Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for discovering the molecular nature of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving genetic information, and for co-discovering telomerase, an enzyme that maintains telomere ends. Both telomeres and telomerase are thought to play central roles in aging and diseases such as cancer, and her work helped launch entire new fields of research in these areas.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Blackburn has received nearly every major award in science, including the Lasker, Gruber and Gairdner prizes. She was named to the TIME 100 in 2007, the magazine’s yearly list of the most influential people in the world. She is a member of numerous prestigious scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the Royal Society of London.
In early 2017, Blackburn became a New York Times bestselling author with the release of The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer. Written with health psychologist Elissa Epel, the book explains the science of aging and habits to live well.
Blackburn has shown an abiding commitment to public service in the scientific, academic and public policy arenas. She has served as president of both the American Association of Cancer Research and the American Society for Cell Biology, and has served on the editorial boards of several scientific journals, including the influential journals Cell and Science.
Helping to guide public science policy, she was a member of the Stem Cell Research Advisory Panel for the California State Legislature and a member of the President’s Council of Bioethics, an advisory committee to the President of the United States.
Since 2001, Blackburn has served as a Salk non-resident fellow, one of a group of leading scientists that advise the Institute’s leadership and play key decision-making roles in the appointment and promotion of Salk professors.
Blackburn was born in the small city of Hobart in Tasmania, Australia, to a family of doctors and scientists. Her parents were both family physicians and her grandfather and great-grandfather were geologists. Inspired by her fascination with animals and a biography of the iconic French scientist Marie Curie, Blackburn chose to also pursue a career in science.
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biochemistry from the University of Melbourne, and received her doctorate in molecular biology from the University of Cambridge in England in 1975. She conducted postdoctoral research at Yale University from 1975 to 1977.
Blackburn joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley in 1978. She moved to the University of California, San Francisco in 1990 and chaired the Department of Microbiology and Immunology from 1993 to 1999.
Vice President, Chief Science OfficerRead Biography
Dr. Martin Hetzer is the Salk Institute’s Vice President and Chief Science Officer. He provides leadership in developing and implementing Salk’s overall scientific strategy, as well as overseeing research operations in support of this strategy.
Hetzer also holds the Jesse and Caryl Philips Foundation Chair and is a professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory. As a researcher, he has garnered such accolades as the National Institutes of Health Transformative Research award; the Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging; and the American Society of Cell Biology’s Early Career Life Science award. He was named an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar in Aging, an American Cancer Society Research Scholar and a Pew Scholar.
The Hetzer lab applies genomics, proteomics and advanced imaging biology techniques to pose questions about how the human genome is organized inside a cell’s nucleus. He was among the first to show that structural proteins of the nucleus play a direct role in changing gene expression during normal and pathological development as well as cancer. Together with his team he also discovered long-lived proteins (LLPs) in the nucleus, which exhibit no or very little protein turnover in the adult brain. The functional decline of LLPs could be a major contributor to age-related changes in the survival of nerve cells. A major focus of the lab is to understand what allows LLPs to stay intact throughout an organism’s entire lifespan. In people with neurodegenerative diseases, it appears that LLPs in older cells lead to the decline of the nucleus. Understanding why this happens is the first step to potentially preventing and treating diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. He will continue to serve as principal investigator for his lab.
Hetzer was born in Vienna, Austria, where he earned his doctorate in biochemistry and genetics from the Vienna Biocenter. He then moved to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, where he pursued his postdoctoral work. He was recruited to the Salk Institute in 2003.
Vice President, External RelationsRead Biography
Rebecca Newman joined the Salk Institute as Vice President of External Relations in 2008. The Institute has since enjoyed an annual net increase in event profits, a historic fundraising cycle and exciting new community engagement through events such as Chihuly at the Salk, Explore Salk, the Salk Science & Music Series and Symphony at Salk. Her oversight of fundraising programs, donor relations and communications has helped dramatically develop the Institute's visibility, locally, nationally and internationally. In addition to leading her team to increase private giving by about 40 percent, Newman has been instrumental in guiding Salk's first major fundraising campaign to support scientific research, exceeding its $300 million goal more than a year ahead of schedule.
Newman brings more than 25 years of financial endowment development and capital campaign experience from the corporate and nonprofit worlds. Prior to joining Salk, she was Associate Vice Chancellor of Development at the University of California, San Diego, where she executed the historic conclusion of the university’s capital campaign by exceeding its $1 billion goal.
She has served as national president of the United Jewish Communities, national chair for the United Jewish Appeal Women's Campaign, campaign chair and president of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego and board member of the Jewish Community Foundation. Her long history of volunteerism includes helping design, fund and implement welfare and relief programs in Argentina, Cuba, Israel and the republics of the former Soviet Union.
A native of Chicago, Newman has a bachelor's degree in history and political science from the University of Michigan.
Senior Vice President, Finance & AdministrationRead Biography
Kim Witmer is Senior Vice President, Finance & Administration of the Salk Institute. She oversees all financial activities of the Salk, including financial reporting and treasury functions, research accounting, annual budgets, procurement, grants administration and endowment/investment management. Prior to joining the Salk, Witmer worked for the international accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche.
Witmer also acts as past President of AIRI, the Association of Independent Research Institutes, as well as serving on AIRI's Board of Directors and Government Affairs Committee. AIRI brings together nearly 100 independent, not-for-profit biomedical and behavioral research institutes whose mission is to enhance the ability of its members to improve human health and advance knowledge.
Additionally, Witmer served as the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM), and currently holds a position on SCRM's Administrative Council as the Salk representative.
She is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a BS in business administration from San Diego State University.