Some 30 years ago Varda Rotter finished her work with a cancer research team at MIT and returned to Israel. She wanted to continue her work but didn’t have a penny in her pocket. Israel Cancer Research Fund came through for her, giving her a grant that enabled her to start her own research.
She said that ICRF told her: We give you the liberty to work. Go ahead and realize your dream.
After 12 grants over the next three decades, Rotter is today the chairperson of the department of molecular and cell biology and a professor of cell biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
What she learned in her years of studying cancerous tumors is that the secret to a normal life is to have your genetic life normal.
“There are genes that are dormant,” she explained at an ICRF dinner at the Asia Society in New York. “We don’t know why they exist but nature has to make sure they remain dormant. If they wake up they turn a normal cell into a cancer cell.”
She said there are genes that know how to recognize the abnormal ones, and they alert the body to repair stricken cells.
“We have tumor suppressant genes and still we get cancer. Why? If tumor suppressant genes get hit by stress they lose their natural defense system.”
At Weizmann she is focused on the p53 gene to find an answer to repair abnormal genes.
Dr.Yashar Hirshaut, ICEF chairman, paid tribute to Elaine Hochberg, corporate senior vice president of Forest Laboratories, and Dr. Anne Moore, medical director of the breast oncology program at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Tim Boxer is editor of 15MinutesMagazine.com.