Salk Institute
President's Office
President's Office

Dr. William R. Brody

Dr. William R. Brody, President of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, an acclaimed physician-scientist, entrepreneur, and university leader, 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, and 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.

A native of Stockton, California, 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, and served as the president and chief executive officer of Resonex Inc. from 1984 to 1987.

Dr. Brody serves as a member of the Scientific Management Review Board of the National Institutes of Health and on the board of directors of IBM and Novartis. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of Stanford University. He formerly served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the Science Board of the Food and Drug Administration, on the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was a trustee of the Commonwealth Fund, the Whitaker Foundation, and the Minnesota Orchestra.

Dr. Brody is a private pilot holding airline transport pilot and flight instructor ratings. He and his wife, Wendy, have two grown children.

January, 2014

"Old age," the actor and entertainer Maurice Chevalier is reported to have said, "isn't so bad when you consider the alternative." And Chevalier, who continued performing until two years before his death at 83, presumably knew a thing or two about aging with grace and good health.

But millions of people stricken with the diseases of old age— Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancer, cardiovascular disease and more—are not as lucky. For them, growing older can be fraught with physical and cognitive difficulties that undermine their quality of life. Earlier this year, a government report projected that 13.8 million Americans will develop Alzheimer's disease by 2050, with the associated costs of care reaching $1.1 trillion. And those are the figures for just one condition! Clearly it's critical for society that we develop new interventions for age-related diseases that allow people to remain healthy and vigorous for as long as possible.

The latest issue of Inside Salk celebrates Salk research into healthy aging. We are fortunate to have many scientists at the Institute who are investigating the basic mechanisms behind aging, making important discoveries that are advancing our understanding of growing older. As you probably know, healthy aging is one of the four scientific initiatives underlying the Campaign for Salk, and I think it's safe to say that it's one in which everyone has a stake. I hope you'll enjoy reading about the work of Martin Hetzer, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte and Jan Karlseder in our cover story and gain a new appreciation for what the campaign means for cutting-edge Salk research.

In fact, it's been a remarkable several months at the Institute, with many of our researchers publishing significant papers in major journals. We are thrilled to report on some of the highlights in the following pages. Satchin Panda, for instance, has discovered a new molecule with implications for migraines. Ed Callaway has produced novel insights into how specific brain regions interconnect, and Sreekanth Chalasani has discovered a previously unknown flexibility in neural circuitry and its influence on behaviors in model organisms. Also in neuroscience, Joseph Ecker and Terrence Sejnowski have helped elucidate how information in the genomes of cells in the brain is controlled from fetal development to adulthood, and Tatyana Sharpee and John Reynolds have demonstrated the complexities of decoding images made of both simple and intricate elements. In cell biology, John Young and Greg Lemke have discovered a new mechanism that may prove effective at clearing viruses from cells, and Lei Wang has developed a new tool for protein engineering.

Your friendship and especially your support have been instrumental in these breakthroughs, and as you peruse the magazine, I hope you'll think about what the findings of our scientists may ultimately mean to all of us and how you have helped bring them about. On behalf of everyone at the Institute, thank you for being such an important part of the Salk community.

  • 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 thinking...fast 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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Brody Brody
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