|A Friday Story|
Since the culmination of the Human Genome Project in April 2001, scientists have been able to analyze our genetic make-up by examining our DNA. This has led to development in the field called personalized medicine – the tailoring of the treatment to the individual patient. However, as far as I know, they have not yet attributed specific personality traits to specific genes – and I am not sure whether this type of analysis is even being contemplated.
If such a scientific examination were to take place, I am that certain investigators would find that research scientists carry a gene that produces intense curiosity, initiative, innovation and dogged determination. We know this anecdotally; we can see it in Hadassah's physician-scientists and I am sure it is true of others pursing projects not related to medicine.
Even before he became Head of Hadassah's Goldyne Savad Institute of Gene Therapy and The Israeli National Knowledge Center for Gene Therapy, Prof. Eithan Galun, displayed those essential characteristics – and they are evident in the men and women working in the Institute's 11 independent research groups.
I was reminded of these aspects of Prof. Galun's personality recently when it was announced that he would co-chair one of the four Centers of Excellence, the Israeli government established through a new program called I-Core, the Israeli Centers of Research Excellence. Because he took the initiative and tenaciously pursued the project, the essential research he proposed on multi-gene diseases was accepted.
As he explains, the system approach has already proved successful in identifying diseases caused by a single gene. They are usually orphan diseases – rare diseases that affect a small percentage of the population. "Most chronic diseases – arthritis, cancer, inflammatory diseases – are multi-gene diseases whose genes are hard to identify," he says. "A very sophisticated approach is needed to understand these diseases and then develop the therapies. And, many Israelis abroad – mainly in the United States – are involved in this research."
It all began last March, when the Israeli government, in conjunction with the Israel Council for Higher Education and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF), approved the funding for a program to advance research by creating teams of leading Israeli researchers and outstanding Israeli researchers abroad, who would return to Israel and participate in one of the 35 Centers Of Excellence that would be established over the following five years.
Parenthetically, the Israel Science Foundation is the principal funder of academic institutions and the leading grant provider in Israel. Last year, Hadassah's researchers received 7.5 ISF grants for research in the life sciences and medicine; the next hospital received two. Hadassah received the most grants – five – of the 12 "Morasha Grants for Clinical Research to Hospitals." Five is the maximum a hospital is allowed to receive. Hadassah also received two of the 12 "Morasha Grants for Bio-Medical Research." No other Israeli hospital received a grant in this category, the rest were all awarded to universities.
When research topics for the first four centers were announced, none of them were in the field of biomedicine, the science that applies biological and other natural-science principles to clinical practice. Prof. Galun felt the exclusion was a significant oversight. He approached the Council for Higher Education and proposed a Center of Excellence that would examine "Systems‐Level Analysis of the Molecular Basis for Human Diseases: From Genomics to Personalized Therapy." When biomedicine was added to the list of research topics– and other institutions applied – the Hadassah proposal prevailed over all the other competitors, including the Weizmann Institute. This Center of Excellence, which will be located at Hadassah, includes a grant of approximately 20 million New Israeli Shekels.
Israel Prize, Wolf Prize and Gaitner Prize Laureate Prof. Haim Cedar, Head of the Department of Molecular Biology in our Medical School, co-chairs the Center of Excellence and is the Principal Investigator. Their group includes 30 researchers – among them, 15 extremely talented young Israelis, who are currently conducting excellent research in American and European institutions. Because they have been chosen to work on this project, they will return to Israel, to our benefit and theirs. And when they prove their worth, they will be given a tenured position at one of the universities involved.
According to the I-Core structure, each Center of Excellence "will serve as an anchor for scientific infrastructure and research groups in its field." Prof. Galun's proposal includes solidifying five new or established sub-Center's at the different universities that will address specific components of the larger research project. Prof. Cedar and he are now in the process of determining exactly how the project will function.
Israeli scientists usually choose to work abroad because they are offered the opportunity to participate in exciting and groundbreaking research that provides them with intellectual satisfaction, professional advancement and not insignificantly, better pay.
Long before the Israeli government established I-Core, we recognized that this trend was true at Hadassah. We also recognized that we needed to stop it and in fact, reverse it, so we searched for ways – and created programs – to encourage our doctors to pursue their research goals and explore their medical interests. The number of Hadassah doctors conducting research – and the high level of research Hadassah is producing – is more than ample evidence that our efforts are yielding results.
Some of our measures involve providing immediate financial support for our physicians on sabbaticals and fellowships abroad, so they would return home. Although we do not have the financial resources of the Israeli government, generous donors have helped us support this effort.
We have put other programs in place to encourage our doctors to continue their work in Israel and at Hadassah. We assist them in seeking grants and exploring other avenues of funding. We help by expanding their physical facilities and acquiring the equipment they need. And we begin even earlier in their careers. Each year, through our Resident Research Program, we select five exceptional residents from all departments in both hospitals and fund them for two years so they can
put aside their clinical work and concentrate on their research.
We are delighted with the new I-Core program and the possibilities it presents. And we are not surprised that Prof. Galun seized the opportunity and persevered. Clearly, initiative and determination are in his genes. Most of all, we are proud that the Government of Israel has recognized the excellence of our research and our research teams and honored us with this prestigious opportunity.
I am about to leave for the Hadassah National meetings in Las Vegas and look forward to seeing many of you there. The Shabbat stories will resume on July 28th.
Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef