“That alone was groundbreaking, but she pushed the limit even further when she began studying Williams syndrome in the early ‘80s and invited several other scientists to join her studies, which were aimed at linking the brain, cognition and genetics,” the association said. “She then insisted that those other scientists get to know Williams syndrome ‘up close and personal,’ inviting colleagues to attend family gatherings she would regularly host at the Salk.
“As a result, these scientists who were looking at brain neurons, or a slice of brain tissue, or stem cells of children with Williams syndrome, began to take a new interest in Williams syndrome and look at their slides with a much more personal view.”
Her professional accomplishments did not go unnoticed. In 2007, Bellugi was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the elite group that was founded during the Lincoln administration to advise Congress on science and technology.
The academy’s members have included such luminaries as Einstein and the late Salk researcher Francis Crick, who shared the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for co-discovering the structure of DNA.
Bellugi found great joy in working, which became apparent in 2015 when The San Diego Union-Tribune asked her why she was still in the lab at age 84. With a smile, she said, “I have a passion for this. I don’t know how to explain it any other way.”
The Salk said in a statement that Bellugi “is survived by her son Rob Klima, her sister Ruth Rosenberg, her brother Hans Herzberger, as well as four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.”