American donors put faith (and dollars) in TAU cancer research

November 13, 2007

Will the cure for cancer have a "Made In Israel" stamp on it? American donors to the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) think there is a very good chance it could.

In September 2007, the ICRF gave a $350,000 seven-year grant to Tel Aviv University's Prof. Yossi Shiloh from the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, Sackler School of Medicine. The fund donated tens of thousands more to eight other researchers at the university in a vote of confidence.

This year, awards totalling $1.65 million were announced at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones on September 5, 2007. Tel Aviv University received more than 10% of the overall grants. Ambassador Jones's home was an appropriate venue for the ceremony, as the event marked over 30 years of support for Israeli cancer research by the North American group.

At the ceremony, Prof. Shiloh commented on the fertile ground of cancer collaboration between the U.S. and Israel. "Tonight we are guests at the home of the United States Ambassador to Israel. Holding this event here means more than just having a great venue for the reception. It signifies the strengthening of the scientific ties between the United States and Israel."

He added, "Most Israeli scientists have spent some part of their career in the U.S. Our ties with American science and American funding agencies are now stronger than ever, and collaborative projects nourish the scientific soil in both countries."

Prof. Shiloh, who received his post-doctoral education from Harvard University, made his first breakthrough in cancer research in 1995 when he discovered the gene for the rare genetic disease ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T). He remarks, "A-T is a very complex disease, involving neuronal degeneration, immunodeficiency, extreme radiation sensitivity and a striking predisposition to cancer. It was clear from the start that understanding A-T would open a window to many medical problems, not the least of which is the genetic predisposition to cancer."

The 1995 discovery was hailed by the prestigious American journal Science as the medical equivalent of the "Rosetta Stone" in deciphering the biochemical mysteries of cancer. Since then, Prof. Shiloh's lab has made several seminal discoveries about the function of the A-T gene, especially in its role in defending the living cell from the consequences of radiation damage. This research has paved the way for a more accurate diagnosis of the disease in patients around the world and has led to new directions in the search for potentially effective treatments.

"Prof. Shiloh's research is phenomenal," remarks Leah Susskind, an ICRF chairperson emeritus from New York. "He is just out of this world. Listening to him explaining his research made my heart tick. I should add that we find only the top, top scientists to benefit from our fund, and Prof. Shiloh from Tel Aviv University is definitely one of them."

Although most of the donors to the ICRF prefer to remain anonymous, Susskind says that those who are pouring dollars into Israeli research are not just Jewish supporters of Israel. An unusual number of Christian North Americans, some of whom have benefited from Israeli-developed cancer therapies directly, are also keen on giving to the fund.

Israeli research teams have developed some of the most important cancer therapies used by Americans today. The most well-known examples include Doxil, for breast and ovarian cancer; Gleevec, used against leukemia; the key tumor suppressor p53; and Velcade, for the treatment of multiple myeloma. But Israel isn't the only thing these treatments have in common -- they were all funded during some part of their development cycle by the ICRF.

Concludes Prof. Shiloh, "All of us at Israeli universities feel the enormous contribution the ICRF has made to cancer research here. Since 1975, it has distributed no less than $35 million in grants to Israeli investigators, clearly shaping the landscape of cancer research in Israel. This is research that not only impacts the people of the region, but directly impacts the lives of Americans and people everywhere."
-end-
American Friends of Tel Aviv University supports Israel's leading center of higher learning, the largest Jewish university anywhere. It is ranked among the world's top 100 universities in science, biomedical studies, and social science, and rated one of the world's top 200 universities overall. Internationally recognized for the scope and groundbreaking nature of its research programs, Tel Aviv University consistently produces work with profound implications for the future.

American Friends of Tel Aviv University

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