Dr. Eli Canaani, Ph.D.
Weizmann Institute of Science
Born in Tiberius, Israel, Dr. Eli Canaani performs his research work at the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Molecular Cell Biology, where he has been since 1981, after earning his doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley and performing postdoctoral work at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. The ICRF has been supporting Dr. Canaani’s research work steadily since 1981.
Canaani’s early research focused on the molecular events that lead to the onset of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (or CML). That work helped pave the way for the development of the drug Gleevec, which targets cancer cells and is now routinely prescribed to patients with CML. It was later found that the molecular changes Canaani discovered – the exchange of portions of two chromosomes – are common in other types of leukemias, as well as in lymphomas, and soft tissue tumors.
“Many groups of researchers are now looking at genes directly involved in human cancer, but when our research began in the early 1980s, the field was relatively new,” he said. “The ICRF helped small groups, such as mine, make their mark.”
Together with Dr. Robert Gale, an American hematologist who spent a sabbatical in Canaani’s lab at Weizmann, they focused on a famous chromosome translocation termed the “Philadelphia Chromosome,” associated with CML. After much research, Canaani and his team were able to demonstrate that as a result of the exchange between chromosomes 9 and 22, two genes fuse and produce a leukemic fused protein. This was the first time that the making of a fusion protein was associated with a specific cancer.
The identification of the leukemic fusion protein triggering Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia prompted research groups in universities and in industry to study the protein biochemically, and attempts were made to devise a drug that would inhibit it specifically. This “rational therapy” approach led to the development of the drug Gleevec, which made international headlines when it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2001.
“Gleevec is probably the most striking example of a new class of anti-cancer drugs based on the identification of a protein that triggers a specific cancer, and which is designed to inhibit this protein,” Canaani said. In addition to CML, Gleevec, made by Novartis AG, has also been approved for use in controlling a type of stomach cancer called GIST, and several other diseases. By 2011, Gleevec has been FDA approved to treat ten different cancers. An international analysis of patients with CML, for which Gleevec was originally designed, reportedly found that 89 percent of patients who have been taking the drug daily for five years are still alive and well today.
Though not directly involved with the development of Gleevec, Canaani said he is satisfied that the “the drug is based on fundamental insights into the origin of the disease provided by my work and that of several other scientists.” “It doesn’t happen very often that you see your research come to fruition – where a drug is developed as a direct result of your past work. It is very gratifying but, more importantly for me, those in the field know by whom the original research was done,” he said.
Regarding his research today, Canaani, the father of two (both of whom are entering different fields of medicine), said he had been working for the past dozen years on finding a cure for two types of leukemia: infant acute leukemia and acute leukemia triggered by anti-cancer treatment. These also involve chromosome translocations.
“We know the initial molecular events leading to the aforementioned leukemias, but we now focus on identifying proteins acting at later stages,” he said. “The hope is that once such a protein is identified, a specific drug, like Gleevec, could be devised to repress the protein and halt the disease.”
Dr. Howard Cedar, M.D., Ph.D.
Hebrew University/Hadassah Medical School
Prof. Howard Cedar was born in New York. He received his B.Sc. in Mathematics from M.I.T. and then went on to do an M.D. and Ph.D. in Microbiology at N.Y.U., followed by postdoctoral research at N.Y.U. and then the National Institutes of Health. In 1973, he immigrated to Israel where he joined the faculty of the Hebrew University, becoming a full professor in 1981. Prof. Cedar has the distinction of being ICRF’s first Research Professorship recipient, the highest and most prestigious ICRF grant category, and his ground-breaking research work has been supported continuously by the ICRF since 1987.
Prof. Cedar is the recipient of numerous awards for his research, including the Israel Prize in Biology in 1999 and the Wolf Prize in Medicine in 2008, which is described as Israel’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. He received the highly-prestigious Emet Prize in Life Sciences in 2009; and, more recently, became one of five recipients of the 2011 Canada Gairdner International Awards. The awards were created by the Gairdner Foundation to recognize the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life. The Gairdner prizes have become Canada’s foremost awards in the field of biomedical science. Seventy-six of the awardees have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.
Prof. Cedar’s laboratory is involved in understanding how genes are regulated during development. Every person inherits his genes from his parents, and since the genetic material is copied in its entirety before every cell division, the full complement of genes is found in every cell of the body. Interestingly, each tissue expresses only a subset of these genes – those that are necessary for its function. For this reason, there are molecular mechanisms within the cell which are used to turn genes on and off and, in this way, modulate their activity.
