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Honoring the Memory of Jonas Salk, Polio Vaccine Inventor, on his 106th Birthday Anniversary, During the COVID-19 Pandemic

La Jolla CA— As people across the world anxiously await the promise of an effective vaccine to end the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 220,000 Americans and more than 1.1 million globally, it is important to remember a time when the world faced similar challenges and, through scientific research, found answers that changed the course of history. On October 28, the Salk Institute honors the accomplishments of our founder, Jonas Salk, on his 106th birthday.

In 1955, Salk’s polio vaccine brought worldwide relief when it was declared a success and helped end the annual scourge of polio pandemics. Salk’s vaccine would transform a relatively unknown physician-scientist into a scientific hero, and he became celebrated around the world. His work changed the course of history, helping end the fear caused by the devastating annual outbreaks of polio and giving the world hope that science could be a bulwark against infectious diseases. Now, more than ever, it is important to remember that science will find answers to end the coronavirus pandemic.

Not one to rest on his laurels, in 1960—with funding from the March of Dimes and land from the city of San Diego—Jonas founded the Salk Institute so scientists could continue to conduct the kind of basic research that tackles the world’s most pressing problems. He collaborated with architect Louis Kahn to create a building that would be a “monument to science” and a place “worthy of a visit by Picasso.” Today, the Salk Institute is considered one of the greatest examples of modernist architecture in the world and is visited annually by tens of thousands of architecture fans and those with a passion for scientific discovery.

Scientific research at the Institute continues daily on many of the most pressing challenges facing humankind, despite the complications created by the pandemic. Salk has launched 11 new research projects to better understand the basic science around SARS-CoV-2 virus (coronavirus) and COVID-19 infection.

And Salk scientists, following in the footsteps of the Institute’s founder, are continuing to lead the way in making groundbreaking discoveries into aging, cancer, genetics, immunology, neuroscience and plant biology. In particular, three Salk research initiatives are pushing the boundaries of scientific exploration:

The Harnessing Plants Initiative is an innovative, scalable and bold approach to fight climate change by optimizing a plant’s natural ability to capture and store carbon and adapt to diverse climate conditions. The Conquering Cancer Initiative is a scientific and philanthropic initiative to bring together scientists in collaboration to harness new strategies against five deadly cancers: pancreatic, ovarian, lung, brain (glioblastoma) and triple negative breast. And the Optimizing Aging Initiative uses a multidisciplinary approach to understand the fundamentals of aging and how interactions between the major systems of the body contribute to age-related diseases.

During this unparalleled period in history, communities across the world are navigating the new challenges of everyday life with a deepening recognition for, and appreciation of, the central role science plays in global health and well-being. Today, the Salk Institute stands as a reminder of the power of science to, in the words of Jonas Salk, “turn dreams into reality.”

Jonas Salk passed away in 1995, but his faith in the transformational power of science lives on through the dedicated researchers at the Institute and around the world. Thanks to their tireless efforts, science is again offering the world hope—hope that the pandemic will be stopped; hope that life will return to normal, hope that trust in scientific research is humanity’s best strategy. Today, Jonas’ birthday is a reminder of the power of science to improve our world.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Every cure has a starting point. The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk’s mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology, plant biology and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer’s, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin. Learn more at: salk.edu.

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