Innovation Grants

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Innovation Grants

Innovation Grants


Salk’s Innovation Grants program, launched in 2006 from the forward-thinking minds of then-Board chair Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan, embodies the vision and spirit of the Institute that bears Jonas Salk’s name. The Innovation Grants Program is designed to fund out-of-the-box ideas that hold significant promise but may not yet have the track record to attract attention from more traditional funding sources.

“When we first started the program, our hope was that it would increase support of the Institute in two key ways,” say the Jacobs. “First, we wanted it to inspire others to support the program. Second, our hope was that as Salk brought in new faculty members those recruits would be able to generate additional grant monies to support their work. So far we have seen significant successes all around so that’s very encouraging.”

The Jacobs’ commitment of $8 million since the start of the Innovation Grants Program helped Salk secure additional philanthropic contributions from the Rose Hills Foundation, James Melcher and April Benasich, Fondation Ipsen, and Elizabeth Keadle. Since then, Salk researchers have gone on to leverage the early results from the Innovation Grants funded research to access more substantial investments from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative, the Keck Foundation and other prominent grant-makers.

Awarded semi-annually by peer review, Salk’s Innovation Grants Program are critical to sustaining emerging science with the power to redefine the future. Akin to a petri dish for growing and testing new ideas that might otherwise never see the light of a lab, the program already prompted a host of discoveries. The most recent class of recipients are evidence of the continued impact Innovation Grants awards have on Salk research.

Congratulations to The Rose Hills Foundation and Joan and Irwin Jacobs July 2018 Innovation Grants awardee:

Xin Jin, an associate professor, will explore how networks of neurons communicate with one another to relay messages from the brain to the limbs. His lab uses research techniques in novel combinations to discover previously unknown connections between brain regions and how they contribute to movement control. Jin’s work may lead to new avenues for treating disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

Congratulations to the Joan and Irwin Jacobs July 2018 Innovation Grants awardees:

Thomas Albright, professor and director of the Vision Research Laboratory, will investigate the neurological basis of how individuals recognize others, which could lead to better ways to identify suspects during criminal investigations. The goal is to help reduce cases where innocent people are misidentified during lineups.

Wolfgang Busch, associate professor, Uri Manor (core director, Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Core) and Saket Navlakha (assistant professor) will explore the biological algorithms that guide how plants grow and pattern their root systems in search of nutrients. This research may uncover how plants can efficiently find water and other elements in the soil, advancing Salk’s efforts to engineer plants capable of surviving increasingly erratic climate patterns.

Jesse Dixon, a Helmsley-Salk Fellow, is exploring how mutations in individual cells can lead to the development of cancer. His team seeks to understand tumors’ evolutionary histories and potentially reveal new strategies that can halt tumor progression by interrupting the evolution of cells from normal to cancerous.

Susan Kaech, professor and director of the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, and Ronald Evans, professor and director of the Gene Expression Laboratory and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, will embark on a study of lipid metabolism as a weapon in the fight against pancreatic cancer, a notoriously difficult-to-treat disease.