Two Hebrew University biochemists tipped as likely Nobel laureates

Professors Cedar and Razin named as possible winners in the fields of medicine or chemistry.

By
September 29, 2013 23:13
2 minute read.
PROF. AHARON RAZIN (left) and Prof. Howard (Chaim) Cedar.

PROF. AHARON RAZIN (left) and Prof. Howard (Chaim) Cedar370. (photo credit: Hebrew University)

 
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World-renowned Hebrew University biochemists Prof. Howard (Chaim) Cedar and emeritus Prof. Aharon Razin were pleased to hear predictions late last week that they would likely win the 2013 Nobel Prize in the fields of medicine or chemistry.

“We have been mentioned numerous times in recent years,” the US-born Cedar told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

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“Just a prediction is a compliment,” continued Cedar, who with Razin has worked for many years to make fundamental discoveries about DNA methylation and gene expression.

Thomson Reuters, the world leader in intelligent information for businesses and professionals, has accurately forecast the names of 27 Nobel laureates since the business was founded by merger in 2002. Its annual Thomson Reuters Citation Laureates study involves data mining of scientific research citations aimed at finding the most influential researchers in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine and economics.

Cedar was born in New York City and made aliya to Jerusalem with his wife, Zipporah, 40 years ago, after completing his bachelor’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MD and PhD from New York University, and working at the US Army’s Public Health Service and the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland. They have six children, one of them the well-known Israeli film director and writer Joseph Cedar.

At 70, he is a professor of the biochemistry and genetics of the human cell at HU and chairman of developmental biology and cancer research at the Institute for Medical Research, Israel- Canada.

Razin, born 78 years ago in Tel Aviv, studied physics and mathematics at HU and received his master’s degree in biochemistry and then a PhD. After completing his studies at the California Institute of Technology, he began to work at HU.

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Together, Cedar and Razin received the Israel Prize in Biology, the Wolf Prize (“Israel’s Nobel”) and the Canada Gairdner Award from the Gairdner Foundation.

Their work, with others, on DNA methylation (chemical changes in the DNA molecule) focused on a basic aspect of animal cell biology that will affect medical treatment of cancer and other diseases in the future. This molecular process turns on and off the approximately 40,000 genes in the human body. Cedar explains that everyone inherits genetic information, but that it “has to be used in a programmed manner. That programming is called epigenetics. The older one gets, the more likely the programming mechanism is to make mistakes.

One thing that these changes in epigenetics control could predispose a person to cancer.

That would explain why cancer is largely a disease of old age.”

Asked about their chances of getting the Nobel (the Medicine Prize will be announced next Monday and Chemistry two days later), Cedar said on Sunday: “There are lots of other good people around. Science is science, and I don’t think anyone who decides is anti- Israel. But we would be very excited if it happens to us.”

As the HU scientists have been mentioned before but never before raised by Thomson Reuters as predicted laureates, Cedar said, “We have a chance. Everybody has been hugging us since the prediction was made.”

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