Salk Institute
President's Office
President's Office

Dr. William R. Brody

Dr. William R. Brody, President of the Salk Institute, is an acclaimed physician-scientist entrepreneur and university leader. He joined the Salk Institute on March 2, 2009 after 12 years as president of The Johns Hopkins University. He is a national figure in efforts to encourage innovation and strengthen the U.S. economy through investments in basic research and education. Most recently, he has written and spoken extensively around the country to promote a fuller discussion of health care reform.

Renowned for his achievements in biomedical engineering, Dr. Brody has over 100 publications and two U.S. patents in the field of medical imaging, and has made contributions in medical acoustics, computed tomography, digital radiography, and magnetic resonance imaging. These contributions have led to his recognition by numerous national and international organizations.

Dr. Brody is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the American College of Radiology, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, the American Institute of Biomedical Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2010, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Radiological Society of North America for his contributions to medical imaging science.

Dr. Brody received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his M.D. and Ph.D., also in electrical engineering, from Stanford University. Following post-graduate training in cardiovascular surgery and radiology at Stanford, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Brody was associate professor and then professor of radiology and electrical engineering at Stanford University (1977-1986). He has been a co-founder of three medical device companies: Digirad (acquired by Agfa); Resonex (acquired by General Electric); and Biopsys Medical (acquired by Johnson and Johnson). He served as the president and chief executive officer of Resonex Inc. from 1984 to 1987.

Dr. Brody serves on the board of directors of IBM, Biomed Realty Trust, and T. Rowe Price Mutual Funds, and is a member of the board of the W.M. Keck Foundation. He formerly served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the Science Board of the Food and Drug Administration, the Scientific Management Review Board of the National Institutes of Health, the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the board of trustees of Stanford University.

April, 2015

The most innovative ideas often come from surprising places–and that’s especially true in science. Biologists and computer scientists, for instance, see the world in very different ways, but the happy collision of those worldviews can lead to something entirely new. The Salk Institute has always embraced and encouraged such cross- pollination, and Salk scientists often mention this “culture of collision”– to coin a phrase–as a big part of why they chose to come here.

The feature story in this issue of Inside Salk–“The Power of Connections”–examines some significant advancements produced by these interdisciplinary partnerships. Alan Saghatelian and Reuben Shaw, for example, are uniting their respective expertise in biology and chemistry to better understand cancer metabolism. In our “Next Generation” article, you’ll learn how Salk researchers and spouses Zuyu Zheng and Yongxia Guo, though working in separate labs, collaborate to study plant survival mechanisms, an issue vital to future crop production. And you’ll see how rewarding partnerships often extend beyond the Salk campus. A case in point is Martyn Goulding, who recently teamed up with researchers at Harvard Medical School to identify a neural mechanism in the spinal cord that appears to be implicated in sending erroneous pain signals to the brain, a major discovery that could benefit patients who suffer from such disorders as fibromyalgia and phantom limb pain.

A number of other notable discoveries are featured in the “Discovery Roundup” section. Beverly Emerson has uncovered details about how cancer uses a diversification strategy to develop drug resistance and Geoffrey Wahl has found a way to identify previously undetectable protein interactions, which could provide new targets for cancer therapeutics. Katherine Jones, also investigating proteins, has identified a protein integral to active HIV replication and one that enables the disease to strike the immune system years after lying dormant. Two discoveries, from the labs of Ronald Evans and Satchidananda Panda, drew worldwide attention. Panda’s study found that confining caloric consumption to an 8- to 12-hour period–as people did just a century ago–might stave off high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. Evans’ team developed a new compound, fexaramine, that can trick the body into thinking it has consumed calories and burned calories, thus raising hopes of a successful diet pill.

No scientific advancement occurs without tremendous teamwork and one partnership I am cognizant of on a daily basis is the one we share with you. Your interest in and support of fundamental biological research buoys our determination and drives our discoveries. For that, we are all thankful.