One of the most important mechanisms for repressing genes is DNA methylation. By modifying a gene with a chemical cap (methyl group), the cell effectively turns off that gene. In Cedar’s laboratory, they are trying to understand how methylation works, how these gene-specific patterns are established, and what are the factors that allow the cell either to add new methyl groups or take away existing ones. In this way, we will eventually understand how genes are turned on and off in a programmed manner during development.
It is well known that DNA methylation is abnormal in cancer and that this brings about the silencing of many genes. Recently, Prof. Cedar has succeeded in decoding the mechanism of this process, and has shown that genes destined for silencing are actually “marked” in normal cells from early in development. These results imply that many properties of cancer cells are actually preprogrammed. This observation should help in the development of new approaches for targeting and, thereby, preventing the fundamental pathology of cancer.
Dr. Aaron Ciechanover, M.D., Ph.D.
Technion Israel Institute of Technology
Dr. Ciechanover has been awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He is also the winner of the prestigious Albert and Mary Lasker Award 2000. The Albert and Mary Lasker Medical Research Awards annually focus attention on an elite list of contributors who have made major advances in the understanding and diagnosis of many challenging diseases. Out of 300 awards presented since 1945, 60 Lasker laureates have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Ciechanover and two colleagues were recognized for their groundbreaking discovery of the ubiquitin system, a protein degradation that critically influences vital cellular events, cell cycles and malignant transformations. The ubiquitin system has been implicated in the pathogenesis of many human diseases including Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Ciechanover was born in Hungary and emigrated to Israel in 1950. He earned a M.D. in 1964 and a Ph.D. in 1969 from Hebrew University, Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. In 1971, Dr. Ciechanover completed an International Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Medical Center, in San Francisco. He is currently the Director of the Rappaport Family Institute for Research and Professor of Biochemistry at the Technion Israel Institute.
Dr. Alberto Gabizon, M.D., Ph.D.
Shaare Zedek Medical Center
Dr. Gabizon, of the Hadassah University Hospital, received international recognition for the development of Doxil, an FDA-approved drug used in the treatment of a form of cancer in AIDS, as well as breast and ovarian cancer. This drug uses a totally new delivery system that might also be used to reduce side effects found in other drugs. The drug is packaged in a fatty bubble called a “liposome” which allows the drug to be delivered directly to the tumor site without damaging surrounding body parts. Liposomes are so small that they can float through the bloodstream and slip through the body’s defenses unnoticed. The tiny balloons bypass healthy organs and deposit themselves directly inside tumors.
Dr. Gabizon earned his M.D. from the University of Granada in Spain, and his Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
Dr. Regina Golan-Gerstl, Ph.D.
Hebrew University/Hadassah Medical School
Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, Dr. Regina Golan-Gerstl is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem.
Regina began her academic career at the Uruguay University where she received a B.S. in biology, followed by MSc studies in the field of naive and memory T cells in the Immunology Department, the Lautenberg Center at the Hebrew University. After completion of his PhD studies in the field of apoptosis and proliferation during the pulmonary fibrosis at the lab of Prof. Raphael Breuer, Regina joined the lab of Dr. Rotem Karni as a postdoctoral fellow to study the role of HNRNPA2/B1 splicing factor in cancer.
Dr. Golan research is focused in HNRNPA2/B1 splicing factor (one of the proteins that control alternative splicing) and how this protein contributes to cancer development, tumor progression. Dr. Golan is also trying to identify the genes which are regulated by HNRNPA2/B1. This study has the potential to uncover new molecular aspects of cancer, and to provide new opportunities for diagnosis and therapy.
Dr. Golan is married to Shay, and they live in Maale Michmas. They have four childrens, Rajeli, Esther, Talia and Ilel.
Dr. Yoav Henis, Ph.D.
Tel Aviv University
Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Dr. Yoav Henis is the former Chair of the Department of Neurobiology (which was then called Neurobiochemistry); he is a Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and the incumbent of The Zalman Weinberg Chair in Cell Biology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University.
