November 17, 2011

Salk scientists receive significant philanthropic support with five distinguished chair appointments

Salk News

Salk scientists receive significant philanthropic support with five distinguished chair appointments

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce the appointment of five faculty members to be recipients of endowed chairs established by philanthropic leaders in support of scientific research.

The creation of three new chairs and the rededication of two existing chairs is a testament to the strong commitment of private donors who support the Salk Institute and its groundbreaking research. These significant endowments will provide crucial resources to support the laboratories and the innovative research that impacts humanity.

“Each of the chairs established by our generous donors provides vital support that sustain the scientists and their laboratories and are instrumental in encouraging more seminal research,” said William R. Brody, president, Salk Institute. “We look forward to continued success from these outstanding individuals as they push the frontiers of basic research.”

Salk scientists Tom Albright, Sam Pfaff and Martin Hetzer were selected as inaugural holders of the new chairs created through the Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair Challenge.

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 will 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 have committed to add five more chairs to the challenge for a total of 15 endowed chairs. To date, 11 chairs have been established.

Jacobs Challenge Inaugural Chairs:

Tom Albright, professor and director of the Vision Center Laboratory, was appointed as the holder of the Conrad T. Prebys Chair in Vision Research. Albright is an authority on the neural basis of perception, probing the relationship between the activity of brain cells and the experience of perceiving motion. He found that single neurons in a brain area specialized for processing motion exhibited robust form-cue invariance, a discovery that came as a surprise at the time. Albright also uncovered a specific neuronal process by which visual pictorial recall serves to augment sensory data with “likely” interpretations in order to overcome the ever-present noise, ambiguity and incompleteness of the retinal image.

Sam Pfaff, professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory, was selected as the inaugural holder of the Benjamin H. Lewis Chair. Pfaff’s lab explores how nerve cells are formed and wire up correctly, focusing on the fetal development of the spinal cord. Pfaff is especially interested to understand how motor neurons develop and make connections between the spinal cord and muscles in the body, since these connections are necessary for all body movements. Spinal cord injuries lead to paralysis because motor neuron function is disrupted and degenerative diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), spinal muscle atrophy and post-polio syndrome result from the loss of motor neurons.

Martin Hetzer was named the inaugural holder of the Jesse and Caryl Philips Foundation Chair. A professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, Hetzer uses live cell imaging and biochemistry as well as genetic and computational approaches to study the molecular basis of nuclear assembly and its regulation during cell division. The annual endowment will support his research to shed light on the nucleus and how the breakdown of its structure is implicated in disease and enable the development of new technologies for the investigation of aging and neurodegenerative diseases.”

Scientist Joseph Ecker, plant biologist was awarded the Salk International Council Chair in Genetics. Created in 1997,the chair has provided critical resources to further the understanding of genetic contributions to human health.

Salk International Council Chair in Genetics:

Joseph Ecker, professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory is one of the world’s leading authorities on the molecular biology and genetics of plants and the funds from the endowment will annually support his studies. He was a principal investigator in the multinational project that sequenced the genome of Arabidopsis thaliana, a modest weed that has become a model organism for the study of plant genetics and the first plant to have its genome sequenced, an achievement expected to have widespread implications for agriculture and perhaps human medicine as well.

Dennis O’Leary was named the holder of the Vincent J. Coates Chair in Molecular Neurobiology, which was established in 2001 to support research in molecular neurobiology aimed at investigating the chemistry of the brain. Coates and his wife Stella have been important philanthropists to the Salk and provided significant funding to create a mass spectrometry center at the Institute in 2003.

Vincent J. Coates Chair in Molecular Neurobiology:

Dennis O’Leary, professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, studies the development and plasticity of the vertebrate nervous system. His research seeks to understand fundamental developmental events, and to use this knowledge to make the most efficient therapeutic use of stem cell biology and to design effective strategies to overcome birth defects, neurological diseases and disorders, and neural injury.

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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