La Jolla News Nuggets: LJI president, art committee, ‘Hometown Heroes,’ $3 million honors, UCSD studies, more

Tony Carr, La Jolla Institute for Immunology President and Chief Executive Erica Ollmann Saphire and Sandra Jones
Tony Carr, La Jolla Institute for Immunology President and Chief Executive Erica Ollmann Saphire and Sandra Jones (from left) attend a Sept. 9 event honoring Saphire’s appointment.
(Jenny Siegwart / Courtesy of La Jolla Institute for Immunology)

La Jolla Institute for Immunology celebrates new president

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology hosted a celebration honoring Erica Ollmann Saphire as the institute’s new president and chief executive.

The Sept. 9 reception took place outdoors on the Arroyo Terrace Lawn at The Lodge at Torrey Pines.

Saphire has dedicated her career to facing health threats such as the Ebola virus and COVID-19.

“This right now is a time of incredible urgency, incredible opportunity and acceleration of discovery,” Saphire said in her address. “This is a time to understand and harness immunology and the immune system.”

Saphire is LJI’s fifth president. She succeeds Mitchell Kronenberg, who led the organization for 18 years.

New art committee formed for Enhance La Jolla project

A committee of volunteers has been assembled to select works of art for Enhance La Jolla’s Village streetscape project, the initial phase of which is designed to improve community gathering spaces in The Village. The plans include a new plaza on Prospect Street between Girard and Herschel avenues featuring public art, increased pedestrian access, better traffic flow and modern safety measures.

The art committee members are Derrick Cartwright, an associate professor and director of university galleries at the University of San Diego; Lynda Forsha, executive director of Murals of La Jolla; Kathryn Kanjo, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and an Enhance La Jolla board member; architect Jennifer Luce; Patsy Marino, chairwoman of the art selection committee of Murals of La Jolla; and architect Mark Steele.

For more information about the project, visit

La Jolla Town Council searching for ‘Hometown Heroes’

The La Jolla Town Council is seeking nominations for ‘Hometown Heroes’ through Thursday, Sept. 30.

“We’re looking for people that have gone above and beyond in our community and have really helped get us through these tough times with COVID,” Town Council Vice President Jerri Hunt said at the group’s virtual meeting Sept. 9.

“Through this whole process, there’s been some people out there that have done some amazing things,” she said. “The La Jolla Town Council wants to recognize those people.”

“There’s no act that is too great or too small to nominate,” she added.

Eight Hometown Heroes will be selected from the nominations by a group of community leaders, Hunt said.

Recipients will be recognized at a luncheon in the Walnut Lounge at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club on Wednesday, Nov. 10. They also will be celebrated at the La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival on Sunday, Dec. 5.

To nominate a Hometown Hero, visit

Hood Family Foundation gives $3 million to UCSD for public health efforts

The John and Sally Hood Family Foundation has given $3 million to establish the Hood Family Endowed Dean’s Chair in Public Health at UC San Diego. The gift is intended to support excellence in research, education and practice of public health at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UCSD in La Jolla.

Cheryl A.M. Anderson, an internationally recognized epidemiologist and founding dean of the Herbert Wertheim School, has been named the inaugural chair holder. An endowed chair is one of the highest honors an academic institution can confer on a faculty member, recognizing excellence in research and practice.

Anderson’s research focuses primarily on connections between nutrition and chronic diseases, as well as the use of clinical trials and interventions to prevent risk factors for maladies such as heart disease, chronic kidney disease, diet-related cancers and obesity.

In addition to the new chair, the Hoods recently funded a UCSD Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

$3 million Breakthrough Prize goes to La Jolla scientist fighting heart and brain disorders

Scripps Research biochemist Jeff Kelly has been awarded a $3 million Breakthrough Prize.
(Courtesy of Scripps Research)

Biochemist Jeff Kelly of Scripps Research in La Jolla has been awarded a $3 million Breakthrough Prize — the largest financial award in science.

Kelly is one of nine people who received a Breakthrough Prize on Sept. 9 for doing everything from creating better ways to sequence DNA to developing more precise tests for the fundamental laws of nature.

The $3 million prizes were introduced 10 years ago to honor comparatively recent advances in physics, science and math.

Kelly earned the prize for his research on proteins, the “building blocks of life.” He has focused mainly on transthyretin, which like other proteins folds into origami-like shapes while it is developing. The protein sometimes doesn’t turn into the right shape or hold onto its folds. This produces clumps that can destroy cells and tissues, killing people.

