Inside Salk; Salk Insitute

In Search of Excellence

William Brody

Scientific discovery requires uncommon minds—people who understand rational scientific thinking but aren't afraid to take risks and bet on ideas often scorned by others as either unworthy or unknowable. History demonstrates time and again that these rare creative geniuses defy logic to uncover major discoveries that lead to new understanding of how organisms function in health and disease.

To continue the legacy of excellence that has defined the Salk Institute, we are now searching for the next generation of scientific pioneers. I am particularly delighted to give you an early alert regarding our latest faculty recruitment successes.

You will learn more about these exceptional scientists in the months ahead. But as a brief preview, let me tell you about the three extremely promising researchers we have just attracted to the Salk:

Sreekanth Chalasani, assistant professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Lab. Chalasani's research focuses on how the C. elegans worm's nervous system responds to changes in the environment, such as a sudden lack of food. He hopes to learn more about how complex neural circuits process information and guide behavior.

Bjorn Lillemeier, assistant professor in the Immunobiology Microbial Pathogenesis Lab. Lillemeier uses biophotonics technology—high resolution fluorescence microscopy—to study the organization of plasma membranes and their contribution to membrane-associated signal transduction in T-cells. T-cells, the most common type of lymphocytes, attack virus infected cells, foreign cells, and cancer cells, but also play an integral part in the regulation of the immune system's activity. Adding a new perspective on how T-cell responses are controlled during development and disease could identify new targets for the manipulation of T-cell function.

Ye Zheng, assistant professor in the Immunobiology Microbial Pathogenesis Lab. Zheng studies how regulatory T-cells maintain immune system tolerance to prevent autoimmune diseases. He hopes that a better understanding of how these regulatory T-cells are generated and maintained will lead to new therapeutic approaches in a wide range of autoimmune diseases and tumor immunity.

The competition for top flight scientists is definitely global. That's why we are so pleased to welcome each of these gifted junior faculty members over the next few months. Their research will both strengthen and diversify our efforts in Immunology, Neurobiology and Biophotonics – all key directions for us.

The opportunity to recruit new faculty is especially gratifying, given the current economic downturn. It is a tribute to the major gifts we have received in support of scientific discovery, in addition to the creative and collaborative environment for which the Salk Institute is renowned.

The past few months have brought other positive news, including the NIH designation of a National Eye Institute here at the Salk – the only one in the San Diego area, directed by Professor Tom Albright. Ours is one of just seven such U.S. centers focused exclusively on basic vision research.

And the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine awarded Salk researchers Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte and Inder Verma a $6.6 million grant to move ahead on exciting research to develop stem cell-based treatments for some rare, incurable genetic diseases.

We could accomplish none of the above without your generous philanthropic assistance, and I thank you for your steadfast support of the Salk Institute and our mission to advance basic understanding of biology in health and disease.