by Prof. Yoram Groner, Director, M.D. Moross Institute for Cancer Research
A new era is dawning in the battle against cancer. In the more than 30 years that have elapsed since U.S. President Richard Nixon “declared war” on cancer in 1971, scientists have made gigantic strides in charting the course of this affliction. We now know that cancer is a disease of damaged genes. We also know that it develops in multiple stages and takes many years, even decades, to unfold. We have learned moreover that there are hundreds of different cancers, each caused by a specific set of genetic defects, which is one of the major reasons that malignancy is so difficult to treat.
Thanks to this new understanding, the entire management of cancer promises to change. Genetic testing will make it possible to identify groups of people who are most prone to develop cancer and who must therefore take preventive measures. Non-invasive DNA analysis and improved imaging techniques will allow physicians to detect and diagnose cancer earlier. Finally, therapies will become more selective and precise. Rather than destroying tissues in bulldozer fashion as do the traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments, they will serve as finer tools, carving out the tumor while sparing healthy tissues. It may even become possible to design tailor-made treatments to suit the patient’s individual traits and genetic profile.
Cancer is a healthcare issue of vast scope. In the United States, for example, the various cancers combined claim more than half a million lives annually, a death toll second only to that caused by heart disease. Globally, cancer kills some six million people every year, according to the World Health Organization. Ironically, the rise in the incidence of cancer stems indirectly from our progress in science and technology: people in modern society live longer lives, but this prolonged life expectancy increases the risk of developing cancer. Fortunately, scientific progress also offers brighter prospects for beating cancer.
At the Weizmann Institute, several dozen research teams are attacking the problem from different directions; their studies are conducted within the framework of several research centers whose activities are coordinated by Weizmann’s M.D. Moross Institute for Cancer Research. Important achievements are already on record: Weizmann scientists were the first to clone p53, a gene involved in more than half of all human cancers; basic research conducted at the Institute provided the foundation for the development of Glivec, the first in the upcoming generation of molecular drugs; and a number of cancer therapies developed at Weizmann are currently being tested in clinical trials.
In this publication, we describe the Institute's multi-faceted cancer research targets. Our ultimate goal: to understand what causes cells to become cancerous and what can be done to intervene in the progression of malignancy at its different stages.