Spotlight

Salk scientists receive $1 million in latest round of BRAIN Initiative grants

Professor John Reynolds, Assistant Professor Saket Navlakha and Postdoctoral Fellow Robert Henley (Ecker lab) have received funds totaling over $1 million in direct costs in the latest round of grant-making from the National Institutes of Health BRAIN Initiative. The transagency effort aims to arm researchers with revolutionary tools to fundamentally understand the neural circuits that underlie both the healthy and the diseased brain.

Ronald Evans named 2018 AAAS fellow

Salk Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Ronald Evans has been named a 2018 fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, for his discoveries on steroid- and orphan-receptor signaling. The receptors Evans discovered are primary targets in the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and leukemia, as well as osteoporosis and asthma.

Saket Navlakha receives CAREER award from NSF

Assistant Professor Saket Navlakha has received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), totaling more than $1 million over the next five years, to study the naturally occurring algorithms in biological systems, such as the branching of a tree root, and compare the network design strategies and optimization principles to that of developing neurons in the brain.

Nicola Allen receives $2.5 million Chan Zuckerberg Initiative early career award

Associate Professor Nicola Allen has received a five-year, $2.5 million Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) as part of a nearly $52 million effort launching the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network to understand the underlying causes of disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease and ALS. Allen will study the role of astrocytes (support cells in the brain), which could reveal details about potential causes of–and treatments for–dementia.

Sreekanth Chalasani advances ultrasound technology for neurological therapy

Associate Professor Sreekanth (“Shrek”) Chalasani, who pioneered the idea of using ultrasonic waves to stimulate neurons and coined the term “sonogenetics,” will participate in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s ElectRx program, with the aim of taking his lab’s work to the next level with $750,000 in new funding. Sonogenetics has the potential to replace pharmaceutical drugs or invasive surgical treatments for neurological conditions like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Janelle Ayres awarded $1.8 million by NOMIS Foundation for novel research on mechanisms to promote health

Associate Professor Janelle Ayres has been awarded $1.8 million over two years by the NOMIS Foundation to study health as an active process in which microbes–including the trillions of microorganisms that call the human body home–initiate interactions that promote the health of the host. Her project, “Harnessing Physiological Health to Treat Disease,” will integrate concepts from evolutionary biology, physiology, host-microbe interaction and ecology to establish a new conceptual framework and approach in which scientists can mechanistically understand what it means to be healthy and can thus understand how to apply this knowledge to treat diseases.

Innovation thrives at Salk

Salk’s Innovation Grants program launched in 2006 from the forward-thinking minds of then-Board Chair Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan. This program fuels out-of-the-box ideas that hold significant promise but do not yet have the track record of success that traditional funding sources require. More than a decade later, the program continues to thrive. Salk is proud to recognize recipients of last year’s competition.

Spring / Summer Awardees

Thomas Albright and Sergei Gepshtein: Sensory neuroscience for better eyewitness identification
Wolfgang Busch, Saket Navlakha and Uri Manor: Root nutrient seeking algorithms
Jesse Dixon: Single cell structural variant profiling in cancer genomes
Xin Jin: Bridging functionality with connectivity: striatal single-cell in vivo patch recording and rabies tracing during action sequence
Susan Kaech and Ronald Evans: Targeting cholesterol metabolism to refuel T cell responses in pancreatic cancer


Fall / Winter Awardees

Edward Callaway: Identifying cortical inhibitory neuron-specific enhancers via epigenetic profiling and high-throughput in vivo screening
Sreekanth Chalasani, Chen-Min Yeh and Gerald Pao: Using activity recorded from a living zebrafish brain to control a robot
Joseph Ecker: Recording the transcriptional history of cells
Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte: Studying transgenerational epigenetic inheritance by developing an epigenetically modified mouse
David Schubert and Antonio Currais: Discovering novel drug candidates for treating Alzheimer’s disease using a unique screening assay for mitochondrial dysfunction

Salk Institute earns Charity Navigator’s highest rating for eighth consecutive time

For the eighth consecutive time, the Salk Institute’s strong financial health and continuing commitment to accountability and transparency have earned it a coveted four-star rating (out of four stars) from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity and nonprofit evaluator. Receiving the highest ranking for eight consecutive review periods puts Salk in a distinguished class of nonprofits–only 3 percent of nonprofits evaluated achieve that status, “indicating that the Salk Institute outperforms most other charities in America,” according to a letter from Michael Thatcher, president and CEO of Charity Navigator.

