Inside Salk - July 2012 - page 11

Inside Salk 07|12
Salk scientists
endowed chairs
At aspecial ceremony at the InstituteonMarch29, faculty
GeoffreyM. Wahl
JosephR. Ecker
each honored as recipients of endowed chairs, in recognition of their
significant scientific accomplishments.
“Salk discoveries are transforming our understanding of human health,
andwe are deeply grateful to our generous donors,” said
WilliamR. Brody
Salk Institute president, as he acknowledged each of the investigators at
the ceremony. “Establishing the chairs is an outstanding way to support
researchers who are at the forefront of their fields. It honors the excellence
of these remarkable scientists who havemade preeminent contributions to
scientific discovery.”
In 2008,
Irwin Jacobs
, chairman of the Salk board of trustees, and
his wife, Joan, made a $10million challenge grant to encourage donors
to establish ten endowed chairs for senior scientists. For every $2million
that a donor contributes toward an endowed chair at the Institute, Joan
and Irwin Jacobs add $1million to achieve the $3million funding level
required to fully endow a chair for a Salk senior scientist. Thanks to the
enthusiastic response to the chair challenge, the Jacobses added five
more endowed chairs to the challenge, for a total of 15. To date, 14 have
been established. The endowments provide essential funds to support the
leading-edge science being done at the Institute.
GeoffreyM. Wahl, professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory, was
named the inaugural holder of the Daniel andMartina Lewis Chair. The
Lewises, Salk supporters since 2002 and International Council members,
created the chair to help future generations benefit from the basic research
conducted at the Institute.
Wahl seeks to determine how cancers originate and progress andwhy
tumors become resistant to even the most powerful anti-cancer drugs.
His goal is to translate the knowledge and understanding gained from
basic research into the development of new treatment strategies tomore
effectivelymanage all types of cancer. His lab has uncovered keymecha-
nisms that control the stability of the geneticmaterial in cancer cells,
andmost recently has uncovered strong links between genetic pathways
expressed in breast stem cells generated in the embryo and some of
themost lethal human breast cancers. This work holds promise for
developing new diagnostic and prognostic strategies and for developing
new individualized treatment methods.
TheWahl lab has developed numerous technologies widely used in
molecular and cellular biology, andWahl was lead author of a “citation
classic,” concerningmethods of DNA detection that were among the
most widely cited inmolecular biology. Wahl is an ardent advocate for
increased funding of biomedical research as a mission that both saves
lives and produces a substantial return on investment.
MartynGoulding was appointed holder of the FrederickW. and Joanna
J. Mitchell Chair, created through theMitchell estate inmemory of their
daughter, Marian, to support research in connection with birth defects
and children’s diseases.
Goulding, professor in theMolecular Neurobiology Laboratory, studies
the early development of the nervous system and how it functions, focusing
on defining the genetic program that generates different interneuron cell
types in the embryonic spinal cord. His lab has explored how these inter-
neurons not only play a critical role in relaying sensory information from
the surface of our body to the brain, but are also important for locomotion
and posture. This research could eventually contribute to new therapies
for spinal cord injuries andmovement disorders associatedwith aging and
diseases affecting children.
Goulding pioneered the use of mouse genetics in combination with
classical electrophysiological studies to reveal the identity and assign
specific functions to neural networks in the spinal cord. His work led to a
paradigm shift in spinal cord physiology and changed the way scientists
study neural circuits in the spinal cord.
Joseph Ecker, professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology
Laboratory and director of the Genomic Analysis Laboratory, was awarded
the Salk International Council Chair inGenetics, whichwas created in
1997 and has provided critical resources to further the understanding of
genetic contributions to human health. Ecker is one of the world’s leading
authorities on themolecular biology and genetics of plants and is interna-
tionally recognized for his pioneering contributions to plant genomics. He
was a principal investigator in themultinational project that sequenced the
genome of Arabidopsis thaliana, amodest weed that has become amodel
organism for the study of plant genetics and the first plant whose genome
was sequenced, an achievement expected to have widespread implications
for agriculture and perhaps humanmedicine as well. Ecker also led the
groundbreaking research that produced the first detailedmap of the human
epigenome using two human cell types.
Ecker is widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on how the
gaseous hormone ethylene regulates a variety of basic plant processes.
For agriculture, ethylene gas is a vital chemical messenger important for
such processes as fruit ripening and how plants respond to pathogenic
organisms. Ecker’s research has yielded essential insights into the
mechanisms of plant growth control and led to the development of new
technologies that delay fruit ripening and disease processes.
GeoffreyM. Wahl
JosephR. Ecker
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