ICRF Newsletter
November/December 2020

ICRF supports several Israeli scientists conducting research in pancreatic cancer. Below is a recap of the research of five of our investigators. This month's Brilliant Minds webinar featured in this newsletter offers more comprehensive information about pancreatic cancer research in Israel.
The poor clinical prognosis of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is attributed to its tendency to metastasize and its resistance to conventional treatment. Ziv Gil, MD, PhD, of Rambam Health Care Campus, has received one of the Jacki & Bruce Barron Cancer Research Scholars’ Program grants, a partnership between ICRF and City of Hope, to perform collaborative research with Laleh Melstrom, MD, in order to study how to improve chemotherapy for PDAC by concurrent treatment with two different synergistic drugs.
The protein known as RNF125 is crucial in maintaining the normal state of healthy pancreatic cells. Erez Hasnis, MD, PhD, a physician and cancer researcher at Rambam Health Care Campus, who recently received a Gesher Grant, a partnership between ICRF and the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) to encourage young Israeli scientists to return to Israel, has identified changes in the level, activity and location of this protein in pancreatic cancer. He is now studying a novel pathway that underlies pancreatic cancer aggressiveness, in order to identify new targets for pancreatic cancer treatment.
The molecular mechanisms which underlie early progression, invasion and metastasis in pancreatic cancer remain poorly understood. Lina Jaber, PhD, the recipient of an ICRF Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is studying the WWOX gene, an emerging tumor suppressor that is frequently altered in PDAC. Using a mouse model, she will test whether deactivation of the WWOX gene promotes genomic instability and PDAC formation. If confirmed, her work could eventually lead to new prevention strategies.
Pancreatic cancer’s aggressive nature is related to the tumor’s abnormal use of glucose and other nutrients (metabolic reprogramming). Yaacov Lawrence, MBBS, Vice Chair and Director of the Center for Translational Research in Radiation Oncology at Chaim Sheba Medical Center, and the recipient of an ICRF Project Grant, is investigating the role of metabolic reprogramming in pancreatic cancer’s resistance to radiation therapy. A better understanding of which metabolic pathways are activated to cause radioresistance may open new therapeutic horizons.
The basic idea behind immunotherapy is to direct and induce cells of the body’s immune system to kill malignant cells. Oren Parnas, PhD, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the latest ICRF grantee to hold The Barbara S. Goodman Endowed Research Career Development Award for Pancreatic Cancer, is studying why immunotherapy does not seem to provide any benefit for pancreatic cancer patients. Recent findings suggest that the immune system can, indeed, recognize cancer cells as a danger, but suppressive signals produced by cancer cells inhibit the immune response. The Parnas lab is investigating the interactions between the immune system and cancer, in order to find new ways to engineer immune cells to fight pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer Facts and Figures

The American Cancer Society estimates for 2020:

  •  About 57,000 people (30,400 men and 27,400) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • About 47,050 people (24,640 men and 22,410 women) will die of pancreatic cancer.
  •  Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S. and about 7 percent of all cancer deaths.
  • The average lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 64. However, each person’s chances of getting this cancer can be affected by certain risk factors.
  •  The average five-year survival rate by stage: Localized -37 percent ; Regional (Lymph Nodes)- 12 percent; Distant (Stage IV or Metastatic)- 3 percent.
  •  A study published in 2017 found that the five-year survival rate is more than 40 percent for patients whose cancerous growth was less than two centimeters and removed by surgery.
In September, the Chicago Chapter of ICRF lost a dear friend and board member, Dubi Fishel.  For over three years, Dubi waged an ongoing battle against metastatic pancreatic cancer. To honor his memory, ICRF established the Dubi Fishel Fund for Pancreatic Cancer Research.  To date, $38,000 has been raised to support the research of a post-doctoral fellow focusing on early detection of pancreatic cancer.
To donate, please click here.
Ahead of World Pancreatic Cancer Day, this month's Brilliant Minds webinar focused on the urgent need for both new and better diagnostics and therapeutics for this deadly cancer.

