According to Jenny Zdankowski, Scripps Research Institute Florida, Development & Events Coordinator, “We wanted to create an opportunity to connect with our year round residents by educating the community as to the ground-breaking research going on in their own backyard.
“I think once word gets out that you are able to come and listen to scientists talk about their amazing research in a fun casual environment, the public will really respond to these enjoyable evenings.”
Some of the greatest scientific minds are living in the Jupiter area and working on leading edge research in the areas of autism, alzheimers, cancer, diabetes and obesity, to name a few.
The Suds and Science lecture series at DAS Beer Garden begins at 5 p.m. with a discussion by the presenting scientist, followed by an audience Q&A.
Here’s more about the scientists you ought to know.
The science and scientists
Mark Sundrud, PhD, Immunology and Microbiology associate professor
Born in Bemidgi, Minnesota, just 60 miles south of the Canadian border, Sundrud spent his days boating, skiing, golfing and playing most outdoor sports.
Now married to his wife Erika, they have two children, Gabriel 10 and Laila 8, and enjoy all of the outdoor activities and sports Abacoa has to offer.
“We have a bunch of friends in our Windsor Park neighborhood and one of our favorite things to do is get on bikes and scooters and go visiting” said Sundrud. Gabriel had his birthday at Roger Dean Stadium and got to throw out the first ball.
“One of the best things about living here is I live in the same area that I work and the kids go to school. We can literally go weeks on end without ever leaving Abacoa. It still has such a small town feel, which we love. My kids love coming in to work at the lab, and when I’m writing grants and working all weekend they often ask if they can come, too. My daughter says she wants to be a scientist when she grows up – and our joke is at some point we will run a lab together.”
According to Scripps Research Institute Florida, Sundrud, PhD, is working to bring precision medicine to patients with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s, with a goal of reducing adverse events and boosting their quality of life.
About 1 million people in the United States suffer from Crohn’s disease. It causes nearly 190,000 hospitalizations annually, according to the NIH. Sundrud focuses on understanding how cells of the immune system work, at the genetic and molecular level. Sundrud has held this focus for many years.
During graduate studies at Vanderbilt University, post-doctoral research at Harvard, and work at a GlaxoSmithKline-funded start-up biotech company named Tempero Pharmaceuticals, Sundrud zeroed in on T cell-driven inflammatory diseases. Crohn’s disease is a major one with unmet medical needs.
Sundrud and his lab members discovered that approximately one in 10 Crohn’s disease
patients show deficiency in a gene called MDR1, leading to immune intolerance and
regional small bowel inflammation in the presence of bile acids. Further, Dr. Sundrud has found that a safe, targeted therapy exists that can act locally in the small intestine to reduce chronic inflammation without inducing general immune suppression.
Though the era of personalized medicine has not yet arrived for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis patients, with continued and dedicated research efforts, Sundrud says, it soon will.
Matthew Disney, PhD, chemistry professor
Born in Baltimore, Matthew Disney came to Scripps in 2010 and is married to Jessica and they have two children, Ryan 8 and Charlotte 1 1/2. His wife, also a scientist often co-authors a lot of his papers.
As a family the Disney’s enjoy spending quality family time fishing and walking in the woods. Ryan, in particular, is “very in tune with nature and the world around him,” said Disney. As one of seven siblings, Disney said he was attracted to science at a young age and looking at the stars.
“The crab nebula was my favorite celestial object growing up because I’m from Baltimore and we eat crabs” he laughs. “You can see that object with binoculars and I would track it with my telescope.
“My dad is my hero. We had little and didn’t know it. He taught all of his children that working hard to help others is why we are here on this earth. Without his example, I would not be where I am today.”
According to Scripps Research Institute Florida, many human diseases are called “untreatable” because the health care system lacks effective medications to stop them: Muscular dystrophy. ALS. Drug-resistant cancer. Cystic fibrosis.
Chemistry professor Disney, PhD, has opened a new line attack on these and other “untreatable” diseases by finding ways to modify a molecule found in every cell in the body, called RNA. In cells, RNA carries out most of the critical functions of life, especially translation of genetic information into proteins.Nearly all drugs work by attaching themselves to proteins.
The human body contains about 20,000 different protein types. But it contains vastly more types of RNAs — around 200,000 — potentially offering vastly more targets for cures. Disney was long convinced that addressing RNA rather than proteins could create a new class of treatments for many of these “untreatable” diseases. Though he initially met with skepticism in the scientific community, he persisted for over a decade.
His persistence is making a difference. Disney’s work has led to potential treatments for ALS, triple-negative breast cancer and a type of muscular dystrophy, all of which are advancing toward pre-clinical testing. His work has also garnered many awards, including the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the Tetrahedron Young Investigator Award, the James Watson Investigator Award and others.
The Disney Lab has also identified two RNA modifying compounds that may help people with cystic fibrosis. One is designed to normalize lung secretions, the other is designed to control the inflammation that can block airways and cause lung scarring. With additional support, the Disney Lab hopes to add two full-time post-doctoral researchers to focus on advancing his cystic fibrosis-related discoveries.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Disney earned his PhD at the University of Rochester. He’s one of Scripps Research’s entrepreneurs, helping launch an RNA therapeutics drug discovery firm, Expansion Therapeutics, which operates in both Jupiter and San Diego.
