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Women & Science events entertain and inspire

Clodagh O'Shea and Ursula Bellugi

The Salk Institute's Women & Science program continues to attract an ever-growing audience, and in recent months presented two thought-provoking events.

On July 23, Ursula Bellugi, professor and director of the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience, gave a talk titled "Williams Syndrome: A Model for Linking Genes, Neural Systems and Social Phenotypes." Following an introduction by Catherine Rivier, professor emerita of the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology, Bellugi explained to a crowd of approximately 60 female business and community leaders how she works with individuals with Williams syndrome to further understand the ties between neural and cognitive functions. Those with this rare genetic disorder, though developmentally disabled, possess remarkable verbal abilities and facial recognition skills. Because the genetic deletion is so tiny—of the 20 or so genes missing, just three to six create the cognitive and social effects typical of the condition—Bellugi and her colleagues are beginning to identify the very genes and neural pathways that help determine language and social skills.

Then, on November 6, a crowd of more than 80 gathered to hear Clodagh O'Shea speak about her work designing synthetic viruses to combat cancer. During her introduction, Beverly Emerson, holder of the Edwin K. Hunter Chair in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory, described the iconoclastic O'Shea as a cross between Grace Kelly, bareknuckle boxer John Sullivan and risk-taking adventurer Edmund Hillary. O'Shea embodied all three as she spoke passionately of her search for a sophisticated anticancer tool that could target tumors without causing the bodily harm of current cancer treatments. In her talk, titled "Designing Viruses that Seek and Destroy Tumor Cells," O'Shea explained how she and her lab are using the common cold virus, the adenovirus, to create synthetic viruses that can act like guided missiles, specifically infecting and replicating in tumor cells before bursting them apart to release thousands of viral progeny. These progeny then seek out and destroy distant metastases while overcoming all possible resistance.

The 2013 Women & Science outreach events have been generously underwritten by Union Bank and by the wealth advisory firm Hoyle- Cohen. For more information on the Women & Science program, contact Betsy Reis, director of donor relations, at 858.453.4100 x1426 or by email at breis@salk.edu.