May 23, 2011

Salk gift dedicates two endowed chairs - in honor of Nobel Prize winners and past presidents

Irwin and Joan Jacobs $19 million contribution to inspire scientific discoveries

Salk News

Salk gift dedicates two endowed chairs – in honor of Nobel Prize winners and past presidents

Irwin and Joan Jacobs $19 million contribution to inspire scientific discoveries

LA JOLLA, CA—Today, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies announced the visionary gift of Irwin and Joan Jacobs in the dedication of two endowed chairs to pay permanent tribute to Drs. Dulbecco and Guillemin, two of Salk’s Nobel Prize winners as well as former Presidents, for their incredible achievements in science and research, the leadership they have provided over the years, and for the legions of scientists they have mentored and inspired.

Professor Tony Hunter, Ph.D., was named as the inaugural holder of the Renato Dulbecco Chair and Professor Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, Ph.D., was appointed as the inaugural holder of the Roger Guillemin Chair.

Each chair holder is known for their tireless groundbreaking research that impacts lives. Dr. Hunter discovered a biological process that can trigger the uncontrolled division of cells— shedding much needed light on cancer. Dr. Izpisúa Belmonte is a trailblazer in the areas of regenerative medicine, birth defects, and gene development.

Both the endowed chairs were established in full through a generous gift from Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Jacobs funding each chair at $3 million each—as part of the Jacobs Chair Challenge. Launched in 2008 with a $10 million matching fund, the Jacobs Chair Challenge encourages and enables donors to create prestigious, permanent chairs in support of senior faculty members at Salk.

On April 14, 2011 the Jacobses announced they were giving an additional $5 million donation due to the successful response in donor funding of the first ten chairs. With nine of the original research chairs already spoken for, the additional five $1 million contributions will go toward the creation of five new chairs, a challenge format designed to inspire others to give.

“Irwin and Joan’s leadership is extraordinary,” stated Salk president William R. Brody. “Their honoring Renato and Roger and having two distinguished scientific leaders as inaugural holders of these endowed chairs, is a wonderful example of why the Salk Institute remains at the forefront of life changing discovery.”

Tony Hunter, an American Cancer Society Professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Cancer Center, explores how mutations in genes that control growth lead to cancer and has made crucial contributions in understanding how signals that stimulate or regulate cell development are routed.

In 1979, Hunter’s lab made a groundbreaking discovery that a biological process called tyrosine phosphorylation is a chemical “on-off” switch that can trigger the uncontrolled division of cells—the hallmark of many cancers. This important signaling mechanism, which proved to be the underlying cause of many types of human cancer, revolutionized cancer research and, ultimately, resulted in a new approach to treatment of the disease and the development of several innovative therapies as researchers found ways to inhibit the special proteins called tyrosine kinases that are responsible for tyrosine phosphorylation.

Hunter is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society of London. His extraordinary work has garnered international acclaim and numerous awards including the 2006 Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Award for Cancer Research; the 2005 Wolf Prize in Medicine, Israel’s top recognition for achievements in the interest of humanity; the 2004 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, a leading national award for scientific achievement; and Japan’s 2001 Keio Medical Science Prize.

“I am honored to have been selected as the first holder of the Dulbecco Chair, particularly because I am Renato’s scientific “grandson”, having trained with Walter Eckhart, who was himself a postdoctoral fellow with Renato at the Salk,” said Hunter.

Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory at Salk has been at the forefront of developmental biology research and studies how genes and molecules orchestrate the development of an embryo. Through the years he has produced novel cutting-edge results, such as uncovering the genetic network involved in a broad variety of organ embryogenesis, as well as identifying how molecular guide posts direct organs to their rightful place along the body axes in the developing embryo.

His work has given insight into the molecular basis implicated during organ regeneration in higher vertebrates, the differentiation of human stem cells into various tissues, and the molecular basis underlying somatic cell reprogramming. In addition to improving our knowledge on early human development, the research activities of Dr. Izpisúa Belmonte’s laboratory are relevant to understanding the causes that underlie human birth defects, as well as to the future development of regenerative medicine.

Dr. Izpisúa Belmonte has received many notable honors and awards, including the William J. Clinton Presidential Award, the Pew Scholar Award, the National Science Foundation Creativity Award, and the American Heart Association Established Investigator Award, for his endeavors in these fields.

“To be chosen as the inaugural holder of The Guillemin Chair is an enormous privilege for me,” said Izpisúa Belmonte. “Roger Guillemin is the embodiment of a scientific pioneer and visionary and I am delighted and honored to be recognized by my peers in this way.”

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

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