Prof. Bilha Fischer: Fingerprinting the way to cure cancer

Cancer patients want effective medical care, and they want it now. But when it comes to cancer of the breast, there’s a problem: the initial diagnosis sometimes marks the beginning of a long process, in which doctors struggle to identify the best therapeutic approach. BIU Prof. Bilha Fischer is facing this problem with a new biotechnological solution – a fluorescent probe that “fingerprints” the tumors, or identifies their hidden characteristics.

“In our lab, we’re diagnosing breast cancer, which is not a single condition, but rather a family of diseases, characterized by the presence of specific molecular markers,” says Fischer, an expert in medicinal chemistry who holds eleven patents, has published more than 90 papers, and is the former head of BIU’s Chemistry Department. “To ensure effective treatment, we need a molecular-level diagnosis of each tumor. This would allow doctors to choose the personalized strategy of chemotherapy, radiation or surgery that is most likely to work.”

According to Fischer, the key to tumor “fingerprinting” lies in small pieces of genetic information called messenger RNA, which are involved in transforming genes into the biologically active proteins. . “Today, doctors identify breast cancer with a combination of ultrasound and histochemistry, but have no means of defining the individual tumor type,” she says. “Our method – which is simple, fast, cost-effective and very sensitive – could make the treatment of breast cancer more scientific, and save lives.”

Fischer sees science not just as a profession, but a vocation. To her, this is a personal as well as a national mission. “I believe that Israel, which is almost devoid of natural resources, should focus on its scientists and engineers to promote the Israeli economics.”

In addition to her scientific endeavors, Fischer is also Advisor to the Rector on the Advancement of Women at Bar-Ilan. In this capacity, she has introduced a number of initiatives designed to assist female faculty members, as well as undergraduate and graduate students.  These include awarding generous scholarships to outstanding faculty members for postdoctoral research abroad and securing their return to BIU, tutorials on conducting postdoctoral research abroad, and guidance in applying for research grants.

A Member of the Board of Executives of the Israeli Chemical Society and a scientist who has developed drugs for various diseases including diabetes and Alzheimer’s, Fischer knows her field is more of a marathon than a sprint. Still, she remains optimistic, and committed to helping others. “I believe that academia is like Aladdin’s treasure cave. The numerous treasures of knowledge should be shared with community.”
For more on Prof. Fischer click here.