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One on One with…

Jean Rivier


lies a palm-sized piece of ironwood—a talisman that speaks to both

his extracurricular and professional passions. The espresso-colored

chunk of wood has served, like a worry stone, as an outlet for anxious

energy, evidenced by a thumb-wide groove worn into one side from

years of rubbing.

Most surfaces in his office are covered with similar wooden objects,

such as small figurines—dolphins, owls and other animals—carved

by indigenous peoples in Mexico and collected during his visits to

the country. Inspired by these works, he started making sculptures

himself from scraps of hardwoods found during his hikes in the

mountains east of San Diego. That Rivier designed a piece of wood

as a stress reliever suggests his hobby aligns with his scientific

research, which has focused largely on understanding how stress

manifests itself in the body at a molecular level and on searching

for a drug to neutralize the effects of pathogens, both physical

and emotional.

Rivier has spent his career as a Salk professor studying a class

of stress hormones called corticotropin-releasing factors (CRFs).

He showed that CRFs are responsible for many of the body’s

reactions to stress, including disabling the immune system

in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In an attempt to develop

treatments for these conditions, he designed peptide molecules

that block CRF receptors. In the process of studying these

CRF-blocking molecules, Rivier discovered that they also restore

hair growth and even prevent hair loss in mice that normally go

bald quite early in life due to overproduction of CRF. He recently

founded a company called Sentia Medical Sciences Inc. and

obtained exclusive rights to CRF-targeted molecules from the

Salk Institute. Aside from his contributions to understanding

stress, his work has resulted in eight drugs used to diagnose

and treat neuroendocrine tumors, prostate cancer, hypogonadism,

pituitary dwarfism and intractable pain.

Rivier acquired a piece of this felled dead cedar tree from Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. He put together a scaffolding to offload the enormous piece of wood, which he carved into a chair and two boards (so far).

Rivier’s “worry woods” are one of his

solutions for alleviating the stress of

everyday life.



Inside Salk 04 | 15