Remembering Wylie Vale
Scientist, Pioneer, Leader, Friend
Wylie Vale, a Salk Institute professor and world-renowned expert on brain hormones, died January 3 while on vacation in Hana, Hawaii. He was 70 years old.
Vale, head of the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology and holder of the Helen McLoraine Chair in Molecular Neurobiology at the Salk, was highly regarded as the global authority on peptide hormones and growth factors that provide communication between the brain and endocrine system. During his distinguished scientific career, Vale discovered a number of hormones and growth factors that provide a molecular link between the brain, endocrine and immune systems. These hormones are now recognized as key regulators of the stress response and as modulators of appetite, metabolism, growth, reproduction and cardiac function. Vale's research helped identify new avenues for the diagnosis and treatment of endocrine as well as behavioral disorders, including anxiety, depression and anorexia. Building on his seminal research, Vale cofounded two biotech companies, Neurocrine Biosciences and Acceleron Pharma. He was a member of the boards of directors for both companies.
"We have lost one of our distinguished leaders and brightest minds," said William R. Brody, Salk president. "Wylie was a pioneer in science and was loved and revered worldwide. He was a friend and a leader, and he helped make the Salk what it is today. He will be deeply missed by all."
Vale was born in Houston, Texas, on July 3, 1941. He earned his B.A. in biology from Rice University and his Ph.D. in physiology and biochemistry from Baylor College of Medicine. He would later work with Roger Guillemin, Nobel laureate and Salk scientist, before joining the Salk in 1970, where he spent 41 years conducting groundbreaking research.
"First I was the teacher, and later we were colleagues," said Guillemin. "I have much respect for what Wylie accomplished in his life. He was a brilliant man, a wonderful exchanger of ideas. His legacy impacts us all, and I will deeply miss him."
Vale received his appointment as professor at the Institute in 1980. Since then, he discovered more than a dozen novel peptide hormones and receptors, coauthored more than 600 peer-reviewed papers and was among the most-cited scientific authors of the past several decades. He was also an adjunct professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
"I learned a lot about life from Wylie," said Ron Evans, professor in Salk's Gene Expression Lab. "He had great insight and great humanity; he was a great scientist. He brought a lot to the field of endocrinology and was one of the giants of the field."
In 1981, Vale and his colleagues became the first to characterize the peptide known as corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). They demonstrated that the production of CRF by certain cells in the brain triggered many of the body's hormonal, immune and behavioral responses to stressful situations. Vale's work revealed that an unusually high production of CRF is associated with several disorders, including anxiety, drug abuse, depression and anorexia.
In 2004, Vale and his colleagues at UC San Diego established the firmest link between a family of hormones that helps the body adapt to stress and possible new treatments for congestive heart failure. Vale discovered that the hormone urocortin-2 has a positive impact on heart function, and the hormone was shown to significantly enhance heart muscle contractions.
"Wylie was a brilliant scientist, witty, always optimistic, full of life and one of the wisest faculty colleagues," said Inder Verma, a professor in Salk's Laboratory of Genetics. "I will miss his constant bantering and selfdeprecating humor more than I can imagine."
Vale's accomplishments have been widely recognized by the scientific community. He was elected to membership in several prestigious organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. He served as a past president of the Endocrine Society and the International Society of Endocrinology. Vale also received a number of awards, including the Edwin B. Astwood Lectureship Award, the Fred Conrad Koch Award from the Endocrine Society, the Clinical Lectureship Award (British Royal Society of Medicine), the Fourth Yrjo Reenpaa Lecture Award from the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the H.B. van Dyke Award, Fondation IPSEN Prize in Endocrine Communication, the Henry Dale Medal presented by the British Society for Endocrinology and the Rolf Luft Award from the Karolinska Institute.
"I think Wylie represented something that we all strive for, but probably didn't know we should be striving for it until we saw Wylie exhibit it," said Fred Gage, professor in Salk's Laboratory of Genetics. "Wylie was able to balance his brilliant scientific career with a wonderful family."
"I always felt like I could be who I was naturally around Wylie," said Marc Montminy, professor in Salk's Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology. "Perhaps that was the biggest part of who Wylie was, and I'll miss him for that."
Vale passed away in his sleep. He is survived by his wife, Betty, their daughters, Elizabeth and Susannah, and his granddaughter, Celeste.