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Salk Scientists named to Dulbecco and Guillemin chairs

Back row from left: Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, Irwin Jacobs, William R. Brody, Tony Hunter. Front row from left: Roger Guillemin, Renato Dulbecco


In recognition of their tireless research and groundbreaking contributions to science, Tony Hunter has been appointed the inaugural holder of the Renato Dulbecco Chair, and Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte has been named the inaugural holder of the Roger Guillemin Chair.

Irwin and Joan Jacobs endowed the two chairs to pay permanent tribute to Dulbecco and Guillemin, both former Salk presidents and two of the Institute's Nobel Prize winners, for their remarkable achievements in science and for the legions of scientists they have mentored and inspired. The Jacobses generously funded each chair in full at $3 million as part of the Jacobs Chair Challenge. Launched in 2008 with a $10 million matching fund, the Jacobs Chair Challenge encourages and enables donors to create prestigious, permanent chairs in support of senior faculty members at Salk.

"Irwin and Joan's leadership is extraordinary," says Salk president William R. Brody. "Their honoring Renato and Roger and having these two distinguished scientific leaders as inaugural holders of the endowed chairs is a wonderful example of why the Salk Institute remains at the forefront of life-changing discovery."

Hunter, an American Cancer Society professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Cancer Center, explores how mutations in genes that control growth lead to cancer and has made crucial contributions in understanding how signals that stimulate or regulate cell development are routed. In 1979, his lab made a groundbreaking discovery that a biological process called tyrosine phosphorylation is a chemical "on-off" switch that can trigger the uncontrolled division of cells&8212;the hallmark of many cancers. This important signaling mechanism, which proved to underlie many types of human cancer, revolutionized cancer research and ultimately resulted in a new approach to treatment and the development of several innovative therapies as researchers found ways to inhibit the proteins called tyrosine kinases that are responsible for tyrosine phosphorylation.

A professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory at Salk, Izpisúa Belmonte has been at the forefront of developmental biology research and studies how genes and molecules orchestrate the development of an embryo. Through the years he has produced cutting-edge results, such as uncovering the genetic network involved in organ embryogenesis, as well as identifying how molecular guideposts direct organs to their rightful place along the body axes in the devel- oping embryo. His work has provided insights into the molecular basis implicated during organ regeneration in higher vertebrates, the differentiation of human stem cells into various tissues, and the molecular basis underlying somatic cell reprogramming. In addition to expanding knowledge of early human development, the research activities of Izpisúa Belmonte's laboratory are relevant to understanding the causes of human birth defects, as well as to the future development of regenerative medicine.