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Sharp Minds

The First Monday of Each Month

UPDATE: Until further notice, Sharp Minds Lecture will be moving into the digital space. Please, see individual event description for information on time and registration.

Sharp Minds Lecture Series for Adults - Online

Join local scientists to learn about a variety of topics as they share their latest research in a friendly and exciting environment. You can find recordings of previous virtual Sharp Minds talks on the Fleet Science Center's YouTube channel,




Date: December 7

Diabetes Insights from Insulin Producing Cells

Diabetics need insulin therapy because they can't make their own. Current methods to preserve, regenerate, and even transplant the cells that produce insulin (beta cells) are key to better therapies to help patients live long, healthy lives. Our lab studies the factors that control beta cell health and function, and recently discovered a potential weak link in insulin biosynthesis. We are now working to better understand the critical components of insulin biosynthesis with a goal of finding therapies to strengthen the process and effectively regulate blood sugar levels.

Pamela Itkin-Ansari, PhD is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla. She was awarded her PhD at UCSD and has studied diabetes for 20 years. Dr. Itkin-Ansari has made key discoveries that have led to therapeutic approaches now in clinical trials.

Time: 7 to 8 p.m.

Zoom Webinar, link will be shared with ticket holders.

Cost: $5-20 The Fleet Science Center is happy to provide tiered pricing to make this event affordable, while also allowing attendees to support the Fleet, making it possible for the Fleet to offer programs like these.


Live Longer, Live Stronger Lecture Series

A special series exploring new frontiers in the science of healthy aging with researchers from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. 

The Fleet Science Center is excited to partner with SBP to present this five-part lecture series on the first Wednesday of each month from January through May 2021. Join us and meet some of the top minds in the field, working to help us all live longer and live stronger. These talks will take place on the first Wednesday of each month from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. (please note the day of the week and time, as it differs from our regular Sharp Minds schedule!) on zoom webinar. Cost $5-$20.

See the full line up here:

January 6, 2021
Healthy Aging To Prevent Cancer
2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

The incidence of most adult cancers increases dramatically with age. Recent research by Dr. Peter Adams and other researchers around the world has begun to shed light on the biological links between aging and disease. Their work is creating new opportunities to prevent and treat cancer as well as other age-associated diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Join Dr. Adams as he presents the future direction of aging research.


February 3, 2021
What We Can Learn From Alzheimer's Disease Risk Factors
Time: 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Memory loss and dementia in Alzheimer's disease normally occurs in patients at age 60+. However, inherited forms of Alzheimer's accelerate the dementia timeline, and memory loss appears in patients as young as 40. Research comparing genes in both the inherited and non-inherited forms of Alzheimer’s have provided researchers with important information about what contributes to the disease. These new insights might allow us to find ways to slow or reverse the changes that cause memory loss and dementia. Join Dr. Timothy Huang as he shares more about this important research and what we have learned so far.


March 3, 2021
How The Heart Ages
Time: 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can form blood clots in the chambers of the heart and lead to stroke, heart failure and other cardiovascular symptoms. Medical professionals predict that by 2030, atrial fibrillation will affect 12 million people in the US. The chance of experiencing atrial fibrillation increases with age, but other factors such type II diabetes, genetics and the environment also play an important role. Dr. Karen Occor uses beating heart cells, zebrafish and fruit flies to identify the underlying causes of atrial fibrillation. Her important work may lead to breakthrough therapies and cures for heart disease. Join Dr. Occor to learn more about of her research.


April 7, 2021
Seeing Is Believing: Preventing Vision Loss As We Age
Time: 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

More than 11 million Americans have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in adults 60 years and older. As the population ages, this number will likely double by 2050, but there are no effective treatments. Dr. Francesca Marassi’s laboratory has discovered how a common blood protein orchestrates the deposition of lipid, cholesterol and calcifications that are a hallmark of AMD. Join Dr. Marassi as she shares how this information will guide the development of future AMD therapies.


