September 21, 2015

Three Salk faculty honored as recipients of endowed chairs

Salk News

Three Salk faculty honored as recipients of endowed chairs

Salk scientists John Reynolds, Ursula Bellugi and Alan Saghatelian have been honored with the dedication of three endowed chairs in acknowledgement of their outstanding contributions and dedication to scientific research. Bellugi and Reynolds were named inaugural holders of the Salk Founders’ Chair and Fiona and Sanjay Jha Chair in Neuroscience, respectively. Saghatalian was named holder of the Dr. Frederik Paulsen Chair in Neuroscience.

Reynolds, professor in the Systems Neurobiology Laboratory, was honored with the Fiona and Sanjay Jha Chair in Neuroscience, which was created through the Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair Challenge. In 2008, Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs created a challenge grant to establish endowed chairs for senior scientists. For every $2 million that a donor contributes toward an endowed chair at the Institute, the Jacobses will add $1 million to achieve the $3 million funding level required to fully endow a chair for a Salk senior scientist.

Reynolds explores the fundamental nature of the computations carried out by the neocortex, including those that enable us to attend to sensory stimuli. He seeks to understand how and why these computations fail in brain disease- research that is essential to developing treatments for disorders in which attention and vision are impaired, such as visual agnosia, Bálint’s syndrome, visual neglect, attentional aspects of autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Sanjay Jha, CEO of GlobalFoundries and Salk Institute trustee says, “It is our great pleasure to support Salk’s phenomenal research, particularly in neuroscience, so we can advance our understanding of the basis for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and depression, and forge new frontiers in neuronal computation.”

Bellugi, has been professor and director of the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience since its inception in 1970. She received the distinguished honor of being named the inaugural recipient of the Salk Founder’s Chair, given on behalf of the Salk President. Bellugi is a pioneer in the study of biological foundations of language and cognition, she is regarded as the founder of the neurobiology of American Sign Language. She was the first to discover the principles of naturally occurring sign languages. Her work led to new discoveries about the functional organization of the brain for language, whether spoken or signed, and provides a striking demonstration of neuronal plasticity.

Bellugi has also pioneered the study of individuals with Williams syndrome (WS), a rare neurogenetic disorder resulting from the loss of specific genes on chromosome 7, which gives rise to unusual prosocial behavior, including a strong drive to approach strangers, over- friendliness yet difficulty with interactions, increased attention to faces, along with specific spatial deficits. Her program examines links across levels, from behavior to brain imaging and genetics, and suggests dysregulation in hormonal pathways underlying social behavior. A collaboration of investigators from Salk and the University of California, San Diego has recently developed pluripotent stem cells as a model system referred to as “Williams in a dish.” This may ultimately provide a substrate for development of new treatments for disorders of social behavior, including autism.

Salk President William R. Brody says, “Professor Bellugi has had more than a lifetime of amazing achievements in the field of neuroscience. She has been a stalwart contributor to the ambience of the Salk Institute and it is a wonderful tribute to her that she will be the inaugural recipient of the Salk Founders’ Chair.”

Saghatelian, professor in the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology, received the Dr. Frederik Paulsen Chair in Neuroscience. Dr. Paulsen established the chair in 1999 when he appointed it to Salk emeritus Jean Rivier.
Saghatelian’s lab focuses on the discovery and characterization of novel bioactive peptides and their role in diseases such as diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disease. Saghatelian’s lab has pioneered the use of mass spectrometry-based approaches to discover hundreds of new human peptide genes. His lab strives to understand the function and regulation of these peptides in human biology and disease.

Dr. Frederik Paulsen, board chairman of Ferring Pharmaceuticals and trusee of the Salk Institute, says, “We are proud to support the Salk Institute and the exceptional faculty whose groundbreaking research leads to discoveries that have a global impact on human health.”

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