Research Report: New Scripps Research vessel honors astronaut Sally Ride

A new research vessel will be named

R/V Sally Ride

, in honor of the former UC San Diego faculty member who was the first American female astronaut and the youngest American to fly in space.

As a seagoing laboratory supporting research and education, the new ship will feature modern research instrumentation to fuel scientific exploration, including mapping systems, sensors and profilers to investigate features from the seafloor to the atmosphere.

The ship, owned by the U.S. Navy, will be operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD and will home port at the Scripps Nimitz Marine Facility in Point Loma. A shared-use, general-purpose ship,

R/V Sally Ride

is designed to operate globally and will engage in a broad range of research in physics, chemistry, biology, geology and climate science, including research missions with relevance to the U.S. Navy.

R/V Sally Ride

is currently under construction and scheduled for launch in 2015, with scientific operations commencing in 2016. More information at

Finding could alter Dengue vaccine development

Dengue is the most significant mosquito-borne viral diseases in the world today in terms of illness, death and economic cost. Dengue infects 50 to 100 million people worldwide each year, predominantly in Southeast Asia and Latin America, but also produced a small out- break in Florida in 2010.

Efforts to create an effective vaccine against the virus have been hampered because there are four different dengue virus strains. Thus, people who contract the severest forms of the disease are those infected by one dengue strain then later re- infected by a different strain of the virus.

A study from La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology (LIAI) offers evidence that T cells, which are key disease-fighting cells of the immune system, play an important protective role in controlling dengue virus infection. This runs counter to current thinking that the goal of a dengue vaccine should be the generation of antibodies and not T cells. But the LIAI results suggest that both cell types are needed to produce a strong immune response against dengue infection. This being the case, new approaches to dengue vaccine design may be required.

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. News release at

Nanosponges soak up toxins

A team of nanoengineers at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering have invented a “nanosponge” capable of safely removing dangerous toxins from the bloodstream — including toxins produced by MRSA, E. coli, venomous snakes and bees.

Unlike other anti-toxin methods that need to be custom synthesized for individual toxin type, the nano- sponges can absorb different toxins regardless of their molecular structures. When wrapped in red blood cell membranes, the nanosponges evade the immune system and remain in circulation in the bloodstream.

In a study of mice, pre- innoculation with the nanosponges achieved an 89 percent survival rate in animals tested against a lethal dose of MRSA toxin. Introducing nanosponges into the system after lethal exposure led to 44 percent survival.

The findings appear in Nature Nanotechnology. More information at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.