Salk Board welcomes technology, business giants David Dolby and Mark Knickrehm

“I am thrilled to have David and Mark coming on board as part of our team at Salk,” says Board Chair Dan Lewis. “They both bring an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to the Board. I know they will be integral in identifying the best paths forward to support research and innovation here at the Institute.”

The Salk Institute Board of Trustees comprises proven leaders from global business and nonprofit sectors in order to leverage their expertise and perspective as the Institute continues its important work. These individuals are committed to science, innovation, high-quality research and supporting the Institute’s mission.

David Dolby, an investor and philanthropist based in San Francisco, is focused on science, technology and media. Specifically, he is the managing director of Dolby Family Ventures, where he specializes in accelerating the path to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. This is in addition to roles as director of Dolby Laboratories, director of Cogstate Limited, and CFO of the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund. He also directly manages a portfolio of more than 40 venture investments ranging across Internet technology, medical diagnostics, consumer products, and much more. Dolby is a graduate of Duke University where he earned a bachelor of science in engineering (civil engineering). He earned his MBA from Stanford University. Dolby represents the family on a number of philanthropic and business initiatives that honor the legacy of his late father, Ray Dolby.

Mark Knickrehm is currently the group chief executive at Accenture Strategy and serves on the Global Management Committee at Accenture, one of Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies.” He is widely known as a thought leader on how emerging trends and technologies will impact industry and business models. Prior to his current role, Knickrehm was the director of Accenture’s Global Health Industry Group and led the growth of their Health & Public Service Operating Group. Before joining Accenture in 2005, he spent more than a decade at McKinsey & Company where, as a partner, he guided strategy, operations and organization. Knickrehm earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. His writing on artificial intelligence and traditional employment was published in the Harvard Business Review and he is frequently invited to speak at business conferences on the future of employment and the workplace.

Xin Jin receives McKnight Memory & Cognitive Disorders Award

Xin Jin, an associate professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, has been selected as one of four scientists to receive the McKnight Memory & Cognitive Disorders award from the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience to study how the brain learns, remembers and executes actions. The competitive award, which includes $300,000 over three years and participation in the annual McKnight Conference on Neuroscience, supports “investigators whose research shows promise in bringing society closer to preventing, treating, and curing many devastating diseases,” including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Crick Jacobs center celebrates 15 years of Salk innovation

2019 marks the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Crick-Jacobs Center for Theoretical and Computational Biology at the Salk Institute. This interdisciplinary research unit integrates experimental and theoretical approaches to better understand the brain, from a molecular to a whole-system perspective. The center also investigates how behaviors arise from the interactions between the brain’s many components.

The Crick-Jacobs Center is named in honor of Francis Crick, Nobel laureate and Salk founding nonresident fellow, and Joan and Irwin Jacobs (former Salk board chair) whose philanthropic gift made the center possible.

“The Crick-Jacobs Center is unique because it combines so many different fields of scientific inquiry into a streamlined, cutting-edge research unit,” says the center’s leader and holder of the Francis Crick Chair, Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski. “The center is also a testament to Irwin Jacobs’ vision and philanthropy. Fifteen years ago not many people foresaw the coming influx of big data and subsequent challenge to fuse that with scientific inquiry. Irwin did and he made it a point to invest in that work at Salk. He’s empowered us to be at the forefront of this exciting field and the dividends continue to be highly significant to many areas of research.”

