A rising star

US Fulbright scholar Joseph Oved came to the Weizmann Institute to research an animal model of MS.

May 3, 2008 22:14
A rising star

joseph oved 224.88. (photo credit: Judy Siegel)

Twenty-two-year-old Fulbright scholar Joseph (Joey) Oved came all the way from the US for an academic year at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot to research an animal model of multiple sclerosis (MS) - even though he has never met anyone in the throes of the autoimmune disease. Oved, whose father was born in Holon (and taken to New York at age 12) and whose mother is a US native, speaks fluent Hebrew, so he feels completely comfortable in the lab of Weizmann immunology Prof. Avraham Ben-Nun. "They don't treat me like a kid, and the actual lab work is all in English." A resident of Brooklyn, the extremely bright Oved went to the Yeshiva of Flatbush elementary and high school, earned a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in Jewish studies at New York University, both within four years. His MA thesis was odd for a future scientist: "Medieval rabbinic philosophies explained by their sociopolitical contexts." Although there are no scientists in his family, Oved decided to do research and become a physician; when he returns to New York in June, he will attend NYU's medical school. Oved, whose curriculum vitae is already almost three pages long, has received numerous awards and honors, including Phi Beta Kappa. He also has considerable research experience, from internship at age 16 in a lab at the Public Health Research Institute in New Jersey to working in infectious diseases and biology labs at NYU. THEN SOMEONE recommended that he apply to the Fulbright fellowship. The US government's Fulbright Program, initiated in 1946 by the late senator J. William Fulbright and operating in over 150 countries, is one of the world's most prestigious and widely known student and faculty exchange programs. The main goal is to strengthen the basis for peace by strengthening mutual understanding between the people of the US and the peoples of countries around the world. America's flagship international educational exchange program, sponsored by the US State Department's bureau of educational and cultural affairs, has in the past 64 years provided some 280,000 people with the opportunity to observe the political, economic, educational and cultural institutions in another country while exchanging ideas and embarking on joint ventures of importance to the general welfare of the world's inhabitants. Prominent US Fulbright-Israel alumni who have spent a year here include Dr. Alan Leshner, executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Prof. David Dobkin, dean of the faculty and chairman of the computer science department at Princeton; the late Prof. Felix Bloch of Stanford University who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1952; Prof. Barbara Weinstein of the University of Maryland at College Park who is president of the American Historical Association; and Prof. Melvin Ely of the College of William & Mary. Israel joined the Fulbright Program only a decade after senator Fulbright launched it. The United States-Israel Educational Foundation (USIEF) was established by the American and Israeli governments in 1956 to administer Israel's participation in the worldwide Fulbright Program with the goal of promoting bilateral understanding. USIEF CEO Neal Sherman, who heads the apparatus responsible for administration of Israeli Fulbright fellowships to the US and American Fulbright fellowships to Israel, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post that the fall of the dollar could reduce the number of students accepted next year. Nevertheless, the cream of the crop continue to apply. So far, over 1,100 Americans have pursued Fulbright fellowships in Israel (www.fulbright.org.il) and 1,400 Israelis have been sent to the US. In 2007-2008, almost a dozen leading US students were accepted as Fulbright fellows here and eligible for a $12,000 stipend and free tuition, with a Hebrew ulpan if necessary. There are also Fulbright post-doctoral fellowships in all fields of study for Israelis who are about to begin a program of research in the US. Among the very prominent Israelis who have received Fulbright fellowships are former president of the Supreme Court Prof. Aharon Barak; Prof. Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology who shared the 2004 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry; Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Megidor; Prof. Ilan Chet, former president of the Weizmann Institute; former Tel Aviv University president Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, Education Minister Prof. Yuli Tamir; University of Haifa president Prof. Aharon Ben-Ze'ev; former Knesset member Uzi Landau; novelist and playwright A. B. Yehoshua; and novelist Aharon Megged. Oved told The Post he wanted to go to the Weizmann Institute "because it is world famous, and also because my NYU professor connected me with Prof. Bin-Nun," under whom he is working on mice and rats while taking blood from MS patients. There is no multiple sclerosis in rodents, but an animal model considered very similar is called EAE (Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis), and it is studied to better understand and treat the human form. This model was used by Weizmann researchers who developed the widely used Teva drug Copaxone to reduce the frequency and effects of neurological attacks in MS victims, whose immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath on nerves in the central nervous system because it mistakenly identifies it as a foreign invader. TO CREATE EAE, rodents are injected with the whole or parts of various proteins that make up myelin, thus inducing an autoimmune response - that is, the animal's immune system mounts an attack on its own myelin as a result of exposure to the injection. The animals then develop a disease process that closely resembles MS in humans. The animals are then in-bred to reliably produce susceptibility to EAE. As with humans and MS, not all mice or rats will have a natural propensity to acquire EAE. Moreover, different breeds will develop different forms of EAE, some of which act as good models for the different human forms of MS. "You can look at the mice's symptoms to measure the progression of their disease," Oved explained. "When they are healthy, their tails usually stand upright, but when their nerves are damaged, they flop down, and the animals may hop instead of walking normally." Oved explained that his first project in the Rehovot lab was to "over-express, purify and test the immunogenicity and encephalotegenic potential of novel neuronal autoantigens believed to contribute to the pathology of MS. So far, I have successfully purified a stock solution of the neurofilament night protein (NFL). I have also immunized a variety of mouse strains and proved the immunogenicity of NFL by establishing a T-cell line against it. I am now working to measure the encephalotegenic potential of NFL by both active and passive immunization of a variety of mouse strains." A SECOND major goal of his project was the "development of a novel DNA vaccination as a potential treatment or preventive measure for MS. Using a recombinant protein that expresses the major encephelatogenic regions of different myelin components the lab," he explained, "has shown that it can effectively minimize disease progress in mice. I have taken the DNA that encodes this protein and have inserted it into a mammalian expression vector and am currently in the midst of following a DNA vaccination protocol for mice." By June, he also intends to map the cytokine profiles, pathology and other immunological responses to both the autoantigens and the DNA vaccination. He is especially interested in an adult stem cell-based approach to treating MS. "I am now working on the ability of adult human stem cells to migrate and home in on areas of inflammation in the central nervous system of mice with EAE." OVED SPENDS eight or nine hours a day in the lab, and also attends lectures and courses. "I have been able to delve into research and learned from my Israeli colleagues how they think, how to approach problems and become an independent researcher." The Fulbright Program, he continued, "is great because it introduces you to a great group of people and fosters friendships. By living here, you are thrown into a whole new society and culture. Initially, the decision where to spend the year was a tossup between Israel and London, but for me Israel was a natural choice. I will encourage other top American students to apply." Near the end of the academic year, all Fulbright scholars in the region will meet in Jordan to make a five-minute presentation about their work. Oved and his Weizmann colleagues have already submitted an article on their research to a scientific journal in the field of immunology, but this is not new to him, as the young researcher already has his name on three peer-reviewed articles and has participated in five abstracts and posters produced for scientific conferences. No doubt, the world will hear more from this brilliant young Fulbright scholar.

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