ICRF Trustee and Chairman Emeritus, Kenneth Goodman, spoke about losing his beloved first wife, Barbara S. Goodman, to this lethal disease at age 51, which led him to the decision to endow a named ICRF Research Career Development Award in her honor. This multi-year award provides sustained funding aimed at addressing the critical need for greater investment in basic science research in order to make meaningful strides on both fronts.
Oren Parnas, PhD, a recipient of this award from Hebrew University's Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research, discussed how this funding is fueling his lab's research investigating ways to engineer immune cells to fight pancreatic cancer, which is providing hope for the development of new and better early detection tools and treatments with the potential to improve survivorship and quality of life for these patients. His latest research published in Nature Communications is available here.
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
12pm ET / 11am CT

Please join us for the final “ICRF Presents: Brilliant Minds” webinar of 2020. Our series concludes the year with “Month of Hope,” featuring an interactive conversation on checkpoint inhibitors with ICRF-funded researcher, Erez Levanon, PhD of Bar-Illan University. 

Professor Levanon is an ICRF grantee under the joint ICRF-City of Hope Jacki & Bruce Barron Cancer Research Scholars' Program who, in collaboration with City of Hope researcher, Kevin Morris, are exploring the specific network of noncoding RNAs that actively modulate the genes that drive a cell to become cancerous. Learn more about his fascinating research here.
Additional speakers and registration information will be available shortly on our website.
To learn about webinar and series sponsorship opportunities,
1) What exactly are you doing?
I am naming ICRF as a beneficiary in my will.  AND so my contributions to ICRF will grow if the markets move up over time, I have also named ICRF as a beneficiary of my retirement plan. I’ll never miss the dollars but can rest assured that even after I’m no longer around to do so, this charity and cause that I love so much will be supported. There are, of course, other ways to make a planned gift, but these were just so easy to do.
2) Why now?
These are challenging times. Let’s just say that being of a certain age, COVID-19 has put me squarely in touch with my mortality. I always thought I had all the time in the world. Now, every time I put on a mask, I am reminded of how unknowable the future is and just how vulnerable I am. I love Israel and I hate cancer. Why put off until tomorrow what I can do today?
3) We know you have a number of philanthropic involvements. Why ICRF?

I’ve spent the last 35 years funding and raising funds for cancer research – both here and in Israel.  It is from that vantage point that I can say with assurance that ICRF’s funded scientists are among the very best in the world. I am so excited to see what the future holds – and I want to be a part of it.

4) Any final thoughts?

As we speak, we are entering the holiday season. In this season of gratitude and reflection, I hope others will consider joining me. Together, we have the opportunity to give families the greatest gift of all – more time together.
Editor’s Note: Your attorney or financial advisor would be happy to help with these or other tax-efficient charitable giving strategies. If you have questions or would like a referral for pro bono help from one of our volunteer experts, please contact Caitlin Shmidheiser at caitlin.shmidheiser@icrfonline.org or 212-969-9800, ext. 227. 
An exclusive article just released through the partnership of ICRF and JTA examines how Israeli scientists are pioneering new, less invasive breast cancer detection methods. Four ICRF-funded scientists share their insights into how cancer cells behave and how to treat them more effectively. Read the article.

All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, and the risk increases with age. Therefore, determining risk factors (genetic, environmental and gene-environment interactions), developing preventive strategies, improving detection technologies, and devising new strategies for targeted treatment of gynecologic cancers are very important goals for cancer research. ICRF grants awarded under The Beverley Librach Abshez Initiative will provide funding for projects of high scientific merit and clear potential significance for advancing the understanding, diagnosis and/or treatment of ovarian and female reproductive system cancers. Multi-investigator applications and interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged, but not required. These special grants will be awarded for a period of three (3) years at a maximum stipend of $100,000 per year. It is anticipated that two (2) grants will be awarded.

To learn more or to register: Click here

Dan Peer, PhD, Head of the Laboratory of Precision Nanomedicine at Tel Aviv University’s Shumis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, conducted a study funded by ICRF demonstrating that the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing system was highly effective in treating metastatic cancers in mice. The groundbreaking research was published in the November 2020 issue of Science Advances.