The scientists who work at the Crick-Jacobs Center combine approaches from biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science and engineering to understand the complexity of the brain. By using techniques that include computer simulations, imaging, viral vectors and molecular genetics they have uncovered insights into everything from how the brain encodes sensory signals to new ways to track brain activity. These researchers are joined by collaborators at UC San Diego, Princeton, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Trio of Salk scientists named among most highly cited researchers in the world

Professors Joanne Chory, Joseph Ecker and Rusty Gage have once again been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate Analytics. The list selects researchers for “exceptional research performance” demonstrated by the production of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and year. Additionally, among the 4,058 researchers named as Highly Cited, Ecker is one of 194 appearing in two separate categories: Plant and Animal Science in addition to Molecular Biology and Genetics. The Salk trio has been named to this list every year since 2014—when the regular annual rankings began—for their contributions to plant biology, genetics and neuroscience.

Salk promotes Nicola Allen and Julie Law to associate professor

Nicola Allen is studying how astrocytes control the formation and function of neuronal connections called synapses. She is applying these findings to develop ways to repair damaged synaptic connections in disease to improve cognition and memory. She is part of a newly launched, multidisciplinary $19.2 million effort from the American Heart Association-Allen Initiative supporting 10 Salk labs in the investigation of the mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease and aging-related cognitive decline.

Julie Law is investigating how epigenetic modifications facilitate gene regulation and promote genome stability to enable normal growth and development. By employing genetic, genomic and biochemical approaches, Law is linking the recognition of epigenetic modifications to specific protein complexes and uncovering their roles in gene regulation in plant cells. Law is one of five Salk plant biologists driving an ambitious effort to tackle climate change via the Harnessing Plants Initiative, which aims to make plants much more efficient at storing carbon.

Rusty Gage appointed to five-year term as president

“Aside from being a globally renowned scientist, Rusty is an inspiring leader whose energy, steadfastness and thoughtfulness have been invaluable in helping to guide the Institute. He has accomplished a great deal over the past year,” says Board of Trustees Chair Dan Lewis. “The Board is delighted that he will lead Salk forward into our next chapter as we continue to tackle the most pressing questions in science and to work for the betterment of humanity. Together, working with the Salk faculty, we will set a vision for how scientific research will evolve going forward.”

Having twice served as interim president, Gage will now serve a full term. An internationally recognized leader in neuroscience, he will also continue in his scientific roles as a professor in the Laboratory of Genetics and as the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease.

“Rusty is an extraordinary individual, and I am very excited to see how the Institute continues to evolve under his leadership,” says former Salk Board Chair and philanthropist Irwin Jacobs, cofounder of Qualcomm.

During his nearly quarter century at Salk, Gage has acquired a wealth of experience in scientific research, bolstered by an intimate knowledge of the Institute’s history and culture. Under his leadership, the Institute has recruited dynamic new faculty and launched major research efforts: the Harnessing Plants and the Conquering Cancer initiatives. He was also instrumental in establishing Salk’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.

In December 2018, Gage and a team of nine other scientists at the Institute were awarded $19.2 million from the American Heart Association-Allen Initiative in Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment. The award will fund a comprehensive eight-year investigation of the mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease and aging-related cognitive decline in an effort to uncover new therapies.

“Rusty exemplifies the synthesis of qualities that all top-notch research institutions want in a president–great individual science, a great nose for science in other people, and the honesty and humility to personally connect with people,” says Joanne Chory, professor and director of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory. “He is a consensus builder who will lead by example–treating others with respect and helping them to reach their goals. I look forward to working with him to craft and implement a vision for Salk for the rest of this century.”

Professor Jan Karlseder, the incoming chair of the Salk Institute Academic Council, also lauds the decision. “The faculty looks forward to Rusty’s leadership. It’s rooted in his long history with the Institute and, as a long-standing faculty member, he is intimately familiar with the challenges faced by scientists,” he says.

In addition to these recent achievements, Gage’s work has been recognized with numerous awards. He also belongs to several prestigious societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He previously served as the president of the Society for Neuroscience and the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

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