ICRF Newsletter
September 2020

ICRF is pleased to announce a total of 69 cancer research grants valued at $4,711,335 will be supported for the 2020-2021 funding year. The new grants include: the first Career Development Award (CDA) for a young clinician-scientist, co-funded with Conquer Cancer (The ASCO Foundation), as well as two new International Collaboration Grants for an Israeli scientist partnering with a US-based scientist, co-funded with The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation and The Alan B. Slifka Foundation, and two new Gesher Grants for Israeli scientists returning to Israel after studying abroad, co-funded by ICRF Israel and The Israel Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). With the 2020-2021 grants, ICRF’s funding has now surpassed 2,500 grants totaling more than $77.5 million.

ICRF's volunteer Scientific Review Panel (SRP), composed of leading American and Canadian scientists with expertise in cancer research, reviews all grant applications on a transparent and objective basis. After this lengthy peer-review process, the SRP presents its rankings to the International Scientific Council (ISC), ICRF’s scientific policy-making arm. In turn, the ISC forwards its recommendations to the International Board of Trustees for ratification, and only the best, most-qualified applications receive ICRF funding.

Grant selection is based on the scientific merit of the proposed research and the quality of the application, rather than affiliation with any particular institution. In fact, over the years, ICRF has funded projects at virtually all of the leading research centers in Israel, and has become the largest non-governmental funder of cancer research in Israel. Among the areas of cancer research sponsored by ICRF in 2020-21 are studies in blood, brain, breast, colorectal, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, pediatric, and skin cancers, as well as genetics and genomics, molecular biology, immunology and immunotherapy, and the tumor microenvironment.

Commenting on the new grants, ICRF National Executive Director Dr. Mark Israel said, "ICRF has been able to fund a portfolio of grants we are uniquely excited about, not only because it is of the scale and scope of the previous year's funding, but because of the broad scope of innovative, high impact work that it embraces. In these times of apprehension and uncertainty, there is one thing that you can be sure about -- scientific research is the answer to disease. The coronavirus will eventually be defeated, but cancer will still be with us. ICRF has not forgotten, and we hope that our supporters will not forget, our important mission to eradicate the scourge of cancer.”

The International Scientific Council (ISC), ICRF’s scientific policy-making arm, was convened virtually this month by incoming chair Dr. Nancy Maizels, Professor Emeriti of Immunology and Biochemistry at the University of Washington. In addition to reviewing newly-funded grants awarded in 2020-2021 and planning for future innovations, the Council took the opportunity to celebrate and honor the remarkable legacy of outgoing chairman and ICRF icon, Dr. Peter Stambrook, who is stepping down after serving for more than two decades in this position.

Dr. Mark Israel and ICRF staff feted Dr. Stambrook with several awards including announcement of the Peter Stambrook Award in Cancer Medicine to fund research by Dr. Michael Berger of The Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research at The Hebrew University. The study is titled, "Generating Metabolically Superior T Cells as Novel Immunotherapy to Treat Solid Tumors." This work holds promise to improve significantly an important type of immunotherapy called adoptive cell transfer.
Towards the Cure for Childhood Cancer
In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, ICRF's Brilliant Minds webinar series invited Dr. Galit Kleiner to speak with Dr. David Malkin of the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto about her daughter Sienna's (Sisi) battle with a rare childhood cancer at age three. In just a few months, Sisi will celebrate five years cancer-free.

Every three minutes a family is given the devastating news that their child has cancer. But thanks to improved genomics, better diagnostic tools and new treatments, more than 80 per cent of U.S. childhood cancer patients now become long-term survivors.
Shai Izraeli, MD, Director of Hematology-Oncology at Schneider Children’s Medical Center and a current recipient of an ICRF-City of Hope Jacki & Bruce Barron Cancer Research Scholars' Program Grant, discussed emerging strategies to more effectively treat childhood cancers, especially therapies targeting specific biochemical pathways in tumor cells that might not be present or active in normal cells. Such therapies are lowering the toxicity of treatments and making them more precise, offering new hope for survivors of childhood cancer.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
12:00-12:45 pm ET
11:00-11:45 am CT

Please join us next month during Breast Cancer Awareness Month for an interactive conversation featuring breast cancer survivor Johanna Harris, ICRF-funded researcher Asya Rolls, PhD, of the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology and moderator David Hakimian, MD.

Dr. Rolls is an ICRF grantee under the Immunotherapy Promise, a funding partnership with the Cancer Research Institute. Using advanced neuroscience tools, her lab aims to dissect the effects of innervation -- the distribution of nerve fibers to an organ or body region --- on the tumor microenvironment in order to improve the efficacy of immunotherapy. Dr. Rolls’ team is characterizing the neuronal activity in two mouse models of cancer, specifically lung cancer and breast cancerIn response to the pandemic, her lab is also attempting to understand how our thoughts and expectations may impact the body’s ability to fight off COVID-19, with the goal of decreasing infection rates among exposed individuals.
Registration will be available soon on our website.
Webinar sponsorship opportunities are still available for 2020. To learn more, please contact caitlin.shmidheiser@icrfonline.org.
Many ICRF-funded scientists have made their mark in the world cancer research arena by publishing their findings in prestigious medical and scientific journals; but some of them are also working at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus.
Prof. Lucio Frydman, Weizmann Institute of Science
Professor Lucio Frydman of the Weizmann Institute of Science, is a new ICRF Acceleration Grant recipient whose research work deals with developing better cancer diagnostic imaging tools that expose the patient to less or lower doses of radiation. He is also performing high-resolution, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging studies of the COVID-19 virus , in order to learn how it works and how to defeat it.  His efforts in this area have now grown into an international collaboration with ten groups around the world, and they have begun publishing their findings in two recently-submitted papers.
An exclusive article just released through the partnership of ICRF and JTA delves into how ICRF-funded scientists are examining the effects of stress on people battling COVID. Israeli scientists Yafit Gilboa and Asya Rolls have zeroed in on the connection between a patient's mental state and how the immune system fights tumors. Read the article.

