ANALYSIS The history of scientific breakthroughs

For more than 50 years, the Salk Institute has been at the forefront of biological research. Whether in neurobiology, cancer, metabolism, plant biology or myriad other fields, Salk leads the way, transforming how humanity understands the world in which we live. Salk’s leadership in foundational biological research includes:


Jonas Salk, founder, unveils the first safe, effective polio vaccine


Francis Crick, Salk founding fellow, wins the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the structure of DNA and its role in information transfer in living material


Suzanne Bourgeois joins the Salk Institute and goes on to establish the Regulatory Biology Laboratory and conduct pioneering work on the regulation of gene expression


Robert W. Holley wins the Nobel Prize for the interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis


Catherine Rivier joins the Salk Institute, where she identified a large number of hormonal functions and new endocrine pathways throughout the body


Renato Dulbecco wins the Nobel Prize for discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell


Roger Guillemin wins the Nobel Prize for discoveries concerning the peptide-hormone production of the brain


Tony Hunter and Bart Sefton discover tyrosine phosphorylation, which leads to the creation of a class of cancer drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (e.g., Gleevec, Iressa, Tarceva)


Wylie Vale and colleagues discover, isolate and characterize corticotropin-releasing hormone, involved in the body’s response to stress


Stephen Heinemann and colleagues clone first nicotinic receptor gene, providing a critical tool to pursue receptors on brain cells


Ursula Bellugi leads the way to the watershed discovery that the left hemisphere of the brain becomes specialized for languages, both spoken and signed


Ronald Evans discovers a large family of molecules, called nuclear hormone receptors, that respond to various steroid and thyroid hormones as well as vitamins, revealing primary targets in the treatment of many cancers


Terrence Sejnowski and colleagues demonstrate a brain change (long-term depression) thought to be critical to memory formation


Sydney Brenner wins the Nobel Prize for discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death


Rusty Gage discovers that the adult brain continues producing new neurons throughout the life span in a process called neurogenesis, contrary to accepted dogma


Reuben Shaw discovers that a gene altered in some lung cancers regulates an enzyme used in therapies for diabetes, paving the way for new treatments


Susan Kaech discovers a way to inhibit tumor growth in melanoma and lung cancer by stimulating a certain cell receptor in animal models, with implications for new human therapies


Joanne Chory wins the Breakthrough Prize for her pioneering work deciphering how plants optimize their growth, development and cellular structure to transform sunlight into chemical energy


Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte and his team discover a new type of stem cell that may help overcome a major hurdle in growing replacement organs for humans

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