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Salk scientists receive significant philanthropic support with four distinguished chair appointments

chair appointments

Salk president Bill Brody shares a laugh with new chair recipients, Tom Albright, Martin Hetzer, Sam Pfaff and Dennis O'Leary during the Board of Trustees dinner and Endowed Chair Recognition Ceremony.

Patrons, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate at the Salk Institute for the Board of Trustees Dinner and Endowed Chair Recognition Ceremony held on November 17. Salk scientists Tom Albright, Sam Pfaff and Martin Hetzer were selected as inaugural holders of the new chairs created through the Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair Challenge, and Dennis O'Leary was named the holder of the Vincent J. Coates Chair in Molecular Neurobiology.

The four faculty members were named the recipients of endowed chairs that these philanthropic leaders established in support of scientific research. The creation of three new chairs and the rededication of the one existing chair is a testament to the strong commitment that private donors have to the mission and vision of the Salk Institute. These endowments will provide crucial resources to support the work of some of the Institute's leading investigators—research that impacts humanity.

"These chairs, established by our generous donors, provide vital support that sustains the scientists and their laboratories, and they are instrumental in encouraging more seminal research," said William R. Brody, president of the Salk Institute, in announcing the appointments. "We look forward to continued success from these outstanding individuals as they push the frontiers of basic research."

In 2008, Irwin Jacobs, chairman of the Salk Board of Trustees, and his wife, Joan, created a $10 million challenge grant to encourage donors to establish ten endowed chairs for senior scientists. For every $2 million that a donor contributes toward an endowed chair at the Institute, Joan and Irwin Jacobs will add $1 million to achieve the $3 million funding level required to fully endow a chair for a Salk senior scientist. Because of the enthusiastic response to the Chair Challenge, the Jacobses committed to add five more chairs to the challenge, for a total of 15. To date, 12 chairs have been established.

Tom Albright, professor and director of the Vision Center Laboratory, was named to the Conrad T. Prebys Chair in Vision Research. Albright is an authority on the neural basis of perception, probing the relationship between the activity of brain cells and the experience of perceiving motion. He found that single neurons in a brain area specialized for processing motion exhibited robust form-cue invariance, a discovery that came as a surprise at the time. Albright also uncovered a specific neuronal process by which visual pictorial recall serves to augment sensory data with "likely" interpretations in order to overcome the ever-present noise, ambiguity and incompleteness of the retinal image.

Sam Pfaff, professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory, was selected as the inaugural holder of the Benjamin H. Lewis Chair. Pfaff's lab explores how nerve cells are formed and wire up correctly, focusing on the fetal development of the spinal cord. Pfaff is especially interested in determining how motor neurons develop and make connections between the spinal cord and muscles in the body, since these connections are necessary for all body movements. Spinal cord injuries lead to paralysis because motor neuron function is disrupted, and degenerative diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), spinal muscle atrophy and post-polio syndrome result from the loss of motor neurons.

Martin Hetzer was named the inaugural holder of the Jesse and Caryl Philips Foundation Chair. A professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, Hetzer uses live cell imaging and biochemistry as well as genetic and computational approaches to study the molecular basis of nuclear assembly and its regulation during cell division. The endow- ment will support his research to shed light on the nucleus and how the breakdown of its structure is implicated in disease; it will also enable the development of new technologies to investigate aging and neurodegenerative diseases.

Dennis O'Leary, professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, was named the holder of the Vincent J. Coates Chair in Molecular Neurobiology, which was established in 2001 to support research in molecular neurobiology aimed at the chemistry of the brain. Coates and his wife, Stella, have been important philanthropists for Salk and provided significant funding to create a mass spectrometry center at the Institute in 2003. O'Leary studies the development and plasticity of the verte- brate nervous system. His research seeks to understand fundamental developmental events and to use this knowledge to make the most efficient therapeutic use of stem cell biology and to design effective strategies to overcome birth defects, neural injury and neurological diseases and disorders.