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Women & Science: An evening of celebration and education

From left: Clodagh O’Shea, Emily Hatch and Amy Rommel

Two female Salk Researchers have been named the first grant recipients of the Salk Women & Science Special Awards Initiative. Nearly 200 people attended a celebratory event sponsored by BioMed Realty on March 24.

The event kicked off with Dress for Success San Diego, an organization committed to providing job preparation services to low-income women striving for self-sufficiency. Among the many donations Salk received for the drive were 280 dresses and suits, 31 pairs of shoes, 36 purses and more than 100 items of jewelry and accessories.

At the event, Salk researchers Emily Hatch and Christina Chang were named the 2015 inaugural Postdoctoral Fellowship Recipient and the Graduate Student Fellowship Recipient, respectively.

The awards were created to provide funding to female scientists conducting high-risk research projects. A $100,000 fundraising goal established in October 2014 was exceeded before the spring Women & Science event, thanks in part to generous initial gifts from Elizabeth Keadle, Carol and John Gallagher of the Gallagher Charitable Fund, Lyn Nelson, Hoyle Cohen Women’s Practice, and Lynne Rosenthal and Patti Silver of the Leo S. Guthman Fund.

On the heels of the inaugural Initiative’s success, Joanne Chory, director of the Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, pledged the first lead gift for the 2016 grant program “in honor of the 111 women in PBIO-C who enriched my life over the past 27 years.” In the nearly three decades Chory has been mentoring young scientists, 44 percent of them have been women.

Before the recognition ceremony, the evening’s host, Associate Professor Clodagh O’Shea, took the stage to thank attendees for their philanthropy and their growing ranks. Marveling at the mainly female congregation, she said, “This is the first time I’ve seen more women in the audience at a scientific talk than men. Let’s celebrate that.”

Citing double-digit statistics that illustrate the gap still existing between men and women in scientific academia, O’Shea said that is why the Salk Women & Science program is “important to preserve.” She expressed gratitude for the opportunities afforded not only her, but also the young women in the field today.

Amy Rommel, a postdoctoral research associate in Professor Inder Verma’s Laboratory of Genetics, then proceeded to captivate the audience with a talk about her research efforts on glioblastoma, one of the most lethal forms of cancers.

Current treatment of glioblastoma combines surgical removal of the tumor, administering toxic chemicals and depriving the tumor of nutrients, Rommel explained. Unfortunately, tumor cells have mechanisms to overcome these attacks. One mechanism of adaptation, previously published in a study from the Verma lab, suggests glioblastoma has the ability to convert some of its tumor cells into functional vascular cells. Rommel’s work proposes novel strategies to treat glioblastoma by reverse engineering the mechanism the tumor is already using–reprogramming the tumor-initiating cells back to their “normal” non tumor-initiating state.

Now in its third year, Salk Women & Science was created to engage the community in biological science and technology through presentations such as Rommel’s. For more information on the program, visit or contact Betsy Reis, director of Donor Relations, at (858) 453-4100 x1426 or