March 25, 2021
LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Thomas Albright has been awarded $1 million and Assistant Professor Edward Stites awarded $500,000 by The Conrad Prebys Foundation as part of its inaugural round of grants. The funding will support Albright’s project looking at how our visual sense changes as we age or gain experience at new visual tasks, and Stites’ project investigating how specific FDA-approved drugs function against three types of melanoma mutations, which drive approximately 80 percent of melanomas.
In total, The Conrad Prebys Foundation allocated $78 million in grants to fund 121 projects. Salk joins a long list of recipients, which included other prominent San Diego institutions such as Rady Children’s Hospital, Sharp HealthCare, KPBS, Scripps Research, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and Mingei International Museum, among others.
“We are incredibly grateful to The Conrad Prebys Foundation for including Salk in its inaugural grant cycle,” says Salk President and Professor Rusty Gage. “Conrad, who was a Salk Trustee, maintains a special legacy at the Institute due to his overwhelming generosity over the years. These new grants will help our scientists reach critical understandings that might have considerable benefits for human health in the future.”
Professor Thomas Albright, director of Salk’s Vision Center Laboratory and Conrad T. Prebys Chair in Vision Research, will use novel approaches to understand how experience and age affect the brain’s abilities—in visual sensation, perception and decision-making—to adapt. His team will investigate how the visual system functions to improve performance on demanding visual tasks and decisions, as well as and how to reverse or mitigate impairments of visual function that are associated with aging.
Assistant Professor Edward Stites, who is a physician-scientist and the Hearst Foundation Developmental Chair, combines mathematical and computational approaches with experimental cancer biology to unravel the relationships between cancer-causing mutations and the response to treatment. Despite personalized cancer medication being within reach, physicians and scientists still aren’t able to use specific genomic data to predict which cancer drugs will provide the biggest benefit for an individual patient. In 2019, the Stites lab discovered the mechanism of why some patients with a certain gene mutation benefit from a chemotherapy drug called cetuximab. Now his lab is applying their computational and experimental approach to three common forms of melanoma, each of which is caused by a different mutation within the biological system that causes cancer growth.
According to The Conrad Prebys Foundation, its selection process for the grants came at a unique time in history, and the awarded applicants reflect a balance between focus areas of personal interest to Conrad Prebys—including visual and performing arts, higher education, medical research, healthcare, youth development and animal conservation—and the urgent needs of these communities, which have been upended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The past year has highlighted the imperative behind-the-scenes work that researchers are conducting to ensure we have the insights, treatments and medicine we need to keep communities healthy,” says Erin Decker, director of grantmaking at The Conrad Prebys Foundation. “The foundation is honored to have a role in ensuring these meaningful research projects have the resources needed to fuel future solutions in medical care.”
About The Conrad Prebys Foundation
The Conrad Prebys Foundation was established by real estate entrepreneur Conrad Prebys to perpetuate his commitment to philanthropic endeavors. The Conrad Prebys Foundation inspires transformational change by funding projects in alignment with Conrad Prebys’ legacy interests and continuing his efforts that spark meaningful advancement in our communities. For more information, visit www.ConradPrebysFoundation.org.
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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.