Executive Leadership Team
Rusty Gage currently serves as the president of the Salk Institute. In addition to his institutional leadership, Gage is a professor and Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases in the Laboratory of Genetics. His work concentrates on the adult central nervous system and unexpected plasticity and adaptability to environmental stimulation that remains throughout the life of all mammals. Gage’s efforts may lead to methods of replacing or enhancing brain and spinal cord tissues lost or damaged due to neurodegenerative disease or trauma.
The Gage lab showed that, contrary to accepted dogma, human beings are capable of growing new nerve cells throughout life. Small populations of immature nerve cells are found in the adult mammalian brain, a process called neurogenesis. Gage is working to understand how these cells can be induced to become mature functioning nerve cells in the adult brain and spinal cord. His lab showed that environmental enrichment and physical exercise can enhance the growth of new brain cells. They are studying the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms that may be harnessed to repair the aged and damaged brain and spinal cord.
Senior Vice President, Chief Science OfficerRead Biography
Martin Hetzer is the Salk Institute’s Senior Vice President and Chief Science Officer. He provides leadership in developing and implementing Salk’s overall scientific strategy, as well as overseeing research operations in support of this strategy.
Hetzer also holds the Jesse and Caryl Philips Foundation Chair and is a professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory. As a researcher, he has garnered such accolades as the National Institutes of Health Transformative Research award; the Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging; and the American Society of Cell Biology’s Early Career Life Science award. He was named an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar in Aging, an American Cancer Society Research Scholar and a Pew Scholar.
The Hetzer lab applies genomics, proteomics and advanced imaging biology techniques to pose questions about how the human genome is organized inside a cell’s nucleus. He was among the first to show that structural proteins of the nucleus play a direct role in changing gene expression during normal and pathological development as well as cancer. Together with his team he also discovered long-lived proteins (LLPs) in the nucleus, which exhibit no or very little protein turnover in the adult brain. The functional decline of LLPs could be a major contributor to age-related changes in the survival of nerve cells. A major focus of the lab is to understand what allows LLPs to stay intact throughout an organism’s entire lifespan. In people with neurodegenerative diseases, it appears that LLPs in older cells lead to the decline of the nucleus. Understanding why this happens is the first step to potentially preventing and treating diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. He will continue to serve as principal investigator for his lab.
Hetzer was born in Vienna, Austria, where he earned his doctorate in biochemistry and genetics from the Vienna Biocenter. He then moved to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, where he pursued his postdoctoral work. He was recruited to the Salk Institute in 2003.
Vice President, External RelationsRead Biography
Rebecca Newman oversees private philanthropy, communications, and event-related activities for the entire Institute. Since her arrival in 2008, Salk has seen an annual net increase in event profits, a historic fundraising cycle and exciting community engagement through events such as Explore Salk, the Salk Science & Music Series, Salk’s Women & Science series, Symphony at Salk and numerous others. In addition to leading her team to increase private giving by 40 percent, Newman was instrumental in guiding Salk’s first major fundraising campaign to support scientific research, which secured $360 million. Newman has more than 30 years of corporate and nonprofit financial endowment development and capital campaign experience.
Prior to joining Salk, she was Associate Vice Chancellor of Development at the University of California, San Diego, where she executed the historic conclusion of the university’s capital campaign by exceeding its $1 billion goal.
She has served as national president of the United Jewish Communities, national chair for the United Jewish Appeal Women’s Campaign, campaign chair and president of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego and board member of the Jewish Community Foundation. Her long history of volunteerism includes helping design, fund and implement welfare and relief programs in Argentina, Cuba, Israel and the republics of the former Soviet Union.
A native of Chicago, Newman has a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from the University of Michigan.
Senior Vice President, Finance & AdministrationRead Biography
Kim Witmer is Senior Vice President, Finance & Administration of the Salk Institute. She oversees financial and administrative activities of the Salk, including financial reporting and treasury functions, research administration, annual budgets, procurement, human resources, facilities/security, and endowment/investment management.
Witmer also acts as past President of AIRI, the Association of Independent Research Institutes, as well as serving on AIRI’s Board of Directors and Government Affairs Committee. AIRI brings together nearly 100 independent, not-for-profit biomedical and behavioral research institutes whose mission is to enhance the ability of its members to improve human health and advance knowledge.
Additionally, Witmer served as Chief Financial Officer of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM), and currently holds a position on SCRM’s Administrative Council as the Salk representative.
Prior to joining the Salk, Witmer worked for the international accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche. She is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a BS in business administration from San Diego State University.