Prof Howard Cedar – 2009
Silencing of the Genes
Howard Cedar was born in the USA in 1943, and was one of the first graduates of the MD PhD programme, receiving his PhD from New York University in 1970. After research at the USA National Institutes of Health he moved to Israel with his wife Tzippi, and has worked at the Hebrew University / Hadassah in the Department of Cellular Biochemistry and Human Genetics ever since.
His work (with Prof. Yehudit Bergman and others) on DNA methylation (chemical changes in the DNA molecule) focuses on a very basic aspect of animal cell biology. This molecular process turns on and off the (approximately) 40,000 genes in the human body, and will be the theme of his Joffe Memorial Lecture.
Cedar is known not only for his outstanding scientific ability but also for the way that he can explain his ideas to the wider public. Thus he explains: “Everyone inherits genetic information, but it has to be used in a programmed manner. That programming is called epigenetics. The older one gets, the more likely the programming mechanism is to make mistakes. These changes in epigenetics control could predispose a person to cancer. That would explain why cancer is largely a disease of older age.” He believes that: “In only 5 percent of cancer cases, methylation is not involved. As methylation is common to almost every tumour, finding a way to interfere and regulate it is a major future therapeutic target.”
Eight years ago Cedar was awarded the Israel Prize for his contributions to biology and medicine, and in 2008 he received the Wolf Prize, which is one of the highest accolades in the scientific world.
However, the distinguished religiously observant biomedical scientist is also well-known in Israel for another reason: he is the father of Joseph Cedar, a film director, who made the award-winning film Beaufort, which was a finalist as a foreign-film Oscar.