Salk Institute begins fundraising effort

Institute looking to raise $300M

LA JOLLA, Calif. - One of the world's leaders in medical breakthroughs has launched a major fundraising campaign for the very first time.

Two weeks after hosting the First Lady Michelle Obama at his La Jolla home, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs -- one of President Barack Obama's top contributors -- was urging people to pitch in to help support the Salk Institute.

Jacobs has donated $30 million to the institute since 2006, and he said the institute was one of the reasons he chose to move to San Diego in the 1960s.

"[I] was very impressed with the promise that it had with the vision of Jonas Salk and the vision that it had for scientific research," Jacobs said.

The Salk Institute has waged war on some of the fiercest illnesses. Now, they are asking for help of their own to meet their target goal of $300 million.

Jennifer Ehren, who has been working to battle some of the world's most complex and crippling conditions at Salk for the past three years, said, "I'm really passionate about continuing our research. I just know I have to do it."

In March 2011, just six weeks before her wedding, that battle became personal when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"That was just devastating because I was just … I was so scared," Ehren explained.

Cancer is one of the four areas the Salk Institute wants to focus on, along with healthy aging, dynamic brain and genomic medicine.

Salk Institute Cancer Center Director Tony Hunter has spent 40 years digging for answers and treatments, but seems hungry as ever.

"It's been exciting and frustrating," Hunter said. "It's been exciting because we've made so much progress in the past 40 years.It's frustrating because there's so much more to do and there isn't enough funding to do everything we want to do."

Hunter said stories like Ehren's keep him determined to discover new treatments.

"It's inspirational. It's amazing to have been part of research that has actually led to new therapies for cancer," Hunter said.

After a mastectomy and chemotherapy, Ehren believes a new drug known as Herceptin is the reason she made it to her wedding day.  

"Otherwise I think my cancer diagnosis would have been a death sentence," Erhen said.

It is the reason she's now looking to the future, hoping to develop new drugs and save more lives.

"If I was given a new lease on life I'm going to use in a good way to help other people," she added.

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