History of Salk

Salk Institute

In 1957, Jonas Salk, developer of the first safe and effective polio vaccine, began his quest to fulfill his second dream: create a collaborative environment where researchers could explore the basic principles of life and contemplate the wider implications of their discoveries for the future of humanity.

Gifted with 27 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean by the City of San Diego in 1960, Salk partnered with architect Louis Kahn to design such a research center. He summarized his aesthetic objectives by telling Kahn to “create a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso.”

With financial support from the National Foundation/March of Dimes, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies opened its doors in 1963. In addition to Salk, the first Resident Fellows were Jacob Bronowski, Melvin Cohn, Renato Dulbecco, Edwin Lennox and Leslie Orgel. The Nonresident Fellows were Leo Szilard, Francis Crick, Salvador Luria, Jacques Monod and Warren Weaver.

The major study areas are aging and regenerative medicine, cancer biology, immune system biology, metabolism and diabetes, neuroscience and neurological disorders and plant biology. Salk research provides new understanding and potential treatments for a range of diseases, from AIDS and Alzheimer’s to cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Discoveries by plant biologists are paving the way to improving the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply and to addressing critical environmental problems, including global warming.

The Institute is supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health, private foundations and individuals who value scientific trailblazing. The March of Dimes, which has backed the Institute since its inception, continues to contribute financially every year.

As its first director, Salk said of his eponymous institute: “The Salk Institute is a curious place, not easily understood, and the reason for it is that this is a place in the process of creation. It is being created and is engaged in studies of creation. We cannot be certain what will happen here, but we can be certain it will contribute to the welfare and understanding of man.”

For more details about the history of the Salk Institute, click here for information about the “Genesis of The Salk Institute”. Written by Suzanne Bourgeois, Professor Emerita and Founding Director of the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute.

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