From AIDS to Cancer, Scripps Laboratories Are Revolutionizing Medical Research

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Perhaps it’s the allure of gorgeous La Jolla, Calif. and Jupiter, Fla. that attracts the world’s top scientists to the campuses of The Scripps Research Institute.

At Scripps, or TSRI, scientists study the most basic building blocks of life — cells — and, more basic still, their proteins, glycan shields and everything related to how disease infects our bodies.

Scripps Research Institute Florida. Credit: Julianva/ English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Among the scientific achievements listed on its website are contributions to the field of Alzheimer’s disease research. “Finding diverse genomic changes in single neurons from the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, pointing to an unexpected factor that may underpin the most common form of the disease.”

The research looked at analytical, computational data that offered some explanation for a mechanism of action for the disease.

Scripps even has contributed to the field of addiction, which is becoming increasingly important and better funded given our nation’s opioid crisis. Scripps provided research that shows gabapentin is safe and effective in the treatment of alcoholism, according to their website.

Clue Could Lead to More Effective HIV Vaccine

In the most recent research coming out of the La Jolla campus, scientists there who have long been studying a glycoprotein on the cell envelope of HIV figured out a way to create a mimic of it in the lab.

If used in a vaccine, this could prime the body to attack HIV if it ever were to encounter it and if used in a vaccine containing other immunogens. While this is a tricky task because of HIV’s ever evolving mutations, finding commonalities among the strains to zero in on may be the quickest road to success.

This could lead to an important piece of an HIV “cocktail of antibodies” which is the ultimate goal for a vaccine.

Related: HIV Epidemic May Come to an End by 2025, Predicts Study

“Like a flu vaccine, an effective HIV vaccine needs to protect against multiple strains, so researchers are designing a set of immunogens that can be given sequentially or as a cocktail to people so their immune systems can prepare for whatever strain they come up against,” Scripps explained in a news release.

The study was published this month in the journal Immunity.

“All of this research is going toward finding combinations of immunogens to aid in protecting people against HIV infection,” said Ian Wilson, TSRI researcher in Structural Biology.

Cancer Mystery Solved at Scripps

Scripps professor Dr. Kendall Nettles (right) has researched breast and ovarian cancer. Credit: Scripps Research Institute/YouTube

Scientists at Scripps are able to not only peer inside a cell, but also literally study and understand how they work the way they do. They solve complex problems that have perplexed scientists for decades. One such discovery last month came in the field of cancer.

While the discovery is highly technical, the scientists basically discovered whether a certain type of protein that gets into cells is a good guy or a bad guy.

Does angiomotin cause cancer tumors to grow, or does the protein inhibit cell growth?  Reports have been contradictory.

That’s because the protein’s actions depend on whether a certain phosphate group has been added to its structure at a specific location. If it has, then the protein actually can serve to inhibit cell growth. If it hasn’t, it causes it to grow.

Remarkable studies like this, looking at such minute structures of the basic components of life, are leading to endless possibilities in the treatment of human disease. The research was published in the journal eLife.

“Since this is a major pathway for diseases like cancer and fibrosis, our findings add a brand-new layer of valuable information,” said Joseph Kissil, associate professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at TSRI.

Related: Researchers Are Developing Machines to Smell How Healthy You Are

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”