I was reminded recently of the magnificent power science has to transform our world for the good of all humankind. I received a hand-addressed envelope in my office, something that has become increasingly rare since the advent of email. The author, a longtime supporter of Salk, wrote a deeply personal letter explaining his profound gratitude for Jonas Salk and his establishment of the Institute.
The writer told me about how, in the early 1980s, he sent a letter to Jonas Salk wishing him a happy birthday and expressing gratitude for the impact Salk’s vaccine had on the author’s life. Despite Salk’s fame, not to mention the demands of his research and role leading the Institute, he found time to reply and express his gratitude for the birthday wishes. While Salk was appreciative that his work helped protect the writer’s children from polio, he wrote that he remained hopeful that children across the world would also benefit from his discovery. Today, the World Health Organization reports that 85 percent of infants worldwide receive vaccination against polio. Only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria still harbor the disease; sadly, war and extreme poverty continue to create barriers to polio’s complete eradication.
As with so many in the writer’s generation, the polio vaccine Jonas Salk developed and gifted to humankind transformed the writer’s life. He and countless others stand witness to a world where polio killed and maimed indiscriminately. They remember when the only treatment was quarantine or an iron lung. And they still treasure the announcement, in April 1955, that Salk’s vaccine was safe and effective, news that was greeted as a miracle and trumpeted in headlines worldwide.
Much has changed since that historic day when Salk announced his discovery, including how we receive correspondence. The exchange of letters between two men whose lives were changed forever by scientific discovery is heartwarming, but it also serves as a reminder of the power of science to make the world a healthier, happier place.
This edition of Inside Salk explores new breakthroughs in our understanding of the human circadian rhythm, spearheaded by Professor Satchin Panda; his findings have significant implications for overall health and wellbeing. We also profile a new generation of scientists who are pursuing their research with passion, curiosity and boldness. Like the renowned Salk researchers in whose footsteps they follow, this generation is seeking scientific discoveries that have the potential to transform their fields and the world. Moreover, their work is receiving well-deserved awards and accolades from prestigious scientific institutions and foundations.
While we celebrate the successes of our young scientists, we are also reminded that life is fleeting and we should strive to make the most of it. Within this issue, we mourn the loss but celebrate the lives of two of Salk’s founding fellows: Melvin Cohn, PhD, and Edwin Lennox, PhD.
As 2018 comes to an end, I speak for all of us at Salk in offering our gratitude to you for your unfailing partnership. May the new year bring you health, happiness and a continued curiosity for scientific discovery.
Fred H. Gage
President, Salk Institute