The clumping is best known for creating the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but such plaques have been implicated in about 40 diseases of the nervous system and the heart.

Kelly developed a molecule that stabilizes transthyretin. He then helped turn the molecule into tafamidis, a drug that slows the progression of disease, Scripps Research said. His research also showed that the clumping plays a larger role in neurodegeneration than scientists once thought. — The San Diego Union-Tribune

UCSD researchers create technology to sterilize mosquitoes to reduce disease risk

Researchers at UC San Diego said they have used advancements in genetic engineering to create a system to restrain populations of mosquitoes that infect millions of people each year with debilitating diseases.

The new precision-guided sterile insect technique, or pgSIT, alters genes linked to male fertility and female flight in Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species responsible for spreading wide-ranging diseases, including dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika.

Details of the new pgSIT are described in the Sept. 10 edition of the journal Nature Communications.

The technique uses the gene-editing technology CRISPR — not radiation or chemicals — to sterilize male mosquitoes and render female mosquitoes, which spread disease, as flightless. The system is self-limiting and is not predicted to persist or spread in the environment, two safety features that researchers say should enable acceptance of the technology.

The pgSIT system could be implemented by deploying eggs of sterile males and flightless females at locations where mosquito-borne diseases are spreading. — City News Service

UCSD study finds no serious COVID-19 vaccine side effects in infants or breastfeeding moms

A recent study by researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine determined that breastfeeding mothers who received either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccination reported the same local or systemic symptoms as previously reported in non-breastfeeding women, with no serious side effects in the breastfed infants.

In December, two mRNA vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, the early trials excluded lactating women, leading to questions about their safety in that specific population.

According to the study results, published in the online edition of Breastfeeding Medicine, more than 85 percent of the 180 breastfeeding women who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine reported temporary localized symptoms such as pain, redness, swelling or itching at the injection site, and systemic side effects, including chills, muscle/body aches, fever and vomiting, with higher frequency following the second dose.

Some women reported a reduction in milk supply following the first dose of either vaccine, but researchers said the reduction was in a small subset of women and that it came back fully within 72 hours after vaccination. They added they could not be certain that the supply reduction was a side effect of the vaccine or another unknown factor.

Irritability and poor sleep were reported in some breastfed children, but no serious adverse effects.

“Our results should encourage lactating women to get the COVID-19 vaccine and to continue to breastfeed their infants. They do not have to choose one over the other. Both are critical,” said UCSD professor of pediatrics Christina Chambers.

The researchers noted that a limitation of the study was that post-vaccination symptoms were self-reported, and suggested that additional studies will be needed to see if the findings can be generalized to a larger population.

Scripps Research professor awarded Welch Award in chemistry

Chi-Huey Wong of Scripps Research has received the Welch Foundation’s 2021 Robert A. Welch Award in chemistry.
(Courtesy of Scripps Research)

Chi-Huey Wong, the Scripps Family Chair Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Scripps Research in La Jolla, has received the Welch Foundation’s 2021 Robert A. Welch Award in chemistry.

Much of Wong’s work the past 30 years has focused on the importance of carbohydrates in the immunization and treatment of cancer and infectious diseases. Recently, the tools and methods he developed were instrumental in creating a vaccine that targets carbohydrates specific to the surface of cancer cells.

The Houston-based Welch Foundation is one of the nation’s largest sources of private funding for basic chemical research. Wong will receive $500,000 and a gold medallion.

The Lodge at Torrey Pines to host wine-tasting event

The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla will host “Beyond the Cellar: A Fall Wine Collectors Tasting” at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13.

The event will feature wines and experts from 18 Napa Valley wineries. Each wine will be poured by the winemaker, owner or representative, providing an exclusive guided tasting.

Winemakers and winery owners will showcase some of their rare and high-end vintages that are not readily available to the public. Guests will have the opportunity to buy wine through the wineries at retail value.

Wine tastings will be accompanied by cheeses, charcuterie, chocolates, hors d’oeuvres, live entertainment by a string trio, and a caviar and champagne greeting.

Tickets currently are guaranteed only with a Beyond the Cellar room package starting at $795 per night.
Remaining unreserved tickets will go on sale at 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 1, for $200 per person at

— Compiled by La Jolla Light staff