March 30, 2012

Prestigious endowed chairs awarded to Salk scientists

As part of the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Chair Challenge at the Salk, dedicated philanthropists invest in research excellence

Salk News

Prestigious endowed chairs awarded to Salk scientists

As part of the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Chair Challenge at the Salk, dedicated philanthropists invest in research excellence

The Salk Institute is pleased to announce that faculty members Geoffrey M. Wahl and Martyn Goulding were celebrated as the recipients of endowed chairs in recognition of their significant scientific accomplishments at a special reception on March 29. Joseph Ecker, professor in Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, who was named holder of the International Council Chair in Genetics in September 2011, was also honored at the ceremony.

In 2008 Salk’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Irwin Jacobs, and his wife Joan, created a $10 million challenge grant to encourage donors to establish 10 endowed chairs for senior scientists. For every $2 million that a donor contributes toward an endowed chair at the Institute, Joan and Irwin Jacobs add $1 million to achieve the $3 million funding level required to fully endow a chair for a Salk senior scientist. Due to the enthusiastic response of the Chair Challenge, the Jacobses committed to add five more chairs to the challenge for a total of 15 endowed chairs. To date, 12 chairs have been established. The endowments provide essential funds to support the leading-edge science being done at the Institute.

“Salk discoveries are transforming our understanding of human health, and appointing Geoff and Martyn to these chairs is an outstanding way to support researchers who are at the forefront of their fields,” said Salk Institute President William R. Brody. “It honors the excellence of two remarkable scientists who have made preeminent contributions to scientific discovery.”

Geoffrey M. Wahl, professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory, was named the inaugural holder of the Daniel and Martina Lewis Chair. Loyal Salk supporters since 2002 and International Council members, the Lewises created the chair to give back to help future generations benefit from the basic research conducted at the Institute.

A former President of the American Association for Cancer Research, the world’s largest and oldest cancer research organization, Dr. Wahl seeks to determine how cancers originate and progress, and why 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 to more effectively manage all types of cancer. His lab has uncovered key mechanisms that control the stability of the genetic material in cancer cells, and most recently has uncovered strong links between genetic pathways expressed in breast stem cells generated in the embryo and some of the most lethal human breast cancers. This work holds promise for developing new diagnostic and prognostic strategies, and for developing new individualized treatment methods.

The Wahl lab has developed numerous technologies widely used in molecular and cellular biology, and was lead author of a “Citation Classic,” concerning methods of DNA detection that were among the most widely cited in molecular biology. Dr. Wahl is an ardent advocate for increased funding of biomedical research as a mission that both save lives, as well as produces a substantial return on investment.

Martyn Goulding was appointed the holder of the Frederick W. and Joanna J. Mitchell Chair created through the Mitchell estate in memory of their daughter, Marian Mitchell, to support research in connection with birth defects and children’s diseases.

Dr. Goulding, professor in the Molecular 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 interneurons 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 and movement disorders associated with aging and diseases that affect children.

Dr. 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.

“We are deeply grateful for the generosity of Daniel and Martina Lewis and Frederick and Joanna J. Mitchell, who have invested in the innovative research programs conducted by our scientists leading to breakthrough discoveries that directly impact human health,” said Brody.

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