Matthew Pipkin, PhD, associate professor of Immunology and Microbiology
Born and bred in Florida, with the exception of schooling in South Carolina, Boston and California, Dr. Matthew Pipkin is the quintessential Florida boy with a passion for fishing, boating, bike riding in the Everglades, snorkeling, paddle boarding and surfing.
Pipkin and his wife Carrie have three children: Alexander 9, Hunter 7 and Emma Grace 3 – who also enjoy all of the same outdoor activities as their parents. Pipkin recalls one particular bike ride on Shark Valley Loop Road in the Everglades when Hunter was 7 years old.
“The sun was setting and Hunter had done fabulous but was getting cold and tired. I was riding up ahead to spot the alligators because I was worried he would fall off. I turned around to look at him and he looked like he was nodding off and he rode straight into the canal. I quickly pulled him out and the bike out and he was soaking wet, but I was so proud of him because he got right back on the bike. I asked if he wanted to ride Shark Valley again and he said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ But, that’s what it’s like growing up in Florida.”
After school, Pipkin had it in his heart to return to Florida and do science once he was ready for a faculty position. He attended University of Miami and Harvard, both offering him a fantastic education, but “going to Harvard was a complete eye-opening experience and the intensity that exists and history are unparalleled. This gave me a taste of the best for science – and Scripps is in that top echelon. So when they were coming to Florida, that was my first choice.”
According to Scripps Research Institute Florida, Pipkin is unravelling the mysteries of the immune system in pursuit of ways to design immune cells that effectively accumulate at tumors and kill cancer cells.
When confronted with a viral attack or a rogue malignancy, the immune system amasses a type of white blood cell called killer T cells. Some killer T cells develop into “memory” cells that “remember” how they handled past threats, and can guard the body for decades. That way they can respond rapidly and effectively upon the next encounter.
Pipkin’s lab develops and applies high-throughput genetic and bioinformatic tools to identify the essential factors within the nucleus of T cells that are responsible for driving resting T cells to specialize into memory killer T cells, and that direct them to amass in sites of infection or cancer.
“Discovering and manipulating these master regulatory factors of T cells is a revolutionary approach to new cancer-fighting immunotherapy strategies,” Pipkin says. Pipkin grew up in Miami and earned his PhD at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Kendall Nettles, PhD, associate professor Integrative Structural and Computational Biology
Born in Michigan, Kendall Nettles attended Colgate University where he received a degree in Psychology. He then went to work at a residential treatment center for psychotic and severe behavioral disorders for children and found it wasn’t a good fit and subsequently found his calling in scientific research.
Nettles moved to Florida in 2005 and has two teenage boys, Charlie and Calloway. As a family they do a lot of off road biking and enjoy rides on the levee.
One of the nice things about living in Jupiter Farms, he said, is “riding at River Bend Park and riding to West Palm Beach on the levee. In the winter, we go to Corbitt and nature areas. There are all of these great fire roads you can ride in the winter and I just love being outdoors all year round.”
Nettles bike raced in grad school, and in the winter had to put vaseline on his cheeks to prevent frostbite, something he doesn’t miss. Now his only weather concern is keeping an eye on the radar and afternoon storms.
“One of the things I love about my job is I can go out at lunch time for a bike ride. I like the flexibility. I can leave and take a two-hour bike ride at Jonathan Dickinson and stay later because it will most likely be raining in the afternoon.”
According to Scripps Research Institute Florida, steroid hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and others can trigger the growth of cancers of breast, prostate and other cancers. Three-quarters of all breast cancer tumors are driven by the hormone estrogen. These tumors are frequently treated with drugs to suppress estrogen receptor activity, but unfortunately, at least half of patients do not respond to these treatments, leaving them with drug-resistant tumors and few options.
Nettles, PhD, a cancer biologist at Scripps Florida, is developing next-generation anti-hormonal therapies designed to benefit cancer patients whose tumors have spread, and patients who have become treatment-resistant. Tumor growth also requires a failure of the immune system to recognize the tumors as foreign invaders. Nettles is likewise working to identify new strategies to reactivate the immune system to clear tumors. Nettles earned his PhD in Cancer Biology at the University of Chicago.
Corrine Lasmezas, PhD, professor of Immunology and Microbiology
Microbiology professor Corrine Lasmézas, PhD, focuses on neurological disorders caused by misfolded proteins, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, prion diseases, fronto-temporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease).
An estimated 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease — an incurable neurodegenerative disorder that leads to an increasing loss of motor control. Meanwhile, 44 million have Alzheimer’s or related dementia. Hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease include a die-off of the brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine, and accumulation of protein clumps known as Lewy bodies. The misfolded protein within these Lewy bodies is called alpha-synuclein. The alpha-synuclein clumps together and becomes toxic, damaging the cells’ energy-producing organelles, mitochondria, which in turn leads to the brain cells’ death.
Lasmézas, working with chemists at Scripps Florida, has discovered a potential drug-like compound that shows an ability to prevent formation of the damaging alpha-synuclein protein clumps. Dr. Lasmezas earned her PhD in Neurobiology and Neurosciences from University Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris, France.
‘Toe in the water’
“This is our first toe in the water doing events over the summer, and it’s a way to let the locals know we are here” said Susan Capone Rode, director, Philanthropy Operations and Stewardship.
Scripps is open to bring people in to tour the institute and welcomes the public to come and check out the facility.
For more information please visit them on social media and at www.scripps.edu.