It's been a remarkable few months at the Salk Institute, but before I bring you up to date on all that is happening here, I must share with you the sad news that Salk lost a true leader, family member and dear friend, Wylie Vale, on January 3. Wylie was professor and head of the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology and held the Helen McLoraine Chair in Molecular Neurobiology. He was widely regarded as the global authority on peptide hormones and growth factors that provide communication between the brain and endocrine system. He and his collaborators identified the central switchboard, a group of neuropeptides and their receptors that mediate the body's responses to stress and stress-related disorders. Their research led to new methods for the diagnosis of pituitary disease and opened new possibilities for the development of drugs aimed at treating anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and even drug abuse. In addition to his wife, Betty, Wylie is survived by his two daughters and their husbands, a granddaughter and his brother and father.
But just as we bid Wylie farewell, we are saying hello to three extraordinary new members of the Salk faculty: Hu Cang, who joins us as an assistant professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center, and Xin Jin and Nicola Allen, both assistant professors in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and the Crick-Jacobs Center for Theoretical and Computational Biology. You can learn more about them in the following pages, but briefly, Hu has developed nanophotonic contrast enhancement agents that are now used in cancer imaging and also developed the first microscope to track single nanoparticles inside a cell; Xin is a rising star in the field of circuits and behavior; and Nicola works at the interface of molecular and systems neurobiology, investigating how astrocytes contribute to the formation, maturation and stabilization of synaptic contacts.
From a scientific standpoint, the past few months have been exceptionally productive, leading to a number of important discoveries. You can read more about them in this issue, but here is a sneak peek: scientists led by Inder M. Verma discovered that a protein that defends the body against cancer also plays a key role in the anti-inflammatory action of steroids; Leanne Jones found clues to slowing human aging and fighting disease by studying long-lived fruit flies; Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte led a team in finding a safe way to repair sickle cell disease genes; Dave Schubert has developed a new drug that improves memory and prevents brain damage in mice; Christopher R. Kintner and his team have identified a gene that tells cells to develop multiple cilia, a finding that may help scientists generate new therapies that use stem cells to replace damaged tissues in the lung and other organs; and scientists led by Ronald M. Evans have gained new insights into respiratory distress syndrome, which is the leading cause of death among premature babies, and have also discovered a missing link between the body's biological clock and sugar metabolism system, a finding that may help prevent the side effects of drugs used for treating asthma, allergies and arthritis.
I hope it's apparent from these and other breakthroughs that Salk discoveries are literally changing the world. But I want to emphasize that science of this caliber is only possible because of the continued support and commitment of our steadfast donors, friends and trustees. As I explain in my Insider's View column this time, government funding for science is declining. This means that you, more than ever, ensure that Salk remains at the forefront in discoveries that address the growing need for new ways to prevent and treat human health problems. Over the past six months we have raised over $32.5 million, breaking all of our previous records for philanthropy at Salk. We thank you for your extraordinary support!
Your generosity and your appreciation of our faculty and their groundbreaking science are giving us the confidence to pursue a bold vision for the future. We are most grateful, and I look forward to sharing more dynamic plans in coming issues.