Q&A With Prof. Moshe Oren
Director of The New M.D. Moross Integrated Cancer Center (MICC)
Changing the face of cancer is a monumental task. Despite decades of extensive research, and despite several successes in treating some cancer types and dramatically increasing survival rates, cancer is still one of the most common and deadliest diseases worldwide.
To address the immense challenges posed by this complex and deadly disease in all its forms, the Weizmann Institute established the M. D. Moross Integrated Cancer Center (MICC). The MICC integrates diverse areas of cancer research, leverages the Institute’s strengths in this area, and greatly expands the Institute’s cancer research capabilities.
The MICC is directed by Prof. Moshe Oren of the Department of Molecular Biology, a world-renowned cancer researcher with vast experience and wide networks in his field. Prof. Oren, who is President of the European Association for Cancer Research, has spent much of his career studying a key player in molecular cancer control—the tumor suppressor gene called p53. In the early 1980s, he cloned the p53 gene, which has influenced much of the subsequent p53 research worldwide. Prof. Oren also obtained some of the earliest evidence that p53 is indeed a tumor suppressor and was the first to prove that this gene causes apoptosis, the natural process that leads to cell death. These findings have enabled physicians to develop innovative therapeutic strategies, including the first clinically approved anti-cancer gene therapy.
Q: Why is it so difficult to find a complete cure for cancer?
A: Battling cancer is so difficult because of the diversity of cancer cells and cancer types, and the continuous evolution and transformation of tumors as they grow. In all cancers, the function that regulates the multiplication of cells goes awry. This process occurs in many different ways, so that within a single tumor, there can be many types of cancer cells. As a result, finding a complete cure to any type of cancer is a formidable challenge. Eventually, we will need to come up with an ever-growing portfolio of multiple cures for multiple types of cancer.
Q: What is the goal of the MICC?
A: The MICC will aim to maximize the contribution of Weizmann Institute scientists to meeting emerging global challenges in cancer research. The MICC will seek to meet this ambitious goal through harnessing the power of basic research in the quest for cancer prevention, precise diagnosis, and effective therapy, and through expediting the translation of these basic research findings into the clinical arena. It will combine fundamental insights and cutting-edge technologies and take advantage of the world-renowned strength of the Weizmann Institute in multidisciplinary research to tackle the complexity of cancer and provide leads that will be explored towards translational research. It will also leverage the excellence of the Weizmann Institute in basic research towards developing extensive collaborations with leading medical oncology centers throughout the world.
Q: What will be the structure of the MICC?
A: The MICC will incorporate basic research components— the Institute for Cancer Prevention Research, to be headed by Prof. Zvi Livneh from the Department of Biological Chemistry; the Ekard Institute for Cancer Diagnosis Research, headed by Prof. Yardena Samuels from the Department of Molecular Cell Biology; and the Institute for Cancer Therapy Research, to be headed by Prof. Yosef Yarden from the Department of Biological Regulation.
The second component of the MICC involves state-of-the-art infrastructure, namely an Advanced Preclinical Cancer Laboratory, a Tumor Bank to be established as a joint project with the Brazilian Friends of the Weizmann Institute of Science, a Center for Cell Sorting, a Cancer Cell Observatory, and a Center for Cancer Metabolomics. Both the basic research component and the state-of-the-art infrastructure of the MICC will utilize Clinical Collaboration Funds—which will enable the sharing of patient samples for research purposes, and foster close interaction with hospital physicians treating cancer patients towards the implementation of basic research discoveries and improvement of medical oncology practice. They will also be aided by disease-specific funds that will promote intense research in a number of diseases and conditions.
Q: How will the MICC be different than other cancer research centers?
A: A major challenge of contemporary cancer medicine is to harness the vast amount of basic research knowledge towards devising the most effective treatment for each individual cancer patient, rather than providing all patients with a similar standard treatment protocol. The overarching goal of the MICC is thus to move toward personalized cancer medicine, also known as precision cancer medicine. The MICC will provide the foundation for translating the results of basic cancer research into the patient-doctor loop in a more efficient and timely manner, in order to provide the medical oncologists with better tools to decide about the most effective individualized approach for the patient.
Q: How does the MICC fit with current research initiatives?
A: The Nancy and Stephen Grand Israel National Center for Personalized Medicine provides the infrastructure and technologies like DNA sequencing, bioinformatics, protein profiling, and drug discovery platforms. In addition, the Lorry I. Lokey Pre-Clinical Research Facility on the Weizmann Institute campus provides researchers with state-of-the-art facilities to investigate cancer in experimental animal models, along with powerful imaging technologies.
Connecting basic research to translational research is one of the biggest challenges in finding cures for cancer. This is precisely where the MICC will step in, by linking cutting-edge basic cancer research to translational research in cancer prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment.