Enriching Education

2017: A Year of Life-Changing Science

E-News, December 2017 • TAGS: Community, Culture, Humanity

We are always rushing around, in a hurry to get to the next goal or errand. Forward momentum is natural, but the end of one year and the start of another is the perfect time to pause and reflect. When it comes to the Weizmann Institute of Science, this is always an uplifting and rewarding exercise, and 2017 was particularly awe-inspiring. Let’s look at some of the highlights.

  • Cancer immunotherapy. In the 1980s, Prof. Zelig Eshhar began to develop what he called “CAR T cells,” genetically modified immune cells that harness the patient’s own immune system to fight disease. American researchers built on his discoveries, and the therapy led to astonishing remission in leukemia patients. In August, CAR T-cells made history as the first gene therapy approved by the FDA; since then, a second has been approved. Prof. Eshhar is now studying CAR T-cells for treating other diseases.

  • Fighting malaria. Dr. Sarel Fleishman’s new method of programming proteins could lead to a stable, inexpensive, malaria-parasite-destroying vaccine, potentially saving untold numbers of lives. Malaria kills around half a million people each year – most of them children – and sickens several million more.

  • Prostate cancer treatment. Joining Mexico and South America – and, hopefully soon, the U.S. – the E.U. has approved use of TOOKAD® to treat early-stage prostate cancer. This safe, effective, chlorophyll-based therapy was created by Profs. Avigdor Scherz and the late Yoram Salomon. Prof. Scherz continues his collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where trials are underway to study the therapy on other forms of cancer, including advanced prostate, breast, bladder, gastroesophageal, and pancreatic.

  • Studying the brain. Profs. Michal Schwartz and Ido Amit discovered a type of immune cell that could lead to an Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Prof. Ofer Yizhar found that tamping down communication between two parts of the brain reduces fear – and even fearful memories. And Dr. Ulyana Shimanovich showed that silk proteins could help repair brain cells ravaged by Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

  • Climate change. As climate change impacts rapidly increase, Prof. Yohai Kaspi’s lab showed that a warming planet will cause storms to veer more towards its poles. Importantly, this work could lead to ways of predicting storm tracks, allowing communities to take protective measures.

  • Outer space. As part of Caltech’s LIGO team, Weizmann astrophysicists watched the collision of two neutron stars, finally identifying the source of heavy elements such as gold and uranium. On NASA’s Juno mission, they peered below Jupiter’s dense clouds for the first time, learning about its weather and gravitational field. And, turning a long-held theory on its head, they showed that our moon likely formed from multiple small impacts rather than one big collision.

Weizmann’s breakthroughs were covered in the popular media by the likes of The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Forbes, and even Cosmopolitan, as well as on the BBC and NPR – a reflection of the Institute’s profile and reputation.

The Institute has a stellar reputation in the scientific community, too: it was ranked sixth in the world – the only non-American institution in the top 10 – by the Nature Index of Innovation. Prepared by prestigious science journal Nature, the index ranked institutions by the degree to which their discoveries inspired innovation by others, including outside researchers and industry.

The Weizmann Institute has grown into the global powerhouse that it is today thanks to supporters who understand that curiosity-driven basic research is behind every major discovery. We hope you will join us in 2018 … and beyond.