Improving Health & Medicine

“Lady Globes” Woman of the Year: Prof. Michal Schwartz

Globes • TAGS: Alzheimers, Awards, Women

Michal Schwartz

Prof. Michal Schwartz photo: Rami Zarnegar

The Weizmann Institute researcher’s groundbreaking research on Alzheimer’s Disease is leading to new treatment for it.

Selecting the Woman of the Year is never easy; it amounts to a statement of values, meaning, and priorities. The selection is based on a single overriding value: excellence. Schwartz, who does her research at the Weizmann Institute of Science, is likely to dramatically change the course of medicine. After years of research, she discovered a mechanism for treating degenerative brain diseases that runs counter to the accepted scientific axioms.

Schwartz’s scientific breakthrough makes it possible to begin developing drugs for a disease regarded as the 21st century’s biggest medical threat. Her research solution has far-reaching consequences.

20 years ago, Schwartz discovered a dialogue between the immune system and the brain; this dialogue is essential for the brain’s function. In recent decades, she has concentrated on decoding the mechanism through which this dialogue takes place. The startup founded on the basis of her discovery has signed a cooperation agreement with Danish pharma company Lundbeck.

Schwartz’s research breakthrough has disproved much of what was previously believed in brain science. Up until now, the accepted idea was that immune system cells were inaccessible to the brain. Schwartz proved otherwise. The model she developed for the mechanism behind brain degeneration encountered hostility and opposition from her colleagues in the scientific community. After many years during which her approach was excluded from the accepted realm of science, she has now become an important focus for current research in the field.

Schwartz discovered that the immune system weakens with age, among other things as a result of the activity of inhibiting factors acting as a brake on the immune system. These factors disrupt the immune system’s ability to handle degenerative brain diseases. Schwartz proved that removing or weakening these factors encourages the immune system to take action to cure Alzheimer’s Disease. This insight is likely to change the entire scientific basis for treatment of aging diseases.

The increase in life expectancy brings with it illnesses that occur with growing frequency and intensity. Longer life expectancy is accompanied by a decline in brain functioning. Now, thanks to this turnaround in research, the chance that the loss of brain capability can be treated is gives hope to tens, and even hundreds, of millions of people.

This impressive achievement is not the only one in Israeli science this year. The list compiled by “Globes” of the 50 most influential women includes four other scientists who have achieved global scientific breakthroughs. Professor Malka Cohen-Armon discovered a mechanism making it possible to destroy cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Researcher Dr. Adi Salomon discovered a new substance. Professor Ayelet David of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researches cancer diagnostics and therapy. Particularly exciting is the achievement of brain researcher Professor Hamutal Slovin, who has discovered a way of creating artificial sight for the blind.

This is the third year in which we have kept track of the work of senior women researchers. They have not only put Israel on the international map, but they are also generating hope of a better future. Their long-term contribution to all of us is cannot be measured solely in current achievements.

Women leading the way

The “Lady Globes” list of the 50 most influential women portrays women in the most senior positions in Israel and the entrepreneurs and scientists who achieved breakthroughs this year. 23 of the women listed are on the list for the first time. We based the list on constant comprehensive monitoring of economics and high tech, government and politics, security, law, science, industry, retail business, society, and culture. <p>This list, however, which “Lady Globes” introduced in the 1990s, can no longer cover all the achievements. This reflects the growing number of women in leadership positions in diverse spheres. Female senior managers are no longer rare. They have reached the top, they are making significant changes, they are leaving many men behind them on the way, and they are smashing through barriers. In 2017, the list of the 50 most influential women represents only the very highest of the achievements of those at the head of some of the most important enterprises and institutions in the economy, government, science, and culture.