Public Release: 

Recent developments at Burnham Institute

The Burnham Buzz -- June 2008

Sanford-Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Big Bucks for Bad Bugs

A team of Burnham investigators has been awarded a $4 million grant from the NIH to generate chemical inhibitors of human proteins that are hijacked by bacteria and viruses during infection. These protein inhibitors may provide a new strategy for treating infectious diseases. Because these drugs will inhibit human proteins rather than bacterial or viral targets, the hope is that resistant forms will not emerge due to mutations in the genomes of the pathogens.

Parkinson's Disease: It's in the Chemistry

Dr. Stuart Lipton and colleagues have demonstrated that the neurodegeneration associated with Parkinson's disease might be a result of bad chemistry. Peroxiredoxin, a protein that protects cells from free-radical damage in the brain and elsewhere in the body, can be poisoned by nitric oxide via a chemical reaction called S-nitrosylation. This chemical reaction was found to occur in the brains of patients with Parkinson's disease and contributes to neuron injury and death. This mechanism of nerve cell injury suggests novel approaches for treatment.

One Man's JNK is Another Man's Treasure

The cell-signaling protein JNK, which is involved in inflammation, may also play a role in the growth of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Dr. Ze'ev Ronai's team has found that chemicals that inhibit JNK may be useful in treating melanoma. JNK inhibitors have been developed by several pharmaceutical companies as potential anti-inflammatory drugs. Dr. Ronai's study suggests these same drugs should be tested against melanoma.

How Sweet It Is

Dr. Hudson Freeze, a former slime-mold biologist, has found his sweet spot. His lab is studying rare, yet debilitating, diseases called Congenital Disorders of Glycosylation (CDG). These diseases are caused by a defect in a cell's ability to produce the sugars that promote cells binding together. Mutations in the proteins that build these complex sugar molecules cause mental and motor retardation, seizures, failure to grow, low blood sugar, clotting and digestive disorders. Dr. Freeze has found that, in some cases, giving a CDG patient an oral solution containing the sugar his or her body cannot produce leads to dramatic improvement.

Traffic Control

Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease might be treated by blocking the traffic of immune cells throughout the body. Dr. Minoru Fukuda and collaborators showed that certain sugar molecules displayed on blood vessels attract immune cells called lymphocytes, allowing them to migrate out of the blood stream. Blocking this mechanism may suppress the immune system and provide relief to the 20 million people in the U.S. who suffer from autoimmune disorders.


For more information or to schedule an interview with a Burnham researcher, please contact:

Burnham Institute

Andrea Moser
Vice President, Communications
Burnham Institute for Medical Research

Russo Partners, LLC

David Schull
Russo Partners, LLC

Heidi Chokeir, Ph.D.
Assistant Account Executive
Russo Partners, LLC

About Burnham Institute for Medical Research

Burnham Institute for Medical Research is dedicated to revealing the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Burnham is one of the fastest growing research institutes in the country with operations in California and Florida. The Institute ranks among the top four institutions nationally for NIH grant funding and among the top 25 organizations worldwide for its research impact. Burnham utilizes a unique, collaborative approach to medical research and has established major research programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, infectious and inflammatory and childhood diseases. The Institute is known for its world-class capabilities in stem cell research and drug discovery technologies. Burnham is a nonprofit, public benefit corporation. For more information, please visit

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