2 leading Israeli scientists to get Canada Gairdner awards

Prestigious international honor considered possible predictor of Nobel Prize.

March 24, 2011 06:14
3 minute read.

Razin 58. (photo credit: courtesy)


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Two outstanding researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have won prestigious international medicine/science awards that are considered possible predictors of becoming Nobel Prize laureates.

Prof. Howard (Chaim) Cedar and Prof. Aharon Razin are among five who will receive the 2011 Canada Gairdner International Awards in October. The announcement was made from Toronto on Wednesday.

Both Cedar and Razin are members of the HU Faculty of Medicine’s Institute for Medical Research Israel- Canada.

The awards were created by the Gairdner Foundation to recognize and reward the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life. The Gairdner prizes have become Canada’s foremost awards in the field of biomedical science. Seventy- six of the awardees have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.

Cedar, a native of New York, came on aliya to Israel in 1973 and joined the HU’s medical faculty, becoming a full professor of molecular biology in 1981. He has received numerous awards for his research, including the Israel Prize and the Wolf Prize, which is described as Israel’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. He received the highly prestigious EMET Prize in 2009. He became a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 2003 and more recently was named a Man of the Year in science by The Jerusalem Post.

“The components of the human body are constructed by reading the information encoded in our genes,” said Cedar. “The entire information booklet, present in every cell of the body, has been completely deciphered as part of the human genome project and serves as the basis for understanding genetic diseases.

“We discovered that the text of this gene booklet is actually annotated through a chemical process called DNA methylation. These methyl groups provide a sophisticated system for marking which genes should be turned on or turned off in every tissue of the body. This represents a completely new form of biological information that is responsible for regulating the process of human development.”

Razin, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1935 and has been a member of the HU faculty in biochemistry since 1971, is also the recipient of many prizes, including the Israel and Wolf Prizes and is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

He, too, received the EMET Prize.

He received his B.Sc. from HU and then went on to do an M.Sc. and Ph.D. on the subject of nucleotide metabolism. He did postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Sinsheimer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and since 1971 has been on the HU faculty, where he is a full professor of biochemistry.

The three non-Israeli recipients are Prof. Shizuo Akira, Prof. Jules A. Hoffmann and Prof. Adrian Peter Bird. Akira is director of the WPI Immunology Frontier Research Center in Osaka.

He was cited for groundbreaking discoveries and definition of the family of receptors and the array of microbial compounds that they recognize to provide innate resistance to infection.

Hoffman, of the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biological Institute in Strasbourg, was born in Luxembourg.

He began studying the origins and roles of blood cells in a type of grasshopper and went on to biochemical studies on insect hormones and immunity.

Bird, of the The Wellcome Trust Center for Cell Biology at the University of Edinburgh, was cited for his basic biological work and understanding of the biomedical significance of DNA methylation.

His lab established a mouse model of Rett Syndrome and showed that the resulting severe neurological phenotype can be cured.

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