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Dr. William R. Brody

Dr. William R. Brody, President of the Salk Institute, is an acclaimed physician-scientist entrepreneur and university leader. He joined the Salk Institute on March 2, 2009 after 12 years as president of The Johns Hopkins University. He is a national figure in efforts to encourage innovation and strengthen the U.S. economy through investments in basic research and education. Most recently, he has written and spoken extensively around the country to promote a fuller discussion of health care reform.

Renowned for his achievements in biomedical engineering, Dr. Brody has over 100 publications and two U.S. patents in the field of medical imaging, and has made contributions in medical acoustics, computed tomography, digital radiography, and magnetic resonance imaging. These contributions have led to his recognition by numerous national and international organizations.

Dr. Brody is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the American College of Radiology, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, the American Institute of Biomedical Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2010, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Radiological Society of North America for his contributions to medical imaging science.

Dr. Brody received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his M.D. and Ph.D., also in electrical engineering, from Stanford University. Following post-graduate training in cardiovascular surgery and radiology at Stanford, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Brody was associate professor and then professor of radiology and electrical engineering at Stanford University (1977-1986). He has been a co-founder of three medical device companies: Digirad (acquired by Agfa); Resonex (acquired by General Electric); and Biopsys Medical (acquired by Johnson and Johnson). He served as the president and chief executive officer of Resonex Inc. from 1984 to 1987.

Dr. Brody serves on the board of directors of IBM, Biomed Realty Trust, and T. Rowe Price Mutual Funds, and is a member of the board of the W.M. Keck Foundation. He formerly served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the Science Board of the Food and Drug Administration, the Scientific Management Review Board of the National Institutes of Health, the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the board of trustees of Stanford University.

December, 2014

Here at the Salk Institute, I'm reminded daily what an extraordinary place this is. It’s not just our groundbreaking discoveries, although those continue to make headlines around the world. It’s also our iconic Louis Kahn buildings, which have helped create an environment that nurtures collaboration and innovation. Factor in some of the world’s most gifted researchers and you have a formula for brilliant science.

This issue of Inside Salk celebrates both the marvelous discoveries that Salk investigators have made in recent months and the campus that has made them possible. Our cover story on neuroscience reveals why we’ve been renowned in this field for many years. (I share more of my thoughts on this subject in my Insider’s View column.) We also have two articles about the architecture that has helped make us who we are–one on Robert Redford’s recent film about the Salk buildings and a one-on-one interview with Mr. Redford, which I was privileged to conduct. The film officially debuted in the United States in October, but special friends of the Institute were able to attend a preview in June, with Mr. Redford in attendance. It’s a measure of the impact of Louis Kahn’s design that the film was the only one in the Cathedrals of Culture series to focus on American architecture.

The research taking place in those buildings has yielded some especially significant findings in the last few months. Kuo-Fen Lee’s group has found a small molecule that may be able to induce damaged nerves to grow and rewire neural circuits. A team led by Ye Zheng has discovered a key control mechanism with implications for autoimmune diseases and some types of cancer, and scientists in Reuben Shaw’s lab have identified a gene responsible for stopping the movement of cancer from the lungs to other parts of the body. Ronald Evans and his team have found a protein that may lead to a new treatment for type 2 diabetes. And a multi-site collaboration co-led by Joseph Ecker has demonstrated differences between stem cells depending on how they were created, a finding that could improve approaches for developing stem cell therapies and lead to a better understanding of stem cell biology.

On a very sad note, we lost one of our leading scientists when Stephen Heinemann died on August 6 after a long, illustrious career. We pay tribute to him in this issue.

As always, it is friends like you who help us sustain our momentum. All of us at the Institute are extremely grateful for your confidence in our work.

  • The ‘Decade of the Brain’ has finally arrived - In the late 1950s, the famous mathematician John von Neumann wrote a book The Computer and the Brain in which he pointed out that when we don’t understand something–in this case the introduction of digital computers–we use a more familiar term by analogy–i.e., the brain–as a way of making the new concept more understandable. Of course, this analogy is laughable given the relative understanding that scientists and engineers have about the brain versus computers.
  • "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." - Around the time Franklin wrote these words, a deadly smallpox epidemic was sweeping across the United States and the rest of the world. The smallpox inoculation technique of the time had originated in Africa. An African servant of the clergyman Cotton Mather in Boston explained to Mather the use of smallpox inoculation in West Africa. Mather noted this down and convinced a local doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, to try this method during the Boston smallpox outbreak of 1721.
  • The War on Cancer - In 1971, President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, a milestone considered the beginning of the "war on cancer" in the United States. One side effect of his declaration of war was making the National Cancer Institute, already well established as one of the institutes in the National Institutes of Health, more independent and providing a burst of funding to accelerate the scientific search for new treatments and cures.
  • The "compression of illness" hypothesis - Years ago, Stanford physician Dr. James Fries proposed an idea which has been deemed the “compression of illness” hypothesis. According to Fries, the best strategy both for healthy living and lowering medical costs is to delay the time of onset of chronic disease: in other words, slow down the appearance and progression of chronic illness.
  • Faster cures come from faster discoveries - The first decade of the 21st century witnessed a dramatic drop in the number of new drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a decline that some attribute to more stringent requirements imposed by the FDA. While this observation may be partly correct, the fact is that the beginning of the millennium was a watershed for drug development. This was in large part thanks to rapid advances taking place in basic science laboratories, such as those at the Salk Institute.
  • The big elephant in the room - With all the emphasis on cost control by the Congress, the big elephant in the room that has not yet been tamed is the rapid rise of costs for the care of Medicare recipients. Recently I spoke to the vice dean for clinical investigation at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and he echoed the sentiment that Medicare patients with five or more chronic ailments are consuming a large fraction of Medicare costs and sapping the energy of the healthcare delivery system.
  • Philanthropy comes from the heart - I have been asked on many occasions to name the most significant gift I received as the head of a large research university where philanthropic gifts totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Without question, one of the most moving and significant donations came from a ten-year-old boy, Conor Griffin Goetz.
  • About and slow - If you haven't had a chance to read Daniel Kahneman's new book, Thinking Fast and Slow, I highly recommend it to you. Dr. Kahneman is one of only two people to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics who is not an economist; rather, he is a behavioral psychologist. Many of his landmark studies have pointed out the irrationality in our decision making that violates the well-accepted "laws" of economics—like supply and demand.
  • "The Times They Are A-Changin'" - In these "changing times," the support of our loyal benefactors becomes more and more important to offset the loss of support from the government.
  • Serendipity and science - The "secret sauce" of Salk scientific discovery is the unique character of our institute. There are no departments or divisions and the architectural design of the Salk facilitates interaction among scientists in the laboratory. Facilitating interaction among the best minds in seemingly unrelated fields is one important aspect of scientific (or should I say "serendipitous") discovery.
  • Sutton's law and chronic illness - Sutton's law of healthcare says if you want to reduce healthcare costs, you have to find ways of reducing the economic impact of chronic illness, ideally by preventing or significantly delaying when affliction occurs, or finding better and more cost-effective ways of treating the illness.

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