The researchers developed a novel technology—a lipid nanoparticle-based delivery system that specifically targets cancer cells and neutralizes them by modifying their genetic make-up. This causes permanent damage to cancer cells with potentially no side effects, since non-cancerous cells are not affected. As a result, the overall survival rate of mice with brain cancer (glioblastoma tumors) was improved by 30 percent, and the overall survival rate of mice with metastatic ovarian cancer was increased by 80 percent. These are tumors that require improved treatment approaches.

“This is the first study in the world to prove that the CRISPR  genome editing system can be used to treat cancer in a living animal,” said Professor Peer. “It must be emphasized that this is not chemotherapy. There are no side effects, and a cancer cell treated in this way will never become active again. The molecular scissors of Cas9 cuts the cancer cell’s DNA, thereby neutralizing it and permanently prevented replication.”

Professor Peer added that clinical implementation is still in its infancy stages because an “effective delivery system is needed to safely and accurately deliver the CRISPR technology to its target cells.” 

Read more here.

Together with a team of researchers, Dr. Moshe Elkabets, who just completed an ICRF Research Career Development award at Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Microbology, Immunology, and Genetics, recently published a paper in Science Direct about treatments for head and neck cancer.
The researchers showed that knowledge of the molecular genetic changes underlying the development of cancer in the head and neck can provide a basis to consider modifying treatment strategies for genetically defined subgroups of patients. Chemotherapy and radiation are the most common forms of therapy for head and neck tumors. The side effects of this treatment combination include a loss of saliva, loss of taste, and sore throat, which are disabling and oftentimes painful.

This study found that a subgroup of head and neck cancer patients, whose tumors are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus, are particularly sensitive to radiation. This subgroup is also marked by high levels of expression of the gene that encodes the epidermal growth factor receptor. This finding raises the possibility that patients carrying such tumors can be treated with radiation alone. Such an approach would reduce significant side effects, while increasing the patient’s quality of life, without compromising the curative intent of the therapy.

More than 400 guests participated in virtual networking, online chats and one-on-one video meetings at the ICRF Montreal 15th Annual Women of Action luncheon in November.

Madame Sophie Gregoire Trudeau welcomed the guests acknowledging the power of women coming together, especially in matters concerning health. She encouraged each of the women to “foster resilience by sharing our stories, leaning on one another for support and developing a positive mindset that will result in transformative action.” The special honorees were serial biotech entrepreneur Clarissa Desjardins, PhD and Galia Rahav, MD, PhD, Head of Infectious Diseases at Sheba Medical Center, and a leader in the COVID 19 response. Keynote speaker Deborah Norville, two-time Emmy winner and anchor of Inside Edition, shared her reflections on cancer, COVID and the “Gratitude Mindset.”

The female trailblazers uplifted and inspired the guests, encouraging them to give generously. More than $20,000 CAD was raised from the virtual silent auction, bringing the total close to the goal of $250,000 CAD.
ICRF Chicago is hosting a virtual cooking event with renowned chef Graham Elliot on December 1 at 7:00pm CT / 8:00pm ET. Cook along or sit back and watch a master chef in action as reality television producer and restaurateur Elliot shares his favorite holiday classics.

Registration closes on December 1 at 12:00pm. To register, please click here.
ICRF Chicago and Anshe Emet Synagogue will host a joint program on December 3 at 7:00pm CT / 8:00pm ET where Gary Grad, MD, oncologist and ICRF board member, will share his insights about breakthroughs in Israeli cancer research.

This event is free. Click here to register.
ICRF is joining the global movement of generosity this Giving Tuesday with a goal of reaching 100 donors by the end of the day on December 1, 2020.

However you choose to join us - whether by donating or by helping us raise vital awareness and funds with a fundraiser of your own - will bring us closer to our goal of ending the suffering caused by cancer, together. Every donor and dollar truly counts!
Generate donations for ICRF while you shop on Amazon this holiday season via AmazonSmile. Start shopping at the link below or by turning AmazonSmile ON in the Amazon app (iOS and Android).
The Answer to Cancer is Research.

Israel Cancer Research Fund's mission is to support the best and brightest scientists conducting groundbreaking cancer research at all of the leading institutions in Israel. To date, ICRF has competitively-awarded over $72 million in funding for nearly 2,500 grants, making ICRF the largest nongovernmental funder of cancer research in Israel. Learn more at www.icrfonline.org.