the brain. More than a dozen current HHMI investigators are Nobel laureates, including Susumu Tonegawa, a UCSD graduate.

Sternson explores how the brain controls appetite, homing in on things such as hunger, thirst and stress. He says his work could eventually lead to better treatments for obesity and other disorders.

The Janelia website says Looger likes to engineer biosensors “that can be used in living organisms and cells.”

Such work can help reveal how the brain works and how it goes awry, giving rise to diseases and movement disorders.

“Both of these scientists are stars. We were lucky to get them,” said Dr. David Brenner, UCSD’s vice chancellor of health sciences.

La Jolla groups issue letter on city parks master plan

Ahead of the comment deadline for the city of San Diego’s draft parks master plan, La Jolla Parks and Beaches Inc., La Jolla Shores Association, Bird Rock Community Council and Friends of Coast Walk Trail sent a letter to the city Planning Department on behalf of the residents of La Jolla.

“The purpose of our collective voices is to comment on the city of San Diego’s draft parks master plan specifically impacting parks and shorelines in the ZIP code of La Jolla,” the three-page letter states.

The letter suggests “management elements [for shoreline parks] different from those of neighborhood parks used on a daily basis, mainly by local residents,” wayfinding for smaller parks throughout La Jolla, changes in the next community plan update and more.

The city has extended the public comment deadline on the parks master plan to Thursday, June 11. To view the draft and make comments, visit

Compiled by Light staff writer Ashley Mackin-Solomon.