Diabetes & You at the Salk Research Institute


Tuesday, December 10, 2019, 9 am – 11 am

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Conrad T. Prebys Auditorium

10010 N Torrey Pines Rd,  La Jolla, CA 92037

San Diego Unified STEAM Leadership Series and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies Present:

 “Diabetes & You”

SAN DIEGO – On Tuesday, December 10th, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the San Diego Unified STEAM Leadership Series will host a special event “Diabetes & You,” around the alarming rise of diabetes among teenagers.  Dr. Anila Madiraju, innovator, explorer, and scientist in the laboratory of Dr. Marc Montminy at Salk, will keynote along with former NBA star center, Chris Dudley, a graduate of Torrey Pines High School.  They will be followed by a panel consisting of David Winkler, co-founder of the Diabetes Research Connection; celebrity chef Rob Ruiz; metabolic disease expert David Clayton, M.D; and Efren Aguilar, health educator from Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute.  More than 300 juniors from six San Diego High schools will be welcomed as part of the 19th event in the successful 5-year STEAM Leadership series, a program of Intellectual Capital through The Samuel Lawrence Foundation. The event includes funding by the Diabetes Research Connection, and lead sponsor The San Diego Foundation.

The panel will answer questions from the audience and share their experiences both over-coming diabetes, and explaining how the disease – both Type 1 and Type 2 –may be combatted or prevented. 

Meet The Panel

Dr. Anila Madiraju


Research Associate

Anila Kanchan Madiraju earned her Ph.D. in Cellular & Molecular Physiology from Yale University, where she studied the role of redox and mitochondrial energetics in whole body physiology and metabolism. As a part of her thesis work in the lab of Dr. Gerald I. Shulman, she investigated the mechanism of the widely used diabetes drug metformin. Additionally, she discovered signaling mechanisms that integrate ureagenesis and amino acid catabolism with glucose metabolism and energy homeostasis in the liver. In January 2015, she joined the Montminy lab where she currently studies signal transduction pathways involved in adipocyte differentiation, and is continuing her work on amino acid metabolism and ureagenesis. Outside of the lab, Anila is an active member of the Society for Research Fellows at the Salk Institute, and is a community science educator. She was named the 2016 Jonas Salk Fellow.



NBA Star

Chris Dudley was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 16 while living in San Diego.  He was a sophomore in high school and was diagnosed soon after basketball season was over. Chris was devastated and one of his biggest fears was not being able to play the sport he loved–basketball. Thanks to a supportive health care team, Chris was not only able to play basketball again but went to the pinnacle of the sport and played in the NBA. Chris played with diabetes for 16 years while many players only last in the league for a few years due to the intense competition to make an NBA  squad.



Diabetes Research Connection

“Several of my family members have or had diabetes. I have lived with T1D for over 50 years. I am committed to ensuring that the Diabetes Research Connection becomes one of the most significant forces funding innovative diabetes research that will rid the planet of this disease and its complications.”



The Land & Water Co.

An outspoken advocate for responsibly sourced and traceable seafood, Oceanside, California, native Rob Ruiz spent a decade honing his craft in Hawaii, where he worked with the James Beard award-winning Chef Alan Wong before earning an apprenticeship under Japanese sushi master Chef Etsuji Umezu. By 2014, Ruiz was back in San Diego and opening his first restaurant, The Land and Water Co. The menu is hyper-local with ethically raised ingredients, and it has earned Ruiz his first critical notices. Since returning to San Diego, Ruiz has also focused on the culinary community’s role in saving the endangered vaquita porpoise. The San Diego Tribune named Ruiz “Chef of the Year” in 2016 for his uncompromising commitment to quality, sustainability, and innovation.Ruiz recently received global recognition for his dedication to improving fishing and seafood industry practices at the inaugural Ocean Awards in London, presented by the Blue Marine Foundation, Boat International Media, and Yacht Carbon Offset. Ruiz was the 2016 Ocean Award winner in the “Chef/Restaurateur” category for having the most outstanding commitment to ocean conservation and his ongoing mission to raise awareness and promote the consumption of environmentally friendly seafood.



Expert in Exercise for Diabetes and “Metabolic Disease”

Dr. David Clayton is an internal medicine doctor and healthcare entrepreneur tackling the problem of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. He pioneered San Diego’s first chronic disease program based on the popular CrossFit workout, and is now working to create an online behavior change program for first-line treatment of diabetes. Dr. Clayton trained at Scripps Clinic and his company is based in San Diego, California.


