Scientists find Asian monsoon getting predictable

For much of Asia, the arrival of the summer rainy season known as the monsoon is important for water and the food security of more than a billion people. Variations in the monsoon cycle, however, can lead to drought and floods. Now a Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), UC San Diego-led study reports that a winter appearance of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean can leave its mark on monsoon formation in the Indian Ocean a full six months later.

Research-Report-Lynne-Friedmann-WebEl Niño is a climate phenomenon coupling the ocean and atmosphere that includes a shift in the distribution of warm water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and is characterized by unusual weather and storm activity globally.

Violent storm activity associated with El Niño takes place in the eastern Pacific Ocean, but the chain of events ultimately ends up being detected in the western Pacific Ocean. Think of it like an “echo effect” in which El Niño pulls clouds and convection eastward toward the International Date Line. In so doing, those clouds are not available over the western Pacific to keep ocean surface temperatures cool. It also weakens winds in the northern Indian Ocean and the effects of those weakened winds travel back eastward to the Pacific Ocean.

The SIO paper shows this coupling of ocean-atmospheric anomalies is predictable a season ahead. Such predictions have tremendous planning benefits for affected areas.

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

Heroin vaccine blocks relapse

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) report success in preclinical tests of a new vaccine against heroin addiction.

Designing an effective heroin vaccine is challenging because the drug rapidly breaks down in the bloodstream metabolizing into another compound (6-acetylmorphine) which crosses into the brain and accounts for much of heroin’s effect. The TSRI heroin vaccine is designed to elicit antibodies against both heroin, 6-acetylmorphine, and morphine.

To test the vaccine’s effectiveness in heroin-addicted rats, animals trained to press a lever to get a heroin infusion went through sessions of “extinction training,” in which lever presses no longer delivered infusions. In unvaccinated rats later reintroduced to heroin, a single infusion immediately reinstated their drug-seeking, lever-pressing behavior. Vaccinated rats, however, did not resume previous heroin-seeking actions.The heroin vaccine is one of several drug-abuse vaccines developed since the 1990s by scientists at TSRI and other institutions. Findings reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. News release at

Fat: Possible treatment for heart failure?

Physicians atScripps Clinicare taking part in a nationwide clinical trial investigating the use of stem cells from an individual’s own fat tissue as a treatment for a severe form of heart failure and coronary artery disease.

The premise is that injecting healthy stem cells into damaged heart tissue will foster the growth of healthy muscle tissue. And using cells derived from one’s fat tissue means cells be harvested and injected into the heart within hours.

In this randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study, participants have a minor liposuction procedure to remove approximately one-half cup of fat (adipose) tissue. Following the liposuction, harvested fat is processed to separate and concentrate cells.

A prescribed dose of cells or a placebo is then injected back into their damaged heart tissue using a minimally invasive catheter system.

The trial, named ATHENA, is sponsored by San Diego-based Cytori Therapeutics, the developer of this novel potential treatment.

More information at

Women in Science: 50 years after ‘Silent Spring’

La Jolla Light science columnist Lynne Friedmann will be a featured speaker at a public forum on “Women in Science: 50 years after ‘Silent Spring.’ ” The event runs 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, June 5 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Balboa Park.

The discussion in sponsored by The Center for Ethics in Science and Technology ( in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s landmark book,” Silent Spring.”

Carson’s legacy is widely known, but the challenges she faced are not as widely recognized. One of the challenges was an establishment that was not yet welcoming to women in science. Much has changed in the past 50 years, but questions remain as to how far we have come and how far we have to go.

The event is free; registration is