Dr. Henis began his academic career at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he received a B.Sc. in Chemistry and Biochemistry (Cum Laude), followed by a Ph.D. (Summa Cum Laude) in Biological Chemistry at the Hebrew University, which won him the Kennedy-Lee Prize for the outstanding Ph.D. thesis of the year. Supported by a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellowship from the Weizmann Institute, he spent nearly three years at Washington University Medical School (St. Louis, MO), where he worked on the development and application of biophysical laser-based microscopy studies to follow the motion of fluorescent signaling proteins in live cells. In 1981 he assumed his first independent position as a Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the USA) in the Department of Biochemistry at Tel Aviv University, where he quickly advanced to the ranks of Senior Lecturer (1985), Associate Professor (1988) and Full Professor (1993). In 1995 he moved to the newly formed Neurobiochemistry Department (later renamed Neurobiology) and served as its Chair for several years. To widen the scope of his studies on cancer, he spent several years on sabbaticals in top institutions in the US (3 years at the Whitehead Institute, M.I.T., Cambridge, MA; Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Berkeley, CA; and most recently Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC).
Dr. Henis has a long-term interest in “cancer biophysics”, combining cell biology with membrane biophysics to elucidate the action mechanisms of cancer-related proteins. He studies the dynamics, organization and interactions at the live-cell surface of proteins that either inhibit cell growth and cancer (focusing on the transforming growth factor-, TGF-, receptors) or that promote cancer development (oncoproteins such as Ras and Src). His major aim is to understand how the interactions of these proteins with the cell membrane contribute to cancer. His research is being supported by grants from the Israel Science Foundation, US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, the German-Israel Foundation (GIF), and importantly by the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF).
Dr. Henis has headed for many years grant review committees of the Israel Science Foundation, and served as a reviewer for each of the Israeli granting agencies. He has also served on numerous committees at Tel Aviv University: The Supreme Nominations Committee, and The University’s Central Steering Committee. He has been a member of the academic Senate of the University since 1995.
Dr. Henis and his wife, Haya, live in Tel Aviv, Israel. They have a daughter (Sivan Henis-Korenblit) who has just returned to Israel last year (as a Senior Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University) after a post-doctorate at UCSF, studying genetics of aging diseases and cancer using C. elegans as a model organism, and a son (Barak Henis), who is the Vice President of Diamonds Direct Crabtree in Raleigh, NC (a subsidiary of a Tel Aviv-based company) that produces and markets directly high-end diamond jewelry.
Dr. Avram Hershko, M.D., Ph.D.
Technion Israel Institute of Technology
Dr. Hershko has been awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He was born in 1937, in Karcag, Hungary. In 1950, Hershko and his family emigrated from Hungary to Israel. Hershko is a Distinguished Professor at the Unit of Biochemistry, the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa, Israel. He became a Professor at the Technion in 1980, and was an Associate Professor there from 1972 to 1980.
Dr. Hershko and Dr. Ciechanover won their Nobel Prize for discovering a process that lets cells destroy unwanted proteins. Dr. Herhko started researching how proteins are “degraded” in cells thirty years ago. He and his then student, Aaron Ciechanover, discovered the ubiquitin/proteasome system.
In 2003, the FDA announced the approval of Velcade, a new treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, “the first in a new class of anticancer agents.” Velcade, Dr. Hershko noted, “is the first drug specifically targeted against the uiquitin system. It is based on our research. Many other new drugs will be discovered which are targeted against specific processes that go wrong in the ubiquitin system in different types of cancer. These include cancer of the colon, breast, prostate and melanomas.
Dr. Keren Levanon, M.D., Ph.D.
Sheba Cancer Research Center
Dr. Levanon began her academic career at Tel Aviv University as one of 10 students in the entire University admitted to the Adi Lautman’s disciplinary program for outstanding students. Shortly after beginning her studies in the Sackler School of Medicine she sought a way to combine research and clinical work and joined the M.D.-Ph.D. program, which was still evolving. She earned her Ph.D. and M.D. degrees from The Sackler School of Medicine at Tel-Aviv University, in 2002 and 2005, respectively. She began her oncology residency at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center before embarking on her postdoctoral fellowship.
Accompanied by her husband and 4 young children, Keren spent three years at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, a Harvard University Affiliate, in Boston, MA, working on cellular models and the molecular biology of ovarian cancer, focusing on translational research with the motivation to address the urgent problems arising from the clinic. She was awarded several prestigious fellowship grants for her research projects.
