Dr. Meital Gal-Tanamy: Infectious Enthusiasm

Virologist Dr. Meital Gal-Tanamy never let the fact that she is a woman stop her in achieving her professional goals.  A married mother of two, Gal-Tanamy heads the unique Molecular Virology Lab at The Azrieli School of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University, where she is working on developing cures for the hepatitis C virus. Her message to her female students – You can do it!

As an undergrad biology major, Dr. Meital Gal-Tanamy was planning to become a physician.  But during her studies she became fascinated with cancer research. Later on, while deciding where to complete her post-doc dissertation, she wanted to focus on finding an immediate cure for a widely spread ailment. “I wanted to find an immediate cure for a current disease. Not something that can only become useful in the very far future.” So she turned her attention to hepatitis. “Many researchers choose not to focus on finding a cure for cancer, but rather understand the mechanisms of the virus itself. Personally, I planned all along to try and develop antibodies that would neutralize the virus. “

Today, Gal-Tanamy heads the one-of-a-kind virology lab at The Azrieli School of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University campus in Safed.  She states that if she had ever listened to the naysayers along the way, she couldn’t be true to herself and achieve all that she has accomplished thus far.

“I make it a point to tell my female students never to give up on their dreams. I have seen so many of my girlfriends give up their careers and personal ambitions, when I know it can be done.” She maintains that it is never easy, but if you create the needed support system around you, and find a partner who is willing to go the distance with you – it is doable.

And she certainly didn’t fall behind on keeping her promise to herself on providing an immediate solution to a critical need in today’s society. “Hepatitis C is a major cause of both chronic liver disease and liver cancer,” Gal-Tanamy says. “In our lab, we’re examining how the human immune system responds to Hepatitis C infection.” This may eventually help design a new vaccine that could save thousands of lives.  She explains: “Liver cancer is an HIV-like infectious virus that is increasingly affecting large sections of the population. The number of patients today will double within a few years.”  The reason for this alarming statistic is that back in the 1970’s, before the hepatitis C virus was diagnosed, it was present in some blood transfusions, and recipients who contracted it have now developed liver cancer as a result.

About two years ago, a cure for the disease was discovered. But there is yet to develop a vaccination.  “Because people are not vaccinated, they keep transmitting the virus to others,” says Gal-Tanamy.  “In Israel alone, one percent of the population are carriers. In Egypt, for example, it’s more like thirty percent. We have to prepare for an epidemic.”

For Gal-Tanamy, who returned to Israel after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Texas University, this goal is more than just a career path. It’s her life’s mission. She says she came back specifically to the Medical School in the Galilee out of Zionism, to help develop and advance the region, and also, “I was thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of creating Israel’s fifth medical school.” It was also the right choice scientifically, she admits. “I have at my disposal the most advanced lab equipment in the world.”

And what drives her? “You have to dedicate yourself, your life, to what you are doing. I keep reminding myself every day in the lab, every advancement in our research, will save more lives.”
For more on Dr. Gal-Tanamy click here.