Tel Aviv University Launches Cancer Research School

The Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research hopes to shed light on the connection between cancer and inflammation, and maybe find a cure for the coronavirus, too

Haaretz
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A procedure at a Tel Aviv University lab.
A procedure at a Tel Aviv University lab.Credit: Tel Aviv University
Haaretz

Tel Aviv University said Wednesday it had completed the rebranding of its molecular cell biology and biotechnology school that – with fresh funding – is tackling cancer and the coronavirus.

The Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research is the new name of the School of Molecular Cell Biology & Biotechnology that Tel Aviv University created about three years ago by merging two departments.

The institution, renamed after receiving funding from Vlad and Sana Shmunis, supporters of Tel Aviv University, operates under the university’s Faculty of Life Sciences. The newly named school does not take part in the treating of patients.

“Our stress is medical research – the causes of disease, based on achieving a deep understanding of the biology of disease and cellular processes,” said Prof. Tal Pupko, the head of the Shmunis school.

“We combine biology and an understanding of these processes to find medically relevant solutions. Doctors learn the biology to cure patients; we’re biologists delving into processes and are applying our knowledge to help people.”

Pupko notes the three main ways to fight the coronavirus: “Finding a medicine for coronavirus patients that kills the virus, finding a vaccine – a weakened form of the virus or a viral protein – or the epidemiologic path. All three of these components are being addressed at our school.”

One researcher, Adi Stern, is working on epidemiology via sequencing, Pupko says. As the virus spreads, it accrues minute mutations; they might not affect the virus’ impact on people, but they help identify spread, and crucially, they help identify superspreaders.

A researcher at work at a Tel Aviv University lab.
A researcher at work at a Tel Aviv University lab.Credit: Tel Aviv University

In another study, researchers led by Prof. Jonathan Gershoni are working on a vaccine for the coronavirus.

One project is to engineer a form of the virus that can be worked on in a lab at a less stringent “biosafety level” but that remains relevant to study of the virus’ pathology.

About a third of the researchers associated with the Shmunis school explore various aspects of cancer. One group is studying the connections between inflammation and cancer, especially breast cancer.

“Cancer creates inflammation, and inflammation affects cancer,” Pupko said, adding that the challenge is to determine the nature of the interaction.

The Shmunis school has 26 staffers and contributions by 20 emeritus faculty members, Pupko said, adding that the school would also be focusing on improving patients’ quality of life, including that of cancer patients.

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