Find the Right Path
Professor Gary Churchill Ph.D., tackles challenges few others can in both genetics and climbing.
For many scientists, the most exciting scientific frontiers exist in our own biology, not in the far far reaches of the universe. New faculty member Assistant Professor Greg Carter, Ph.D., became interested in science through astronomy and began his career in nuclear physics, but he now focuses on analyzing genetic data.
"I'm working to understand how genes interact to produce physical traits and characteristics. There is such open space for progress in genetics and genetic modeling," says Carter.
Carter arrived at The Jackson Laboratory from the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) in Seattle, where he worked in the laboratory of Dr. Tim Galitski. His work at ISB was on yeast, but he's excited about his move to the Laboratory and a different genetic challenge.
"I'm interested in human health problems such as cancer and metabolic disorders, and at this point there's much more to be learned by studying specific biological processes in mammalian systems (mice) instead of yeast," says Carter.
The Maine Cancer Foundation, which awards grants to advance cancer research, education and care throughout Maine, honored The Jackson Laboratory's team of cancer researchers with its annual Carroll Award. It also awarded grants totaling $247,500 to three faculty members from the Laboratory's National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center.
The Carroll Award recognizes "extraordinary efforts to advance the path to a cancer-free future." Jackson Laboratory scientists have a proud history of making major advances in improving understanding of cancer initiation and molecular pathways. The past decade has continued the Laboratory's legacy, with more than 1,400 publications by its cancer researchers having appeared in peer-reviewed research journals.
Researchers receiving grants include Assistant Professor Kyuson Yun, Ph.D. (Notch signaling in medulloblastoma initiation and cancer stem cell maintenance), Associate Research Scientist Julie Wells, Ph.D. (microRNA expression during lung tumor progression) and Assistant Professor Kevin Mills, Ph.D. (Genetic chemotherapy: inducing leukemia and lymphoma cell self-destruction).
The Jackson Laboratory welcomed friends, colleagues and supporters to its annual Discovery Day celebration in July 2010. Attendees were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the Laboratory's work, a lobster bake, an extensive speaker program, an elegant awards dinner and more. The National Council, a group of the Laboratory's most influential friends, supporters and advocates, also honored its most generous donors with a pinning ceremony, welcoming them into the Jackson Society.
Assistant Professor Kevin Mills, Ph.D., spoke about his research into finding ways to enlist the body's own DNA repair mechanisms in the fight against leukemia. Headlining the speaker lineup was Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H., currently the chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco. Her career experience as a physician, pioneering cancer researcher and biotechnology industry executive offered her several perspectives from which to speak about the Laboratory's work and its contributions to medicine and society.
Jackson Laboratory Professor John Eppig, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of reproductive biology, was chosen as the 2010 recipient of the Carl G. Hartman Award. The Hartman Award is the highest honor bestowed by the Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR).
Eppig joined The Jackson Laboratory in 1975 and is now a professor in the areas of developmental and reproductive biology. His research successes include achieving the first complete in vitro development of mammalian oocytes into a complete organism, the famous mouse known as "Eggbert." Eppig's many other honors include the prestigious Pioneer in Reproduction Research Lectureship Award from the Frontiers in Reproduction Research Program.
Eppig is " …stunned, excited and honored to receive the Carl G. Hartman Award. It is a great privilege to join the ranks of the distinguished previous recipients." The formal presentation of the award took place at the SSR's annual meeting in Milwaukee, Wis., on July 30, 2010.
How important are animal models for finding disease treatments and cures? Ask the researchers studying typhoid fever. Salmonella typhi, which causes the disease, grows only in humans, and the lack of animal models has been a significant problem. The life-threatening illness still afflicts 21 million people worldwide each year.
Jackson Laboratory Professor Leonard Shultz has played a crucial role in the development of the first mouse model for typhoid fever. By manipulating the immune system, researchers are able to introduce human blood cells into the mice, which support the development of human cell populations that can be infected with Salmonella typhi. The mice also mount a human-like immune response to the bacterium, making them even more useful for developing new treatments and vaccines.
The mouse model was announced in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The testing was conducted in the laboratory of Ferric C. Fang, M.D., of the University of Washington, the paper's lead author.
Each person's immune system must respond to tens of millions of distinct and different antigens armed with only about 20,000 genes. The solution? It patches together different DNA segments in different ways, requiring that the DNA be broken and patched back together often, and with high precision..
In a paper published in Nature Immunology on July 25, 2010, Assistant Professor Kevin Mills, Ph.D., and Postdoctoral Associate Muneer Hasham, Ph.D., demonstrate a surprising twist in the balance between the breaking and repair mechanisms in immune system B cells.
"We thought the DNA breaks would be targeted to very specific places, but we found that it is more like a shotgun blast that requires high fidelity repair for off-target breaks," says Mills.
The findings have important potential implications for immunodeficiency and cancer research. In particular, there may be ways to provoke increased DNA damage in cancer cells that cause catastrophic failure and cell death.
Jackson Laboratory staff turned out in force to participate in the third annual Bangor Walk to Defeat ALS, held on August 28.
Over 300 people representing 17 teams of walkers—among them the 37 members of the Fighting for Farmer George team—walked the three-mile route in support of efforts to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as "Lou Gehrig's disease." Research seeks to discover why the normal process of motor neuron death is greatly accelerated in ALS and how to stop it. Approximately 5,600 new cases of the always-fatal disease are diagnosed in the United States each year
George Miller, a farmer whose wife, Janice Von Brook, and her daughter, Carol Lamb, both work at The Jackson Laboratory, was diagnosed with ALS in 2005. This year's walk in Bangor generated more than $40,000 in donations to support ALS research, including more than $8,000 raised by the Fighting for Farmer George team.
JAX® Mice, Clinical & Research Services is contributing to a new branch of neuroscience called "optogenetics." Originally developed at Stanford University, optogenetics incorporates specialized compounds from algae and bacteria into specific brain cell populations. These compounds, which are members of a family of proteins known as opsins, function when stimulated by certain colors of light. By using the right combination of opsins and light, researchers can turn individual neurons on or off.
JAX® Mice, Clinical & Research Services is now providing unique mouse strains for optogenetics research. Work in this area has the potential to produce innovative therapies for neurological disorders, including depression, Parkinson's disease, addiction and memory loss.
On May 15, 2010, The Jackson Laboratory—West hosted luminaries from both the athletic and scientific worlds for a symposium looking at Parkinson's disease research.
Parkinson's disease has been prominent in the news in recent years, in part through the efforts of public figures like Michael J. Fox (see back cover). Davis Phinney, one of the greatest American cyclists in history, is another high-visibility advocate for Parkinson's disease research. Afflicted with early-onset Parkinson's, Phinney has seen his symptoms improved by a mechanical procedure (Deep Brain Stimulation).
In Sacramento for the Amgen Tour of California, perhaps America's most prestigious bicycle race, Phinney headlined a symposium co-sponsored by The Jackson Laboratory and Ride for a Reason, which raises awareness of Parkinson's disease and cancer through bicycling events. The symposium program also included leading Parkinson's disease researchers J. William Langston, Ph.D., founder of The Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center; Julie Andersen, Ph.D., from the Buck Institute for Age Research; and the Laboratory's own Michael Sasner, Ph.D.