The end of one year and the start of another is the perfect time to pause for a moment, to reflect on accomplishments, to review successes. And when it comes to the Weizmann Institute of Science, this is always a particularly uplifting and rewarding exercise. 2016 was overflowing with bold new initiatives, international collaborations, major developments on campus, and truly life-changing – and life-saving – breakthroughs. Let’s look at some of the highlights:
The prostate cancer therapy Tookad® is the product of a decades-long cross-disciplinary partnership between a plant scientist, Prof. Avigdor Scherz, and a biochemist, Prof. Yoram Salomon. The chlorophyll-based method destroys the tumor but not the healthy tissue nearby – and without the quality-of-life impacts of other prostate cancer treatments. This past year, Mexico approved Tookad® for treatment of early stage prostate cancer. Europe and Israel are nearing approval, and late-stage clinical trials are ongoing at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
At the end of December, new results made global headlines: clinical trials involving 413 men showed that nearly half of them showed no signs of prostate cancer after treatment with Tookad®. Trials are also underway to test the method against other cancers.
Prof. Zelig Eshhar’s immunotherapy method has changed the face of cancer treatment. In the 1980s, he first developed special T cells that were programmed to find tumors and promote their destruction. In 2016, clinical trials in the U.S. revealed that patients with advanced blood cancer – people expected to survive only a few months – were cancer-free three years after receiving treatment based on Prof. Eshhar’s method. He and other scientists worldwide are now working to expand the range of diseases that can be defeated by immunotherapy.
In the 1970s, Prof. Adi Shamir and two colleagues developed the algorithm that made it possible to conduct secure online transactions. Now, Prof. Shamir has exposed a major weakness in the “Internet of Things”: the rapidly growing world of smart devices – cars, thermostats, appliances – that connect online. He and his team used a drone to hack smart light bulbs from a distance, a feat that made headlines in The New York Times and across the globe due to the vulnerabilities it exposed, such as to the power grid. As a result, scientists and industry leaders worldwide are seeking more robust methods for keeping us safe.
Dr. Gad Asher, who studies our biological, or circadian, clocks, found a way to fight that scourge of long-distance flyers: jet lag. His research revealed that while the low oxygen we’re exposed to in airplanes might make us feel ill while traveling, it also helps adjust our circadian clocks, enabling us to bounce back more quickly from a time change. Dr. Asher’s work can help airlines reevaluate how they pressurize planes, and he is now investigating low-oxygen treatments for jet lag and similar conditions. His findings were covered worldwide, including in The Wall Street Journal.
Triple-negative breast cancer – which accounts for about one-fifth of all breast cancers – is particularly hard to treat because, as its name suggests, it lacks three receptors that usually serve as targets for anti-cancer drugs. Now, Prof. Sima Lev has identified a promising new combination therapy that not only inhibits tumor growth and survival, but gets around the problem of drug-inducted resistance.
- The Weizmann Institute continues to lead Israel into space. Dr. Aviv Ofer was part of the international group that discovered an almost-Earth-sized planet about four light years away – next door, in space terms. Speculation about the planet’s potential to host life made headlines worldwide. And Dr. Yohai Kaspi was on the team that put NASA’s Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter in July; he is now helping to study the atmosphere of the mysterious giant planet.
Finally, in late December, Prof. Avishay Gal-Yam and his team made yet another astounding revelation: an intense flash that astrophysicists thought was a very bright supernova was actually a star being shredded by a supermassive black hole.
These are only a few of the groundbreaking, life-enhancing advances that took place at the Institute in a single year! To learn about more discoveries, please explore our website.
Weizmann research spans science – from cancer to space, the environment to mathematics, genetics to materials, and beyond – and spans the world, touching the lives of everyone, without judgment or prejudice. But in order to keep crossing boundaries of all kinds, Weizmann science needs your help. Will you join us?