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Mark Bernstein at his 90th birthday
By REBECA KUROPATWA

After donating an ambulance and scooter to Magen David Adom in 2016 on Mark Bernstein’s 90th birthday, the Mark and Zita Z’L Foundation, which is now run by the couple’s three daughters, will be sponsoring the research of Dr. Aaron Ciechanover M.D., D.Sc., for the next six years through the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF).

 

Ciechanover  became one of the first Israelis to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, for the discovery of the ubiquitin system – the body’s method of removing damaged proteins.
“We were looking for a donation that would be a suitable follow up to our dad’s [Mark’s] generous donation of the ambulance and scooter in 2016,” said one of the three daughters, Sandra Bernstein. “And, this was perfect for a number of reasons.
“First of all, it’s a gift to Israel and supportive of the foundation. And second, the recipient is a distinguished professor at Technion, which dad has had, all along, a close relationship with, because he served for a time on the board of Technion Canada.”
With Mark Bernstein (who is now in his early 90s) being a chemist himself, the connection was easy to make, and the fact that Ciechanover’s work deals with cancer treatment that may apply to a broad range of cancers was a bonus. “Many families have been touched by cancer, and ours is no exception,” said Sandra.
“We hope that great things will come out of the lab in coming years and also that the younger scientists working at the lab will learn much from Dr. Ciechanover, and go on to careers in the future.”


According to Jennifer Ouaknine, of ICRF, the ICRF was founded in 1975 by a group of American and Canadian physicians, scientists, and lay people who sought to prevent the permanent loss of Israel’s most promising cancer researchers to foreign universities.
Due to a lack of funding in Israel for newly minted PhDs, post-doctoral fellows, and accomplished young scientists, many scientists were looking elsewhere for grants – and ICRF has helped bridge this gap for decades.
“Awards are granted directly to the most promising and capable Israeli cancer researchers at the leading academic and biomedical research centres throughout Israel,” said Ouaknine.
“To date, ICRF has funded more than (U.S.) $68 million worth of cancer research via more than 2400 fellowships, project grants, career development awards, and professorships.”
The Bernstein donation will be used to fund Ciechanover, who is working on unravelling the tumor-suppressing mechanisms involved in ubiquitin-mediated activation of NF-kappaB, the ubiquitin system, and the NF-B protein, and how they are involved in inflammation and cell proliferation.


Ciechanover was born in Haifa, Israel, on Oct. 1, 1947. In 1976, he joined the laboratory of Dr. Avram Hershko as a graduate student, followed by post-doctoral studies at MIT. Ciechanover returned to the Technion in 1984 and was appointed  a distinguished professor in 2002.
Five years after Hershko started his research at the Technion, his team (which included his then student, Ciechanover) discovered the system that degrades proteins – the ubiquitin system.
According to Hershko, “Proteins are the machines that carry out and regulate all processes in the cells. However, once a protein has done its job, it has to be disposed of. We needed to understand this process of protein degradation.”
Ciechanover added, “We found that a small protein, called ubiquitin, marks the proteins to be degraded at the right time and the right place in the cell. If proteins are not degraded at the right time, the cell continues to divide unchecked.
“This is what happens in many cancer cells – something has gone wrong in the ubiquitin system.”
Both Hershko and Ciechanover have received numerous awards validating their scientific achievements, but their most significant recognition came in 2004, when they became the first Israelis ever to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation.
“I am very grateful to the ICRF for supporting the work of cancer researchers in Israel, including my own research,” said Hershko.
“ICRF seeded my scientific trip,” added Ciechanover. “My research is a product of ICRF.
“ICRF is a unique organization. It supports people, not walls. Further, it tries to identify young talented cancer researchers and help them build their careers. In my case, they went even further. In an exceptional decision, they supported my (first ever) fellowship in the U.S.A., when I worked at the MIT, hoping I will return to my country. I did return, and built my career there – at the Technion in Haifa.
“ICRF has accompanied my career ever since, for close to four decades, and supported me successively. The rest is history.
“Now in a professorship made possible through the generosity of the Bernstein

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