Inside Salk; Salk Institute


From left: Dan Meader, Laing Rikkers, Jim Harries, Allison Stratton and John Rikkers

From left: Dan Meader, Laing Rikkers, Jim Harries, Allison Stratton and John Rikkers

It's a group without boundaries—a bicoastal gathering of men and women from across the professional spectrum, who share an appreciation for fine cuisine; a preference for friendly, easygoing networking opportunities; and most especially, a passion for science and the Salk Institute.

As their name suggests, the Salkexcellerators, who range from professionals in the arts and entertainment industries to the legal and financial sectors (and everything in between), are helping to sustain excellence and accelerate the pace of discovery at the Institute. At the same time they enjoy regular Salkexcellerators get-togethers with their colleagues and friends, they are making a profound difference through their annual commitment, which funds fellowships for postdocs at Salk. It's a powerful combination and one that promises to have an enduring impact on scientific discovery.

This past spring, the Salkexcellerators enjoyed special events in New York and La Jolla, where they socialized, networked, savored gourmet food and learned about the leading-edge science their support is helping to propel forward.

San Diego Salkexcellerators

Some 60 members of the San Diego Salkexcellerators gathered at the Salk Institute on May 15 to network, visit with friends and enjoy a presentation by Fred "Rusty" Gage, a professor in the Laboratory of Genetics and the holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease. In his lecture, "Modeling Psychiatric Disease with Human Stem Cells," Gage explained how his lab has studied human neurological and psychiatric diseases in vitro using human stem cells. The revolutionary technique involves obtaining skin cells from affected individuals. Then, through genetic reprogramming, these cells are altered to produce induced pluripotent stem cells, which are cultured and differentiated into neurons. Since these cells carry the same genetic code as the skin cells they originated from, they also carry the disease, creating in a dish a smallscale model of a diseased brain and providing an opportunity to study the biological factors behind psychiatric and neurological diseases.

New York Salkexcellerators

The owner of New York's exclusive members-only Norwood Club describes it as "a home for the curious." And that quality was very much in evidence at the New York Salkexcellerators gathering there on April 22. The event drew an eclectic audience of 60 to the Greenwich Village venue, a perfectly preserved 1847 mansion that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The program featured Greg Lemke, a professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and holder of the Françoise Gilot-Salk Chair. Lemke studies the regulation of signaling networks that control immune system function. In his presentation, titled "The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Taming Viruses and Autoimmune Disease," he discussed how in the absence of regulation, a biological system is akin to the mythical sorcerer's apprentice, setting in motion a chain of events over which it has no control. This can lead to the development of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as contribute to infection by West Nile, influenza and dengue viruses. Fortunately, a corollary to Newton's Third Law of Motion (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) is also true within biology—the ability to turn a biological response on is always coupled with a means for turning it off—and Lemke explained to the rapt audience how these lifesaving mechanisms work.

Get Involved

Salkexcellerators are community members committed to supporting scientific discovery at Salk. Join us at events throughout the year in La Jolla and New York City, including private receptions and scientific presentations with Salk's renowned scientists. One hundred percent of contributions to the Salkexcellerators Fund provide annual fellowships to gifted postdoctoral scholars. For more information, please visit or call (858) 453-4100 x1405.