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Dr. Ariel Afek

Conquering mutations that lead to disease

New scientists

Date: November 15, 2021
New Scientists 2021-2022

The underlying cause of most cancers is genetic mutations, particularly those errors that occur during cellular replication—when a single cell duplicates its genetic material and splits in two. Usually this process occurs with near-perfect fidelity. 

But when it doesn’t, cancer can be the result. Dr. Ariel Afek, who has joined the Department of Chemical and Structural Biology, investigates different sources of mutations and their impact on diseases like cancer, drawing on his expertise in biophysics, bioinformatics, and genomics.

So, what are the biophysical dynamics that determine how well DNA is replicated, repaired, and activated? Dr. Ariel Afek studies the dysfunction of players in the process: errors by the enzymes that facilitate replication; the failure of repair proteins to correct such mistakes; and how transcription factors turn genes off and on—be they faithful or corrupted. 

A deeper knowledge on a molecular level of how enzymes, repair proteins, and transcription factors interact with the human genome would help us understand how these interactions go astray in cancer and other genetic diseases.

To obtain such a level of understanding, Dr. Afek is developing and utilizing cutting-edge approaches to manipulate proteins and DNA molecules and to introduce subtle DNA alterations that frequently occur in the human genome. He combines these approaches with various genetic experiments and computational methods. The resulting interdisciplinary insights are crucial for achieving a new understanding of protein-DNA interactions and the consequences for vital cellular processes. Moreover, Dr. Afek’s research could inform the development of new therapeutic strategies that target DNA replication, repair, and gene activation processes.


Dr. Ariel Afek earned his PhD in computational biology and biophysics from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2016), after which he conducted a postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina. He joined the Department of Chemical and Structural Biology in 2021.

A prolific author of scientific publications, Dr. Afek has received several awards for academic excellence, including the Wolf Foundation Prize for doctoral students, the Adams Fellowship from the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and the Israel Chemical Society Prize for doctoral students. He has also received numerous travel awards to attend conferences and scientific training around the globe.

Dr. Afek is married with two children, Eshel and Clil.