Wednesday, November 23, 2005 | You know a phrase like “40 going on 50” … That was the Salk Institute for Biological Studies the other evening. The title “Sensational Salk” was spot on for the Saturday night black-tie soiree. Big funds were raised to further the Salk Institute’s 40 years of research excellence. That’s 40 going on the 50 years since the Salk Institute’s founder, Jonas Salk, discovered the polio vaccine.

The evening started with champagne, canapés and tasty appetizers by the Sheraton’s Steve Black at the Salk Institute’s Theodore Gildred Courtyard. Dull it wasn’t. Spectacular it was. Violinists played. And they kept playing later as guests strolled into the tented dining area.

Dinner was simple and tasty. Creamy butternut squash, roasted prime steak with a decadent brown sauce, accompanied by braised baby asparagus in blue cheese vinaigrette. Dessert was a Godiva Martini of chocolate, Chantilly chocolate curls and fresh berries.

But this event wasn’t just about food and entertainment. A poignant educational video on the Salk Institute was shown, embodying Salk’s premise that “basic research in biology is where cures begin.”

In that spirit, two scientists were honored with Inaugural Salk Medals. Dr. Paul Farmer, known for his boundless efforts to help eradicate diseases that afflict the poor, was awarded a Salk Medal for Health and Humanity. The award was presented by Jerome Kohlberg, chairman of the board of trustees of the Salk Institute and a member of the selection committee for this Salk award.

Dr. Farmer has concentrated a large part of his efforts in Haiti where he has not only “established a health system that cares for hundreds of thousands of people, but has also built schools and sanitation and water systems, vaccinated all the children, reduced the rate of H.I.V. transmission from mothers to babies, and successfully treated people suffering from drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. … Dr. Farmer is a world-renowned authority on tuberculosis treatment and control.”

Also awarded was Dr. Donald Metcalf, who received the Salk Medal for Research Excellence. The award was presented by Joanne Chory, Salk professor and chairman of the Faculty Selection Committee.

Dr. Metcalf is noted for his development “of biological entities to accelerate the regrowth of blood cells in people with cancer, regrowth of blood cells for chemotherapy patients, and regrowth of blood cells for people with bone marrow or peripheral blood transplantation.”

Dr. Metcalf is also noted for correlating “the function of the thymus gland in controlling the formation of lymphocytes, the immune system’s white blood cells. He and his team discovered the ‘colony-stimulating factors’ (CSF’s), proteins that control white blood cell formation and are, therefore responsible for a person’s resistance to infection.” This research is used in clinics worldwide.

The Salk Awards were designed by international artist Paloma Picasso. Picasso is the daughter of Francoise Gilot, an international artist herself, as well as the widow of Jonas Salk.

The Salk event stood out for guest Judith Harris. “It was the best combo of education and entertainment that I’ve been to in a long time,” she said. And that’s saying a lot. Harris has been integral to some of the “best of the best” fund-raisers, in San Diego, Los Angeles and New York.

Amidst the many there enjoying a scintillating scientific evening were Noni and Drew Senyei, Muffy and John Reed of the Burnham Institute, Stacy and Paul Jacobs of sponsoring Qualcomm, chairs Marilyn and Doug Sawyer, co-chairs Carol and Jeff Chang, and Dixie and Ken Unruh, and Renee and Duane Roth.

Roth is the executive director for CONNECT, a nonprofit organization that fosters entrepreneurship in technology and life science businesses. He’s been busy. Among the many scientific and educational events he has attended, Roth was the featured guest speaker for the ARCS Foundation’s recent luncheon. ARCS has the same “connected” mindset. It generates scholarships for exceptional college scientists.

Also there at the Salk event was the Kellogg family. Tiffany and Shawn Worst were there, as well as Tricia and Bill Kellogg. Bill was on cloud nine that evening. Not only was he supporting a terrific event, but Bill had also just received news that the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club was confirmed to host The Davis Cup February 10-12. As president of the club and an avid tennis player, this is a dream come true for Bill.

At the Salk Institute, scientific dreams and visions become reality – Nobel Prize winners, top scientists and an environment to make it happen.

Rhonda Perciavalle is living her dream at Salk. Perciavalle, a UCSD grad, has followed her science research goals to the Salk Institute. She is working as a research assistant in the molecular and cell biology laboratory. Perciavalle explains, “I feel very privileged to be here.” Perciavalle admires Assistant Professor Andrew Dillin, “who studies aging and neuro-degeneration, using the worm C. elegans as a research model. Dr. Dillin has taught me never to be afraid of taking a risk, even in the face of opposition. He has shown me that it takes courage to endure such a risk, but often it leads to something great!”

And great is what the Salk Institute is about. To become “sensational,” requires chutzpah. Jonas Salk had it. The Salk scientists have it. It’s no wonder that Salk is “where cures begin.”

To learn more about the Salk Institute, please visit on

Margo Schwab, an alumna of the University of San Diego’s graduate business school, reports on social/charity events, celebrities and restaurants.

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