June 20, 2024

Salk Institute launches Neuroimmunology Initiative with $20 million gift from NOMIS Foundation

Scientists will explore the understudied crosstalk between the immune and nervous systems, and the role it plays in health and disease

Salk News

Salk Institute launches Neuroimmunology Initiative with $20 million gift from NOMIS Foundation

Scientists will explore the understudied crosstalk between the immune and nervous systems, and the role it plays in health and disease

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute will receive $20 million over four years from the NOMIS Foundation to launch a new Neuroimmunology Initiative within the Institute’s NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis. By funding research programs, faculty recruitment, and pilot grants, the generous gift will enable Salk scientists to develop a deep understanding of the crosstalk between the immune and nervous systems and the role it plays in health and disease.

From top left:  Susan Kaech and Nicola Allen. From bottom left: Axel Nimmerjahn and Diana Hargreaves.
From top left: Susan Kaech and Nicola Allen.
From bottom left: Axel Nimmerjahn and Diana Hargreaves.

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Credit: Salk Institute

“We are deeply grateful to the NOMIS Foundation for investing in neuroimmunology and in Salk,” says Salk President Gerald Joyce. “This funding will allow us to tackle currently unaddressed scientific questions, opening fundamentally new areas of scientific inquiry across human health and disease, and paving the way toward innovative therapeutic interventions for a wide range of disorders that have both a neurological and immunological component, such as Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, long COVID, and some forms of cancer.”

The Neuroimmunology Initiative will encompass two interconnected research programs: 1) Body to Brain, which will explore how the immune system and inflammation affect the nervous system; and 2) Brain to Body, which will investigate how the nervous system modulates immune responses throughout the body.

The Neuroimmunology Initiative will be co-led by Professor Susan Kaech, an immunologist, director of Salk’s NOMIS Center, and NOMIS Chair, and Associate Professor Nicola Allen, a neuroscientist. They will work with Professor Axel Nimmerjahn and Associate Professor Diana Hargreaves to guide the Neuroimmunology Initiative’s research aims. The team will also recruit a new cross-disciplinary faculty member and offer pilot grants to allow a broader range of Salk scientists to explore intersections between their current work and the Initiative’s aims and to infuse their research programs with additional expertise and cutting-edge technologies.

As part of this new Initiative, a Neuroimmunology Symposium will be held within the next year, where Salk and other leaders in the Neuroimmunology field will be able to share ideas, seek feedback, and build new collaborations in this space.

“We are excited to take a deep dive into the understudied intersection of neuroscience and immunology,” Kaech says. “This work is important because growing evidence indicates that inflammation is linked to neurodegeneration in aging, and a person’s brain function and mental state can be affected by immune responses. Yet, we don’t fully understand the bilingual communication between cells in our immune system and our nervous system—a language we commonly refer to as neuro-immune crosstalk.”

“We are keen to determine how peripheral inflammation is sensed and interpreted in the central nervous system, and the impact that inflammation has on brain function and behavior,” Allen says.

The NOMIS Foundation has been a valued partner of the Salk Institute for many years. The foundation’s previous gifts led to the creation of Salk’s NOMIS Center in 2008 and subsequently funded several research projects, supported postdoctoral trainees, and enabled faculty recruitment. These resources have sustained and expanded the impact of Salk’s research on immunity and inflammation, and the new donation will further enhance NOMIS’ global reputation for creativity and innovation.

“As a new frontier of biological sciences is emerging at the intersection of immunology and neuroscience, we welcome that Sue Kaech and her colleagues at the NOMIS Center at Salk aim to capitalize on this momentum by launching this Neuroimmunology Initiative,” says Markus Reinhard, managing director of the NOMIS Foundation and vice chair of Salk’s Board of Trustees. “In this area, the researchers will gain a much better appreciation of critical intercommunication between the immune and nervous systems and how it plays a role in health and disease. Salk’s robust foundation in neuroscience and immunology presents a fertile ground for pioneering, fundamental discoveries in mental health, behavior, aging, and chronic diseases that span pathogen-induced conditions, neurodegeneration, and cancer. At NOMIS, we are glad to support world-leading researchers striving for new insights and future advancements in our understanding of fundamental conditions and interdependencies of health and disease.”

The NOMIS Foundation’s gift helps advance the Salk Institute’s Campaign for Discovery, a seven-year, $750 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to attract the people and acquire the technology necessary to accelerate critical research in neuroscience, immunobiology, cancer, healthy aging, computational biology, and plant biology. To learn more, please visit www.salk.edu/Campaign.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
Unlocking the secrets of life itself is the driving force behind the Salk Institute. Our team of world-class, award-winning scientists pushes the boundaries of knowledge in areas such as neuroscience, cancer research, aging, immunobiology, plant biology, computational biology, and more. Founded by Jonas Salk, developer of the first safe and effective polio vaccine, the Institute is an independent, nonprofit research organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature, and fearless in the face of any challenge. Learn more at www.salk.edu.

About the NOMIS Foundation:
NOMIS’ vision is to “create a spark” in the world of science by enabling and supporting pioneering research in the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities that benefits humankind and our planet. Our mission is to support and enable insight-driven science across all disciplines, focusing on researchers who put forth bold new ideas, exhibit a pioneering spirit, and seek to inspire the world around them. The NOMIS Foundation serves as a catalyst for scientific and human progress by supporting interdisciplinary research, establishing collaborative research networks, and developing strategic partnerships. NOMIS endeavors to develop and strengthen the conditions conducive to the pursuit of high-risk basic research and to accelerate discovery and impact.

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