According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes (about 1 in 10), and 90% to 95% of them have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes most often develops in people over age 45, but more and more children, teens, and young adults are now developing it.   Latin youths now have the fastest growing rates of diabetes (

The STEAM Leadership Series bridges the science, education and high-tech business communities along career pathways that inspire young people to live their dreams and explore great careers and jobs in Smart City San Diego, adding value and impact to educational experiences. The STEAM Leadership Series is a program of Intellectual Capital through the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, which promotes education, science and the arts (DONATIONS MATCHED BY PATAGONIA UNTIL DECEMBER 31 ) Support for this event includes lead sponsor The San Diego Foundation, as well as the Diabetes Research Connection, the Moxie Foundation, KEC, and others, in partnership with the San Diego Unified School District.  


San Diego Zoo puts on Virtual Field Trip

Author: Shannon Handy (Reporter)

Published: 5:31 PM PDT May 28, 2020

Students watched via a computer or phone, where they were able to ask questions and chime in.

SAN DIEGO — The world famous San Diego Zoo may be closed to the public, but that has not stopped many from going inside – virtually. For the past two months, students all over San Diego have been doing virtual learning thanks to the partnership between San Diego Zoo Global and San Diego Unified and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).

On Thursday, wildlife educator Maya O’Connor and her co-workers took about 300 high school students from all over San Diego on a tour of the elephant exhibit, followed by a stop at the giraffes encounter.

Students watched via a computer or phone, where they were able to ask questions and chime in.

“We love being here on site and coming to the zoo and seeing all the animals but this is a way we can still interact with everyone at home,” said O’Connor.

The program is called Biodiversity and You.

San Diego Zoo Global teamed up with San Diego Unified as part of its STEAM Leadership Series. STEAM-Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math-helps connect high school students with experts in those fields.

Normally, students do that in person, but due to pandemic regulations, they had to get creative.

Steve Chapple, Executive Director of the STEAM Leadership Series said Often times, field-trips here are self-guided and students aren’t allowed to be this close.

“It gives you a more intimate feel to see how the elephants react with the experts there,” he said.

Prior to this so-called field-trip, participating students watched modules provided by the zoo’s My Academy website about elephants and giraffes to get them prepared.

They also received school credit. Moving forward, those involved said they hope to continue creating experiences like this, making them even more accessible to kids near and far.

“They get to see some really neat stuff,” said O’Connor.

To watch a virtual tour of the San Diego Zoo, click here. To help support the San Diego Zoo, click here.


SD Union Tribune – Success tips from women in science, for girls who want to go into science

Learning from mentors, taking chances and showing passion go a long way


Seek advice. Get mentally tough. And let your enthusiasm show. That’s some of the advice nearly 300 high school girls from San Diego got Wednesday from local female scientists.

As described in an earlier story, the scientists discussed career challenges in the event at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. But they also gave tips on how to succeed, gleaned from their own experience.

One of them is Pantea Khodami, associate director of global marketing at gene sequencing giant Illumina.

“When I joined Illumina, I was the youngest ever product manager, and I think through my career I’ve constantly been the youngest ever.”

Khodami said when she was 24, she wanted to get in on the launch of a sequencing product. After a few months, her persistence paid off. She got on the team.The team leader briefly commented on her youth and inexperience in their first discussion.

“I made it a point to actually work extra hard to prove her wrong, and within 23 months, she actually gained so much respect for me,” Khodami said.

This seeking out help extended to that perpetual concern of work-life balance.

“I would just look at … who are the female execs that have kids, have working partners, and are also in senior positions,” she said. “I would reach out to them, have a one-on-one and try to figure out what’s the magic formula.”

Karen Nelson, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute nearby in La Jolla, said there’s a lot to be gained just by asking. That’s how she joined the institute as a newly minted postdoctoral scholar. Out of the blue, she emailed Craig Venter and said she wanted to work there.

“And he hired me,” Nelson said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be creative and take chances, and realize that you’re taking a risk. But it worked out for me.”

Nelson cautioned that it’s essential to mentally toughen up when rejection happens, as is often the case with any scientist. This is especially true for grant applications, Nelson said.

