The Science Behind the Symptoms: Newly-Recruited Medical School Researchers do Battle Against Disease


Established in 2011, the new  Azrieli School of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University in the Galilee is expected to improve both the local medical infrastructure and access to patient care. But the most dramatic, long-term change may come from the School’s educational philosophy, which provides students with a thorough grounding in the “translational” scientific research upon which all clinical advances depend. By recruiting faculty members from front lines of basic science, the School helps students understand the mechanics of the maladies against which they, as professional clinicians, will do battle.


Hepatitis C – and the Cancer Connection


Dr. Meital Gal-Tanamy recently returned to Israel from the University of Texas. Her work relates to Hepatitis C, an infectious disease linked to cancer onset. “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 us design a new vaccine that could save lives.”


In another project, Gal-Tanamy is examining the three-way balance – between the viral genome, the liver cell genome, and the immune response – that “tips” the liver toward malignancy, adding that liver cancer – which cannot be treated effectively with either chemotherapy or radiation – is the third most common cause of cancer mortality. “The better we understand this dynamic, the closer we will be to finding a way to turn it around.”


Personalized Medicine


Cancer is also the focus of Prof. Izhak Haviv, who recently returned to Israel from a senior research position in Australia. According to Haviv, successful treatment for cancer depends on the drug – and the patient.


“Effective chemotherapy depends on a number of factors, including patientspecific DNA mutations. In our lab, we examine cancer tissue samples to identify biomarkers linked to particular treatment outcomes. This gives a molecular ‘mugshot’ that will someday allow doctors to pre-screen their patients, and select the treatment – or combination of treatments – that is most appropriate. This approach may also generate renewed interest in existing medications that failed clinical trials in the past, but may be effective in certain cases.”


The Genetics of Aging

Muscle and bone-related ailments are also being examined. Dr. David Karasik – an expert in the genetics of aging who taught at Tel Aviv University, Boston University and Harvard Medical School – analyzes patients’ pre-disposition for developing inherited conditions such as muscular dystrophy, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.


Now directing the School’s Musculoskeletal Genetics Lab, Karasik takes a systems-level approach to identifying genetic patterns that govern disease symptoms. He is also involved in international research groups that pool their data in order to create largescale analyses of healthy and diseased individuals. “The goal of this type of research is to create a ‘roadmap’ for preventative medicine – something that will help us all lead healthier and longer lives.”


From the Lab to the Clinic

By linking practical training to an exposure to advanced translational research, the Medical School is creating a cadre of deeply knowledgeable doctors who are equipped to promote health in the north – and throughout the country.