Prof. Eran Meshorer to be awarded 2013 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for work on biomedical potential of embryonic stems cells

Prof. Eran Meshorer (photo: Bruno Charbit)March 24, 2013: Prof. Eran Meshorer of the Hebrew University’s Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Science is to be awarded the 2013 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research for the extensive and groundbreaking work undertaken in his laboratory to shed light on pluripotency.

Pluripotency is the ability of embryonic stem cells to both renew themselves indefinitely and to differentiate into all types of mature cells. Understanding the mechanisms that make this process possible could allow scientists to replicate it and ultimately enable them to create cells in the laboratory which could be implanted in humans to treat diseases characterized by tissue degeneration, including degeneration of pancreatic cells (as in diabetes), or of central nerve tissue such as the retina (in age-related macular degeneration) or brain (dementia, Parkinsonism).

Prof. Eran Meshorer is a member of the Department of Genetics in the Hebrew University’s Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. Combining molecular, microscopic and genomic approaches, his team has focused much of its work on the role of chromatin in this process, as it is believed that understanding the mechanisms that regulate chromatin function will enable intelligent manipulations of embryonic stem cells in the future.

His lab’s work has produced several ‘firsts’ in this competitive field. Overall, they show that embryonic stem cells maintain their pluripotency by means of an open-flexible chromatin structure, which is regulated by the action of histone-modifying enzymes and low levels of the nuclear lamina protein Lamin A.

"If we can apply this new understanding about the mechanisms that give embryonic stem cells their plasticity, then we can increase or decrease the dynamics of the proteins that bind DNA and thereby increase or decrease the cells' differentiation potential,” says Meshorer, who was awarded a prestigious ERC Starting Grant in 2011. “This could expedite the use of embryonic stem cells in cell therapy and regenerative medicine, by enabling the creation of cells in the laboratory which could be implanted in humans to cure diseases characterized by cell death, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and other degenerative diseases."

A prize medal crafted by renowned Melbourne sculptor Michael Meszaros and the $10,000 cash award will be presented to Prof. Meshorer at a ceremony to be held during the annual Board of Governors meeting at the Hebrew University in June 2013.

First presented at the University of Sydney in 2006, the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research recognizes discovery in medical research by researchers under 45 years of age, emphasizing contributions to the understanding or treatment of disease. The prize is awarded in alternate years at the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is one of a number of Fund initiatives aiming to support medical research at the two institutions and promote cooperative work between them.

Established in 1978 by the late John Hammond, a Sydney businessman, the Fund currently supports one collaborative scientific project between the two universities, a program of student and academic exchange, the Fund Prize for Medical Research and the SZCUF Alzheimer's Disease Research Grant.

Sir Zelman Cowen, who passed away in December 2011, served as Governor-General of Australia from 1977 to 1982 and was a patron of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund from 1997, having served as a trustee prior to that time. The Fund was established in 1978 in honor of his appointment as Governor-General in the previous year.