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.
With California's drought perpetually in the headlines, it’s an opportune time to note the advancements made by Salk scientists who specialize in plant biology. The feature story in the latest issue of Inside Salk reveals how teams in the labs of Joanne Chory and Joseph Noel are identifying some of the tools, such as genetic variations and molecular mechanisms, that plants use to adapt to environmental challenges. Theirs is vitally important work that too often does not receive the spotlight. But a burgeoning global population combined with the disruptive changes to our climate means that such work is critical to human survival.
I might add that one of the oldest trees in the world–a 5,000- year-old specimen that has withstood many droughts, along with pests, disease and erratic changes in climate–continues to survive here in California. It’s living–and thriving–proof there is hope for plants and for us.
You’ll find that advancements in neuroscience comprise many of our other recent discoveries. Martyn Goulding has mapped circuitry in the spinal cord that facilitates balance; Dennis O’Leary demonstrated the amazing plasticity of neurons; Ronald Evans identified a metabolic protein that impacts both physical and mental activities; and Sreekanth Chalasani added to our understanding of how chemical signals influence risk-taking behaviors. Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who earned publication in three top biomedical journals–Cell, Nature and Science–in the space of a few weeks, devised a method to eliminate the transmission of mitochondrial disease and tied the aging process to deterioration of DNA packaging.
Additional recent achievements at Salk include Inder Verma’s development of an “immune system-in-a-dish” that offers hope for those with blood disorders, and Kathy Jones’ investigation into a cellular pathway that directs the growth of stem cells, a process that is key to regenerative therapies.
The volume and significance of these advancements speak to the level of science taking place here at the Institute. It is work that is recognized beyond our walls, and I’m proud to congratulate Dennis O’Leary and Joseph Ecker on their election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Vicki Lundblad to the National Academy of Sciences; Joanne Chory to the American Philosophical Society; and Nicola Allen on being named a Pew Scholar. Our investigators strive to be at the very forefront of science and I hope you’ll find, as I do, that their stories are inspirational.
- 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 thinking...fast 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.