May 5, 2021
Staying Strong As We Age

Time: 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Muscle degeneration can occur in many human conditions, such as muscular dystrophies, HIV and even aging. There are no therapeutic strategies to prevent muscle loss, or treatments to regenerate skeletal muscle in response to normal wear and tear. Muscle stem cells offer a great promise for future therapies, but there is much we still need to understand about stem cell behavior. Join Dr. Alessandra Sacco as she leads us through her research to better understand muscle stem cells and shares her hopes for how they can help us live longer, stronger lives.



Peter Adams, Ph.D.

Dr. Adams most recently led the Epigenetics Unit at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Glasgow, Institute of Cancer Sciences, in Scotland. He has also held positions at Wistar Institute (University of Pennsylvania), Drexel University and Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

Peter D. Adams obtained his BA in biochemistry at the University of Oxford, England and his Ph.D. at Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now CR-UK). He did postdoctoral work with Dr. William G. Kaelin, Jr. at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Peter D. Adams is co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal Aging Cell.


Timothy Huang, Ph.D.

Timothy Huang completed his Ph.D. at the University of Calgary (Canada) under Dr. Dallan Young, studying kinase pathways involved in mediating cell polarity in yeast. He studied mechanisms underlying actin cytoskeletal dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease at Scripps with Dr. Gary Bokoch (La Jolla), before joining Dr. Huaxi Xu's laboratory in 2012/2013.


Karen Ocorr, Ph.D.

B.A., Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, Biology
Ph.D., Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, Neuroscience NIMH
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas Medical School, Houston, TX, Neuroscience NIMH
Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, Neurochemistry


Francesca Marassi, Ph.D.

Dr. Marassi earned her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Toronto in 1993. She received postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania, where she held fellowships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (1993-1995) and from the Medical Research Council of Canada (1995-1998). In 1998, Dr. Marassi joined the Division of Structural Biology at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, as Assistant Professor and, in 1999, she was appointed Wistar Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania. In December 2000, Dr. Marassi joined SBP as Assistant Professor. She is currently Professor in the NCI-Designated Cancer Center.


Alessandra Sacco, Ph.D.

Alessandra Sacco completed her studies at La Sapienza University in Rome, Italy. In 2002, Dr. Sacco joined the laboratory of Prof. Helen M. Blau at Stanford University as a postdoctoral fellow (2002-2009), where she studied cell fusion between hematopoietic cells and muscle cells, as a potential mechanism for tissue repair. Recently she defined strategies to isolate adult skeletal muscle stem cells and performed single cell transplantation experiments, providing the first definitive evidence that adult muscle stem cells are able to self-renew in vivo. She received research funding from Muscular Dystrophy Association (2006-2008). In 2010, Dr. Sacco was recruited as Assistant Professor at SBP.


We thank our partner, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.

Date: March 1, 2021

Our Dynamic Microbiomes and the Brain

Our lifespans are ever-increasing, but our healthspans are not, leading to long periods of unpleasant and expensive suffering with chronic conditions. Many of these conditions have recently been linked to the microbiome, via advances in DNA sequencing technology and software to interpret those sequences. We change our microbiomes every day through the foods we eat, the environments we experience, even the people we live and work with. The implications of these changes in the microbiome for our health are just beginning to be understood. And many of the effects are systemic: what happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut, and your gut microbiome can affect your liver, your joints, and even your brain. Through the American Gut Project and the Microsetta Initative, the largest crowdsourced and crowdfunded citizen-science project yet conducted, we now know about the microbiomes of many types of people, from the healthiest (student-athletes, centenarians) to the sickest (cancer patients, ICU patients, those with depression, those with C. diff). Amazingly, diet has an especially profound effect on our microbiomes, often outweighing the effects of disease or medications. This raises the prospect of a system for real-time analysis of our microbiomes that helps guide our daily decisions in a way that optimizes our microbiomes for extending our health-span.

Rob Knight is the Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego, where he is a Professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering, and Computer Science & Engineering. He co-founded the Earth Microbiome Project, and The Microsetta Initiative/American Gut Project, which is among the largest crowdfunded science projects of any kind to date. He has spoken at TED, written three books and over 600 scientific articles, and in 2017 he won the Massry Prize, often considered a predictor of the Nobel prize. His work combines microbiology, DNA sequencing, ecology and computer science to understand the vast numbers of microbes that inhabit our bodies and our planet.