“And they tell you that you suck, and you’re really not that good … Your experiments don’t work every time you try,” Nelson said. “And so you just have to realize that it’s a part of your research career that you’re gonna have a setback sometimes. But you just keep on going at it and believe in yourself.”

Asked what she thought about failure, Nelson said even that has a positive side.

“Failure might be a tough word, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” she said. “Plus, it builds character.”

Enthusiasm also helps, said Charlotte Miller, who works in the plant biology laboratory of Salk Institute professor Wolfgang Busch.

Miller said her path was improbable. As one of five sisters from a low-income family, she wasn’t able to attend the top schools as a girl. They were too expensive.

So while Miller loved science, she didn’t think she had the grounding to pursue a scientific career at a university. She decided to major in art, with the goal of becoming an art therapist.

“Two months in I was like, I really want to be a scientist, but it just seemed kind of stupid,” Miller said. “I begged the university to let me swap to science. And they let me, even though I definitely didn’t have the grades to do it. Once I had made that decision, everything just made more sense to me.”

Miller said that experience drove home how enthusiasm can overcome challenges that seem at first glance insurmountable.

“If you really care about stuff, people will love that about you as well,” Miller said.

“And that means that you get the luxury of asking for help and people will want to help you. And then you just become part of this beautiful thing where everyone is helping everyone and you’re just doing amazingly at the thing that you love.”

The event is part of the STEAM Leadership Series. The San Diego Foundation is the lead sponsor.


SD Union Tribune – The Places Your Imagination Takes You — The 5th Annual Women in Biotech at the Salk Research Institute

Women in science tell high school girls they, too, can change the world

By BRADLEY J. FIKES, NOV. 13, 2019

Nearly 300 local high school girls interested in life science got a pep talk and hard-won perspective from Karen J. Nelson, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute, and a panel of other successful female scientists Wednesday at the nearby Salk Institute in La Jolla.

Nelson gave the keynote address at the event, the 5th annual program devoted to encouraging girls to pursue a career in biotech.

She warned aspiring scientists they must be prepared for frequent disappointments but urged them to continue because science provides the power to change the world.

“It’s gonna be difficult,” Nelson said she tells those who ask for advice. “You’re going to get rejected. You’re not going to be having fun days every day. But they just want to know that there’s a route to get there and I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve ended up in places I never thought I would be.”

Nelson had just returned from science work in Paris.

Nelson’s accomplishments include performing a pioneering study on the human microbiome, the collection of microscopic life that lives in and on us.

Today, a growing number of companies are tapping into the microbiome for treating diseases. Nelson takes pride in having been there first.

It helps to have a sense of humor and perspective, she said. Especially in her early days, humor was essential.

A native of Jamaica, Nelson started her American career at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. For the first time in her life, she encountered an American winter.

“I bought my first car in Ithaca and I crashed it within a month because I thought the ice was sand,” Nelson said.

Panelists described their own challenges, including how to be comfortable with themselves in a male-dominated science culture.

Ida Khodami is associate director of global business operations at Illumina, the San Diego DNA sequencing giant. When starting her career, she found it intimidating to deal with more experienced men, even when they were wrong and she was right.

One incident stands out in her mind, an attempt to tactfully inform a senior engineer he had made a design mistake.

“He said, I’m not gonna tolerate an 18-year-old with pink shoes (telling) me what I need to do,” Khodami said.

“I excused myself, went to the bathroom, cried a little, looked in the mirror and told myself that I’m really proud of myself for doing that,” she said. “I stopped wearing pink shoes for almost a couple of years.”

Khodami said she eventually decided she would dress as she pleased because hard work and intelligence are what really matters in science.

Elena Blanco-Suarez, a Salk Institute scientist studying neurobiology, said she discovered the challenges of being a woman in science when studying for her Ph.D. — and a short woman at that, just 5 foot 1 inch.

She had to speak up to be recognized, but not be too loud.

“They will say to me that I was like a Chihuahua when they get angry and they bark really loudly,” Blanco-Suarez said.

Blanco-Suarez said she also had to deal with stereotypes about what female scientists look like.

“They expect you to be like a nerdy girl with glasses and flats and which, if you are, it’s fine,” she said. “But … we all look different. Sometimes I wear makeup. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m gonna put heels on. Sometimes I won’t. It doesn’t matter.”

The event is part of the STEAM Leadership series. The San Diego Foundation is the lead sponsor.