In 2009 she returned to the Chaim Sheba Cancer Center, where she currently works as a medical oncologist, involved in the care of breast and ovarian cancer patients and in clinical trials, and as the head of the ovarian cancer research lab in the Sheba Cancer Research Center. The lab studies the genetic events that lead to ovarian cancer, with the aim of developing early detection biomarkers, preventive options or biologically targeted therapy. The lab now employs 2 post-docs and a PhD student. Dr. Levanon has earned additional competitive research grant.
Dr. Levanon and her husband, Erez, who is an assistant professor in Bar Ilan University, live in Petach Tikva, Israel. They have four children, ages 6-14.
Dr. Carmit Levy, Ph.D.
Tel Aviv University
Born in Jerusalem, Israel, Dr. Carmit Levy is a young principle investigator, established her own lab at Tel-Aviv University on April 2011, after completing a post-doctoral studies at the lab of David Fisher, at Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA.
Dr. Levy began her academic career at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, where she received a B.A. in biology, followed by a M.Sc. studies at the Pharmacology school. During her M.Sc. studies she had initiated a unique combination between Botanic and Pharmacology research and identified active compounds in medical herbs.
Once complete her M.Sc. studies, Dr. Levy started her Ph.D. studies, where she deciphered the molecular mechanisms underlying MITF transcription factor regulation in mast cells and melanoma. MITF is the master regulator of melanocytes, the retinal pigmented epithelium, mast cells and osteoclasts and is an amplified oncogene in a fraction of human melanomas. At that time, little was known about factors involved in MITF activity regulation. Dr. Levy’s work was one of the first descriptions of a factor involved in the repression of MITF activity. Her Ph.D. thesis yield seven scientific publications, by which four as the primary author. Following her Ph.D. studies, Dr. Levy joined the lab of Dr. David Fisher at Harvard Medical School in Boston, for a post-doctoral research. During her post-doctorate she had studied the role of miRNAs in melanocyte and melanoma development and led three projects. First Dr. Levy identified a novel role for DICER and miRNAs in melanocyte differentiation (Levy et al., Cell, 2010). Second, Dr. Levy deciphered the role of miRNA-211 in melanoma migration and invasion (Levy et al., Mol Cell, 2010). And third, she had studied microRNA biogenesis and published one work (Levy, Bioinformatics 2010) and submitted another.
Dr. Levy has recently opened her own lab at Tel-Aviv University, in where she will continue to study the role of microRNAs in development, differentiation and malignant transformation of melanocyte (melanoma). In addition, her lab will explore basic microRNA biogenesis processes using melanoma as a model. Dr. Levy’s lab studies will focus on melanocytes, with the goal to develop novel approaches in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of skin cancer in general and melanoma in particular.
Dr. Yosef Shiloh, Ph.D.
Tel Aviv University
Dr. Yosef Shiloh is Myers Professor of Cancer Genetics and a Research Professor of the Israel Cancer Research Fund, in the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at the Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University. He obtained his B.Sc. degree at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in his native Haifa, and continued his graduate studies in Human Genetics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem for both his M.Sc. and Ph.D. He trained further at Harvard Medical School and the University of Michigan and was a Fogarty Fellow at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. He is a member of The Israel National Academy of Sciences and Humanities and won the 2005 EMET Prize in Life Sciences, the 2011 American Association of Cancer Research G.H.A. Clowes Award for outstanding accomplishments in basic cancer research, and the 2011 Israel Prize in Life Sciences.
Dr. Shiloh has dedicated most of his scientific career to understanding the severe human genetic disorder, ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), caused by a defect in a central mechanism that maintains the stability and integrity of the DNA molecule. He began his quest to understand this disease while working on his Ph.D. thesis. This quest culminated in 1995 in the identification of the gene mutated in A-T patients, the ATM gene, in his lab. The Shiloh lab has since been studying the function and mode of action of the ATM protein, the product of the A-T gene, and the complex signaling network that ATM activates in response to DNA damage.
In addition to his research, Dr. Shiloh devotes considerable time to giving popular scientific lectures to the general public and high school students on the medical, social and ethical implications of the genome revolution and its effect on cancer research and therapy.
He is married to Dr. Shoshana Shiloh, Professor of Psychology at Tel Aviv University. Their son, Amir is Head of the News Desk in the Israeli Internet portal “Walla!”, and their daughter, Ruth, is a graduate student in cell biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science.