  • There is a saying that the "experts are always wrong.” - Over the past couple of decades, experts predicted a doomsday scenario known as the “patent cliff” that prompted a great deal of handwringing in the pharmaceutical industry. Many pharmaceutical companies were relying heavily on profits generated by a small number of so-called “blockbuster drugs” that emerged during the early- to mid-1990s. With these cash cows slated to come off patent between 2005 and 2015, there were no replacement blockbusters in the pipeline. The fear was that an influx of generics would cause a sharp drop in prices, resulting in the companies’ revenues falling off the patent cliff.
  • The ‘Decade of the Brain’ has finally arrived - In the late 1950s, the famous mathematician John von Neumann wrote a book The Computer and the Brain in which he pointed out that when we don’t understand something–in this case the introduction of digital computers–we use a more familiar term by analogy–i.e., the brain–as a way of making the new concept more understandable. Of course, this analogy is laughable given the relative understanding that scientists and engineers have about the brain versus computers.
  • "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." - Around the time Franklin wrote these words, a deadly smallpox epidemic was sweeping across the United States and the rest of the world. The smallpox inoculation technique of the time had originated in Africa. An African servant of the clergyman Cotton Mather in Boston explained to Mather the use of smallpox inoculation in West Africa. Mather noted this down and convinced a local doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, to try this method during the Boston smallpox outbreak of 1721.
  • The War on Cancer - In 1971, President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, a milestone considered the beginning of the "war on cancer" in the United States. One side effect of his declaration of war was making the National Cancer Institute, already well established as one of the institutes in the National Institutes of Health, more independent and providing a burst of funding to accelerate the scientific search for new treatments and cures.
  • The "compression of illness" hypothesis - Years ago, Stanford physician Dr. James Fries proposed an idea which has been deemed the “compression of illness” hypothesis. According to Fries, the best strategy both for healthy living and lowering medical costs is to delay the time of onset of chronic disease: in other words, slow down the appearance and progression of chronic illness.
  • Faster cures come from faster discoveries - The first decade of the 21st century witnessed a dramatic drop in the number of new drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a decline that some attribute to more stringent requirements imposed by the FDA. While this observation may be partly correct, the fact is that the beginning of the millennium was a watershed for drug development. This was in large part thanks to rapid advances taking place in basic science laboratories, such as those at the Salk Institute.
  • The big elephant in the room - With all the emphasis on cost control by the Congress, the big elephant in the room that has not yet been tamed is the rapid rise of costs for the care of Medicare recipients. Recently I spoke to the vice dean for clinical investigation at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and he echoed the sentiment that Medicare patients with five or more chronic ailments are consuming a large fraction of Medicare costs and sapping the energy of the healthcare delivery system.
  • Philanthropy comes from the heart - I have been asked on many occasions to name the most significant gift I received as the head of a large research university where philanthropic gifts totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Without question, one of the most moving and significant donations came from a ten-year-old boy, Conor Griffin Goetz.
  • About and slow - If you haven't had a chance to read Daniel Kahneman's new book, Thinking Fast and Slow, I highly recommend it to you. Dr. Kahneman is one of only two people to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics who is not an economist; rather, he is a behavioral psychologist. Many of his landmark studies have pointed out the irrationality in our decision making that violates the well-accepted "laws" of economics—like supply and demand.
  • "The Times They Are A-Changin'" - In these "changing times," the support of our loyal benefactors becomes more and more important to offset the loss of support from the government.
  • Serendipity and science - The "secret sauce" of Salk scientific discovery is the unique character of our institute. There are no departments or divisions and the architectural design of the Salk facilitates interaction among scientists in the laboratory. Facilitating interaction among the best minds in seemingly unrelated fields is one important aspect of scientific (or should I say "serendipitous") discovery.
  • Sutton's law and chronic illness - Sutton's law of healthcare says if you want to reduce healthcare costs, you have to find ways of reducing the economic impact of chronic illness, ideally by preventing or significantly delaying when affliction occurs, or finding better and more cost-effective ways of treating the illness.

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