In a recent article in Advanced Therapeutics, ICRF-funded Professor Ronit Satchi-Fainaro of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Sackler School of Medicine, announced that her research group has developed an innovative nanotechnological drug delivery system that significantly enhances the effectiveness of treatment for the aggressive skin cancer melanoma.

"In this project, we looked for a solution to a problem often associated with drug cocktails," Professor Satchi-Fainaro noted. "Most oncological treatments today are administered in the form of cocktails of several medications. But even though the drugs are administered simultaneously, they do not reach the tumor at the same time, due to differences in basic parameters, like how long they survive in the bloodstream and the time it takes each drug to reach the tumor tissue. Thus, in most cases, the medications do not work concurrently, which prevents them from attaining optimal synergistic activity."

Responding to these challenges, the researchers developed an innovative, efficient, and biodegradable drug delivery system. Two drugs known to be effective for the treatment of melanoma were chosen, with the intention of delivering them jointly to the tumor using a nanocarrier. Developed in Professor Satchi-Fainaro's lab several years ago, the nanocarrier has already been tested successfully for treating pancreatic, breast, and ovarian cancer in animal models.

Tested on a mouse model of melanoma, the new treatment showed promising results. "In this project, we developed an innovative drug delivery system for treating melanoma, delivering two proven medications and releasing them simultaneously at the tumor site," Professor Satchi-Fainaro said. "The treatment proved both safer and more effective than the same medications administered as a cocktail."

A research group, led by ICRF-funded Professor Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu of Tel Aviv University School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience and Dr. Oded Zmora of Shamir Medical Center, successfully reduced metastatic spread following tumor removal in colorectal patients. The study was recently published in the American Cancer Society journal, Cancer.

Using a stress-inflammatory response-reducing treatment  prior and following surgery, the team was able to reduce stress responses  and physiological inflammation, which in turn prevented metastases in the years following the surgery.

The three-year study included 34 patients. During a 20-day period—from five days before surgery up until two weeks afterward—16 of the patients received anti-anxiety and blood pressure reducing drugs, while the other 18 were given a placebo. Only two of the 16 patients receiving the drug treatment exhibited metastatic disease. In the other control group, six out of 18 developed metastasis, which is the expected rate for colorectal cancer patients.

According to Professor Ben-Eliyahu, the treatment led to a reduction in the metastatic potential of the tumor and, potentially, the residual cancer cells. In addition, the drugs triggered positive changes in the patients’ white blood cell number and type, indicating a reduced change of recurrence.

“When the body is in a state of stress, whether physiological or psychological, this causes a release of high amounts of hormones, prostaglandins and catecholamines,” said Ben-Eliyahu. “These hormones then suppress the activity of the immune cells, indirectly promoting the development of cancer metastasis.”

A  comprehensive clinical study is planned to further test this treatment.

ICRF Israel held its first “hybrid “ gala this month with hundreds of supporters joining in live and online. Close to NIS 1 million ($290,000) was raised to support cancer research in Israel.

Highlights of the evening included interviews with Professors Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, ICRF-funded scientists who received the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of their groundbreaking research on the Ubiquitin System. Professor Neta Erez, ICRF Project Grant Recipient, spoke about her research in cancer-related inflammation to Galia Dor, a breast cancer patient. 

ICRF Israel Chairman Tamir Gilat had an emotional exchange with Dr. Talia Golan, a senior oncologist, who has been overseeing his treatment for pancreatic cancer over the past nine years. 

During the celebrity-studded evening, a new project, “Adopt a Research, Adopt a Researcher” was inaugurated as well as the donation of a Gesher Award to support a young investigator after postdoctoral training. 
ICRF Toronto cycled to the finish line on September 13 with more than 170 participants raising over $165,00. The virtual day of fitness, including yoga, Pilates, spin and other classes, doubled participation from last year.

In summing up the event, Jennifer Oukanine, Executive Director, ICRF Toronto said: “The answer to cancer is research and the success of Bike for the Fight 2020 will enable us to fund more outstanding cancer research in Israel. A special shout-out to our extraordinary event chair, Elana Lustig, our fundraising chair, Moni Lustig, our committee, sponsors, donors, and instructors."
ICRF's Connecticut Chapter and Greenwich, Connecticut’s UJA -JCC will co-sponsor a reprise of a Brilliant Minds webinar on Thursday, October 1, 7:30 pm - "Israeli Scientists Discover That Everyday Bacteria Block Effective Cancer Treatment, Including Possible Solutions,” and “An Uplifting Interview With a Lung Cancer 'Thriver'."  ICRF National Executive Director Dr. Mark A. Israel, will give an update (live) on Israel’s COVID 19 strategies and progress in COVID testing. To register, click here.
Celebrate your birthday or honor a loved one by creating your own Facebook fundraiser for ICRF.

Use the new Amazon Smile App
(for both iOS and android)
to generate donations for ICRF
when you shop via Amazon Smile.
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.