No one is immune to the effects of the world’s most pressing medical challenges. And none of these challenges are immune to the brilliance and dedication of IMRIC’s researchers. Get to know them a little better by checking out their bios.
My interest in science began when I was a small child in Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet in the north of Israel. I used to catch reptiles and insects just so I could learn about them. My curiosity turned into ambitions of becoming a zoologist. I had dreams of studying animals in the South American rain forests. In order to pursue these dreams I began studying biology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. That’s where I fell in love with genetics and biochemistry. I specifically wanted to understand why and how cancer develops and progresses, affecting the lives of so many people around the world.
Today, in my lab at IMRIC we are interested in how the process of alternative RNA splicing (a fundamental step of gene expression) is de-regulated in cancer and other diseases, and how the proteins that control this process (called splicing factors) contribute to cancer development, tumor progression and the metastatic process.
Some of our findings on new cancer therapies and diagnostic tools are currently being developed by the Hebrew University technology transfer company Yissum.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Understanding what causes cancer always fascinated me. What drives a normal cell to divide uncontrollably, change its entire behavior and wander to different organs is a key question in understanding it. I was always fascinated by the enigma of cancer and this became even more of an obsession when my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and died shortly after diagnosis.
As a Ph.D. student I chose to study the mechanism of metastasis and made some breakthrough observations that were published in the prestigious journal Nature. In this investigation I showed that a tumor is composed of subpopulations of cells that differ in their metastatic properties depending on the expression of certain proteins. At that point of the development of cancer research, it became clear that faulty genes are the cause of cancer and I decided that this area of research has the most promise for a cure for cancer.
To continue my research in this area I have joined the lab of Dr. Barbacid at the National Cancer Institute, USA. Thereafter I discovered a new gene that nobody knew about and named it Vav. This newly identified transforming gene represented the sixth oncogene detected in the laboratory and it was designated Vav, the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Recently, I have shown that Vav plays a major role as a transforming protein in human cancer such as neuroblastoma, pancreatic cancer and lung cancer. This indicates that Vav can be a promising target protein in anti-tumor therapy.
Understanding how a fertilized egg transforms into a tri-dimensional, highly patterned organism is a long-standing challenge in Biology. This main concept can be subdivided into several themes such as:
- How are different cell types generated from initially homogeneous progenitors in the embryo?
- How do these primitive cells migrate directionally to reach their homing sites and then form distinct tissues and organs?
- How are cell movement, cell proliferation and differentiation coordinated to create an organized tissue?
- How do we explain the etiology of congenital malformations based on our knowledge of normal development?
My laboratory deals with the above questions using two model systems, the development of the nervous and skeletal systems in vertebrate embryo models.
The field of Virology interested me because of the molecular biology studies, which can be carried out using the viruses as models. In addition, the way viruses cause diseases and the reaction of the host to virus infection, is of great importance to human beings and animals. Development of drugs active against viruses and viral vaccines are the main subjects and goals of my research and teaching.
I find intellectual excitement in exploring the basic mechanisms of biology and personal satisfaction in the productive clinical trials that result from the basic principles we uncover in our laboratory
At IMRIC, we are 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.
This IMRIC research led us to VEG, a growth factor that can inhibit or promote the activity of tumor angiogenesis. This pioneering work has resulted in an FDA-approved antiangiogenic drug for treating colorectal cancer.
The chemical basis of life has always held my fascination. As a survivor of the Holocaust, I have sought to use my basic scientific research to create a better world. My lab focuses on investigating how human genes are controlled at the RNA level, how stress regulates the inflammatory immune response and the making of hemoglobin, how the Ebola virus evades host defense to renders it highly lethal, how bacterial toxins kill and how we can design antidotes to protect man from lethal toxic shock and sepsis, a subject also important to biodefense, and how the natural anti-cancer response genes of our body that encode immune interferon and tumor necrosis factor are controlled.
I am a proud molecular biologist. Through my work as a PhD student at MIT and as a member of the Biology faculty of Harvard University, and currently in my position as the Philip Marcus Professor of Molecular Biology and Cancer Research here at IMRIC, I continue my research with the goal of finding that next big breakthrough that will change lives. Understanding of molecular mechanism is key to the development of molecules that can save human lives. We are fortunate to have reached that stage.