The European Research Council Grants Announced: Six IMRIC Researchers Receive the Prize!

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IMRIC and You
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Molly Livingstone

Molly Livingstone

Molly Livingstone never did well at science, but that hasn’t stopped her from appreciating it. Here at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) she is able to witness first-hand, the innovative breakthroughs changing the face of medicine, on a daily basis. Living in Israel, Molly has the opportunity of visiting the IMRIC labs, talking with the students and faculty about their latest research, and getting to know the people behind these great minds.

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The IMRIC campus is buzzing with good news as word spreads that six IMRIC researchers have won the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) grants. The grants represent a wide variety of research fields throughout the institution and will support breakthrough research for the next few years to come.

The recipients of the award include Prof. Hagai Bergman, Prof. Ora Fruman, Prof. Eli Keshet, Prof. Ofer Mandelboim, Prof. Hanah Margalit and Prof. Amir Amedi. Their labs will each enjoy the fruits of their labor as they continue in their basic science investigations that will change medicine, as we know it.

Prof. Ofer Mandelboim’s research on bacteria and Natural Killer (NK) cells will possibly introduce a new field of research throughout the next few years of study. As he explains, “NK cells that are well known by their ability to recognize and eliminate viruses and tumor cells were also implicated in the defense against bacteria. However, that said, the recognition of viruses and tumors by NK cells is intensively studied but little is understood when it comes to the recognition of bacteria by NK cells. Moreover, we do not know how bacteria is recognized and the functional consequences of such recognition are also weakly understood.” His goal is to aim at answering these questions and to determine the “NK cell receptor-bacterial interactome.”

Prof. Hagai Bergman will continue his research and implementation of closed-loop Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) therapy on mental disorders. This fascinating work has already made headway in the medical world for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. Prof. Bergman told me that he could not have done it without the “amazing students” in his lab that are the ones pushing him and his research forward. To check out a recent vlog from his PhD student Boris Rosin click here. Prof. Bergman will continue to focus his investigations in understanding the effective treatment for Basal Ganglia and their disorders.

Prof. Amir Amedi’s research of brain organization to visual rehabilitation is another unique investigation changing the face of blindness, as we know it today. Through his work in sensory substitution, Prof. Amedi has shown the world that you can see through sound. Today, Amedi’s lab is working on the concept of ‘seeing’ with your ears, hands and bionic eyes. To learn more about his lab’s work check out Graduate student Ella’s recent vlog in which she demonstrates the sensory substitution method and even shares an example for viewers to test themselves.

Prof. Ora Furman will continue her research in protein interactions and functions. The lab uses tools like structure-based computational prediction and manipulation of specific interactions, analysis of evolutionary signals hidden in sequences, and large-scale integration of this data by machine learning approaches, to exploit structures and understand the binding process of protein interaction. “One of our main current research interests is directed towards the accurate modeling of peptide-protein interactions, since these play an increasingly important role in mediating a significant fraction of protein-protein interactions,” she explains on the lab’s website.

Prof. Hanah Margalit, received her grant for “an interdisciplinary genome-wide study of posttranscriptional regulation by small RNAs: from individual interactions to networks and evolution.” Her research is extremely complex, and as explained on the lab’s website, in their studies they are attempting to, “extract by computational analyses new biological insight from large-scale genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic data.” The investigations will hopefully lead to integration of the various types of data in order to understand the interplay between various molecular mechanisms underlying the functioning of a living cell. This complicated research is setting the groundwork for future scientific studies.

Prof. Eli Keshet, like all the researchers, finds great excitement in his scientific explorations. His work continues to focus on the basic mechanisms of biology, which eventually lead to productive clinical trails based on the research uncovered in his lab. Currently he is studying how blood vessels are formed. “Since cancerous tumors depend on a blood supply in order to grow, the ability of scientists to control blood vessel formation would enable them to ‘starve tumors’ as a method of cancer treatment.” His investigations have already led to the FDA-approved antiangiogenic drug for treating colorectal cancer. There is no doubt his research will continue to play a defining role in the understanding of blood vessels and tumors.

The IMRIC researchers, those that have received this grant, or other prestigious awards, continue to focus on research that will change our lives. For them, the award means an opportunity to further their investigations, expand their lab and purchase the best tools. For us, the award means a healthier future, and that is priceless.