By Cindy Mindell
STAMFORD — Dr. Osnat Ashur-Fabian was working in a cancer-research lab outside Tel Aviv when her quest for a cure took a personal turn: her father was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and given only months to live. Ashur-Fabian developed a new chemotherapy approach, resulting in five years of remission.
She will talk about Israel’s innovative cancer research on Thursday, Feb. 13 at the Stamford JCC.
Her work and visit are underwritten by the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), the largest charitable organization in North America solely devoted to supporting cancer research in Israel. Since 1975, ICRF has provided more than 2,000 grants totaling almost $50 million to outstanding cancer researchers whose laboratories are housed in Israel’s leading institutions. These scientists include the first Israelis ever to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Funds go directly to scientists via a granting process.
Born in Haifa, Ashur-Fabian holds a BS (with distinction) in nutrition and biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an MS (with distinction) and PhD in brain research from Sackler School of Medicine, TelAviv University, where she studied novel peptides for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2002, she joined the laboratory of Prof. Gideon Rechavi at Sheba Cancer Research Center outside Tel Aviv for postdoctoral training in cancer research. Until 2008, she was a senior researcher and manager of the Molecular Hematology Laboratory at the Sheba Medical Center Hematology Institute. Ashur-Fabian studied the p53 gene, known as “guardian of the genome” and one of the most important genes involved in cancer suppression. Her work led to the discovery of a tumor-like p53 mutation in the cancer-resistant Middle East blind mole rat.
In 2006, Ashur-Fabian’s father was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and aggressive malignant brain tumor. She became involved in his treatment decisions and was led to an unusual discovery by Dr. Aleck Hercsberg, a radiology oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which links thyroid hormone reduction and cancer regression. Hercsberg was the first researcher to intentionally induce hypothyroidism in brain-cancer patients with great success. His method, paired with chemotherapy, resulted in a five-year remission for Ashur-Fabian’s father.
Since 2008, Ashur-Fabian has focused her research on the thyroid-cancer connection, establishing a new laboratory at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, together with the head of the center’s Hematology Institute, Dr. Martin Ellis.
For the generally healthy population, there is no need to overly monitor the thyroid gland, as thyroid hormones are not the cause of cancer, Ashur-Fabian says; rather, the hormones help cancer cells thrive, proliferate, and metastasize.
Ashur-Fabian collaborates on this research with Hercsberg and with Prof. Paul J. Davis, an endocrinologist at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, who discovered the receptor binding site for thyroid hormones.
While long disputed, the thyroid-cancer connection now seems to be quite a potent one, Ashur-Fabian says, thanks to Davis, who discovered the last piece of the puzzle: It is now known that the inactive hormone T4 (and with lower affinity, the biological active hormone T3) binds to an overexpressed receptor on cancer cells and promotes cell growth.
“I want to note the incredible job that the ICRF does in supporting Israeli cancer researchers,” she says. “Nothing can be done without this important support. They are unique in that they support only cancer research and not all sorts of research topics, which is what most other foundations do. I truly believe that the solution to cancer will come from Israel.”
Lunch & Learn: “Israel’s Breakthrough Cancer Research” with Osnat Ashur-Fabian, PhD: Thursday, Feb. 13, 11:40 a.m.-1 p.m., Stamford JCC, 1035 Newfield Ave., Stamford. Cost includes kosher lunch: $18/person. Registration required. For information or reservations visit icrfonline.org.
For more information on the Israel Cancer Research Fund visit.icrfonline.org or David Kweskin, Connecticut Area Director: (203) 321-1006 / David.Kweskin@ICRFonline.org.
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