HHMI award to Weizmann scientists and other Israelis with Weizmann pedigrees

Six Israeli scientists were selected to receive the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute award, which recognizes promising early-career scientists outside the U.S. who are poised to advanced biomedical research. The Israeli group includes three researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science who also all received their PhDs at the Institute; and three others who received their PhDs here.

HHMI named 41 winners from 16 countries. The prize comes with $650,000 over five years for their research, allowing them to pursue new, creative investigations.

“We are proud of the three Weizmann scientists who received this honor, and proud of the fact that all the Israeli recipients have their educational roots at the Weizmann Institute, which is evidence of the impact of Weizmann science. Moreover, the large ratio of Israeli scientists among the worldwide winners is an indication of the strength and promise of Israeli science,” says Prof. Daniel Zajfman, President of the Weizmann Institute.

The Weizmann Institute scientists who received the prize are:

Prof. Ido Amit of the Department of Immunology, studies the function of the immune system and the role it plays in health and disease. His lab develops novel single-cell genomic technologies to study these cells in unprecedented resolution. Figuring out immune cells’ actions will help advance the next generation of immunotherapy to fight cancer, neurodegeneration, and other disorders.

Dr. Eran Elinav, also of the Department of Immunology, studies how intestinal bacteria (the ‘microbiome’) impact nutrition, human health, and a variety of inflammatory, infectious, metabolic, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. Decoding the molecular code dictating host-microbiome interactions will enable the Elinav lab to develop new interventions against these common human disorders.

Dr. Shalev Itzkovitz, of the Department of Molecular Cell Biology, is studying the design principles of metabolic tissues. He combines computational and experimental tools, including advanced single-molecule imaging techniques, to uncover how interactions among cells facilitate normal tissue function and the impact in diseases such as diabetes.  

The other Israeli scientists are:

Dr. Yossi Buganim of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is advancing stem cell research by finding improved ways to reprogram adult stem cells into other types. He did his PhD work in the lab of Prof. Varda Rotter in the Department of Molecular Cell Biology at the Weizmann Institute, and received his degree in 2008. 

Dr. Idan Efroni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Agriculture studies what underlies plants remarkable regeneration abilities, focusing on how plants can recruit cells to form new stem cells and meristems. His research will lead to improved plant propagation methods with the goal of increasing food production. He received his PhD in 2010 at the Weizmann Institute under the guidance of Prof. Yuval Eshed at the Institute’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

Prof. Asya Rolls of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology studies the relationship between the immune system and the brain as it pertains to health and disease. She performed her doctoral studies in the lab of Prof. Michal Schwartz in the Department of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute, receiving her degree in 2007.

The only woman of the group, Prof. Rolls is a prior Clore Fellow of the Weizmann Institute’s Israel National Postdoctoral Award Program for Advancing Women in Science. The highly selective program, now in its tenth year, funds outstanding women PhD graduates to perform postdoctoral studies abroad. The program is fully funded by Weizmann Institute supporters and open to female graduates of all Israeli universities.

Referring to all award recipients, David Clapham, HHMI’s Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, said: “This is an outstanding group of scientists who will push biomedical research forward worldwide, and we are thrilled to support them alongside our philanthropic partners.”

The prizes are funded by HHMI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

The winners were selected from among 1,400 applications, based on the impact of past work, including doctoral and postdoctoral achievements, and the promise of work to come.

Prof. Ido Amit is supported by the David and Fela Shapell Family Foundation INCPM Fund for Preclinical Studies; the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; the Rosenwasser Fund for Biomedical Research; the  Steven B. Rubenstein Research Fund for Leukemia and Other Blood Disorders; the Alan and Laraine Fischer Foundation; Isa Lior, Israel; Drs. Herbert and Esther Hecht, Beverly Hills, CA; the Comisaroff Family Trust; Rising Tide; the David M. Polen Charitable Trust; BLG Trust; Mr. and Mrs. Harold Hirshberg, Park Ridge, NJ; David and Molly Bloom; and the Estate of Alice Schwarz-Gardos. Prof. Amit is the recipient of the Helen and Martin Kimmel Award for Innovative Investigation.

Dr. Eran Elinav is supported by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; the Adelis Foundation; the Else Kroener Fresenius Foundation; John L. and Vera Schwartz, Pacific Palisades, CA; Rising Tide; Andrew and Cynthia Adelson, Canada; Yael and Rami Ungar, Israel; Leesa Steinberg, Canada; Jack N. Halpern, New York, NY; Lawrence and Sandra Post Family; the Bernard M. and Audrey Jaffe Foundation; the European Research Council. Dr. Elinav is the Incumbent of the Rina Gudinski Career Development Chair.

Dr. Shalev Itzkovitz is supported by the Henry Chanoch Krenter Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Genomics; the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation; the Cymerman-Jakubskind Prize; and the European Research Council. Dr. Itzkovitz is the incumbent of the Philip Harris and Gerald Ronson Career Development Chair.