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For young researchers and lecturers like Dr. Roee Gutman and Dr. Andrea Szuchman-Sapir, Tel-Hai College and MIGAL enable them to fulfill their academic and scientific potential while making their home in northern Israel

Rachel Sachs
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Dr. Roee Gutman and Dr. Andrea Szuchman-Sapir began their careers as scientists at Tel-Hai College and MIGAL–Galilee Research Institute six years ago. Until that point, unbeknown to each other, they had been living parallel lives – research, travel, marriage, three kids and international post-docs.

Tel-Hai College campus

Both scientists spent their younger lives in northern Israel and the opportunity to return to the Galilee after a long, winding academic path was a chance to come home; yet it was not an obvious one. Their stories are illustrative of the exciting role science and academia play in regional and national development.

Similar paths

Dr. Gutmans relationship with MIGAL began when, as a junior in high school, he participated in the North Star Project, a program for exceptional students. He recalls that Ms. Rachel Rabin Yaakov, recipient of the Samual Rothberg prize in education in 2012 and sister to former Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin, was his supervisor in the program. Despite our schools small size and remote location, we were offered the opportunity to realize our potential, he notes.

Born in Safed, Dr. Gutman grew up in nearby Corazim to parents who made Aliyah from Buenos Aires. Through his father, then a researcher for the Ministry of Agriculture, he developed a deep love of biology at an early age. I thought Id be an agronomist like my father, but ended up taking an interest in animal physiology.

Dr. Szuchman-Sapir also has roots in Buenos Aires. She moved to Israel with her family at the age of two and settled in the northern town of Karmiel. It was during her military service at the Negev field school in Sde Boker that her love of teaching and biology developed. Upon finishing her B.Sc at Haifa University, Andrea returned to Sde Boker to work as a technician in the Department of Ecophysiology where, she laughs, My work included training hedgehogs, feeding spiders and pestering pigeons. For seven straight hours I had to make sure that pigeons continually flew through the air without landing. I sat on top of a tower throwing stones so we could study models for water loss aviation.

Dr. Roee Gutman (left) and Dr. Andrea Szuchman-Sapir

Andrea continued on to graduate school at Ben-Gurion University, where she studied anti-viral properties of the cactus plant Nopalea Cochenillifera. Under Professor Joseph Mizrahi and the late Professor Jacob Tal, we tested the ability of its sap to inhibit the herpes virus. Our positive findings provided my motivation to pursue my doctorate. Back then, Dr. Szuchman-Sapir spent a summer picking apples at Kibbutz Malkiya in the Galilee, where she fell in love with the young kibbutznik driving the tractor. Nadav, a history and philosophy student at Oranim College, joined Andrea in Beer Sheva, but when the opportunity arose to pursue doctoral studies in the joint laboratory of Professor Jacob Vaya at MIGAL, and Professor Michael Aviram of the Technion, Andrea and Nadav jumped at the chance to return north.

Upon completion of his military service, Roee packed a backpack and set off to the Far East, where he met his wife Meirav while hiking in Nepal. They traveled together for six months and ultimately decided to study in Tel Aviv upon their return. Meirav studied Sociology and Anthropology and, following the completion of her Ph.D. studies and post-doctoral training, would eventually join the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning at the Technion. Roees academic career developed almost exclusively at Tel Aviv University but, like Andrea, he would spend much of his time conducting research in the southern desert.

Roee pursued his love of biology and studied foraging behavior of desert rodents in the Department of Zoology and Ecology Research. For two years I was chasing spiny mice in Ein Gedi, travelling back and forth to Tel Aviv. During my M.Sc. studies under the supervision of Professor Tamar Dayan on the foraging behavior of the golden and common spiny mouse in Ein Gedi, we noticed that golden spiny mice had a greater tendency to put on weight. This observation led to his doctoral dissertation, under the supervision of Professor Noga Kronfeld Schor and Professor Itschak Choshniak, on the biochemical and eco-physiological mechanisms behind this tendency toward obesity. They employ an eat more than needed strategy and store fat for use when needed, he summarizes. Dr. Gutman also investigated preferred activity and eating times: The connection between the daily clock and body weight control, i.e. energy homeostasis, is part of the pioneering field known as Circadian Physiology.

Diapers and dissertations

Dr. Szuchman-Sapir and Dr. Gutman each came north to Tel-Hai armed with a doctorate and three children apiece. Both laugh that it is easiest to remember them according to degrees acquired along the way. Dr. Szuchman-Sapir recounts, My first daughter was born early in my doctoral studies. I was nine months pregnant with my middle son during my final doctoral exam and the baby was born on return from my postdoc in Australia.

The first daughter of Drs. Roee and Meirav Gutman was born during the first year of their doctoral degrees; their middle son in the fourth year and the youngest was born five and a half years ago, following postdoctoral training at Columbia University, while Dr. Gutman completed his second postdoctoral training in the Faculty of Agriculture at the Hebrew University.

Dr. Szuchman-Sapir remembers her husband Nadav working every odd job he could find to support his young family during their two years in Sydney. Life is a juggling act with a million things to keep in the air. You have to find the right combination at the right time to manage all of ones roles.

The decision to come to Tel-Hai and MIGAL was a natural choice for both young researchers. It was no secret between me and my wife that I wanted to move back to the Galilee. However, my desire to pursue an academic career in life sciences in the Galilee would not have been possible without Tel-Hai and MIGAL. Dr. Gutman signed on as a faculty member in the Departments of Animal Science and Nutritional Sciences, which he today heads.

Dr. Szuchman-Sapir returned to Israel from Sydney and worked as a researcher at MIGAL and lecturer at Tel-Hai with the support of the Ministry of Absorption. She has since become a leading faculty member in the Department of Nutrition.

Building synergy and impact

Andrea warns, I could talk about my research for hours but basically, I examine a new mechanism for regulating blood pressure via a protein called Paraoxonase 1, within the metabolic pathway of arachidonic acid. She also collaborated with U.S. researchers, and together they revealed a new mechanism for vasodilation that will potentially lead to the development of new drugs to combat hypertension. Dr. Szuchman-Sapir also examines the changes in the protein albumin (the main protein in blood) during kidney disease, as a marker for the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Since joining the Human Health and Nutritional Science Lab at MIGAL nearly five years ago, Dr. Gutman has led scientific inquiry in his lab on varied topics, all touching on aspects of weight control and biological clocks.

For young researchers and lecturers like Dr. Roee Gutman and Dr. Andrea Szuchman-Sapir, Tel-Hai and MIGAL enable them to fulfill their academic and scientific potential and make their home in their chosen landscapes. For the Galilee, Tel-Hai and MIGAL are critical growth engines that enable talented minds to make the Galilee their home, serving as role models to the local youth while producing research that could better human lives worldwide.

For more information about Tel-Hai College, contact Rachel Sachs, VP Global Partnerships & Development,