Dr. Tal Salz – From Basketball Pro to Cancer Researcher

When choosing a university for her undergraduate studies, Dr. Tal Salz had two criteria. First, she was looking for an excellent biotechnology program.  Second, she needed a location that would allow her – when not in the lab – to continue her career as a professional basketball player. Bar-Ilan – situated not far from the three Israeli cities for which Salz played while enjoying a multi-year stint as captain of the women’s national team – was a slam dunk.


“I attended classes in the mornings, and studied at night or on the way to games,” Salz recalls. “It was no picnic, but I have always enjoyed a challenge.”


Salz – a dual Israeli-American citizen who grew up on Kibbutz Mahanayim – soon fell in love with the challenge of scientific research. After graduation, she moved to the U.S., where she worked in a microbiology lab before being admitted to a PhD program in Medical Sciences at the University of Florida. Today, she is a post-doctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.


“My interest is cancer epigenetics – a field which focuses on how non-genetic factors lead to changes in gene expression and biological function,” she says. “Specifically, I address the question of how genome-wide modulation of histones – conserved proteins critical for ‘packaging’ DNA into the nucleus – contribute to the progression of cancer. My ultimate goal is to apply epigenetic strategies towards the development of novel therapeutic applications.


Salz asserts that, like basketball, science requires single-minded focus. “I knew I could not sustain both careers,” she says, adding that academic pressure, as well American rules barring professional athletes from college basketball teams or even intramural sports, brought her athletic career to a close. Still, she says, she has no regrets. “My passion for science – something I discovered at Bar-Ilan – has opened up a whole new playing field.”