Dr. Ido Amit envisions a future in which doctors can tailor individualized treatment plans for diseases based on a person’s genetic makeup.
His lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel is researching “personalized medicine,” the understanding of how an individual’s genetic makeup determines one’s immune response to diseases and treatments.
In the Weizmann Institute newsletter, Amit explained that researchers have identified a strong genetic predisposition for breast cancer, and now they believe they can predict how cancer patients will respond to chemotherapy based on their own genomes.
“This has a lot of predictive value – we could know what our children might be susceptible to,” said Amit at the Weizmann Canada national annual meeting on Oct. 25. “This is what the future holds.”
Now the Weizmann Institute is working to establish the Israel National Center for Personalized Medicine, a state-of-the-art research institute that will focus on understanding the roles genes play in diseases and its treatments. Amit believes that will completely change the way medicine is practiced.
His mission is to create “accurate missiles to treat people’s diseases, and not something else.” His research has been getting worldwide attention: in 2009, the journal Science said his research, which revealed new regulatory circuits that control the immune system, was a scientific breakthrough.
“Every cell in our body has the same genomes, the same information but we express lenses only in our eyes not in our legs,” he said. “This is achieved by the fact that we have special regulatory mechanisms that activate the right gene at the right time at the right place.”
To raise funds for the new centre, Weizmann Canada is launching a major fundraising initiative.
Founded in 1964, Weizmann Canada is part of a worldwide network that supports, funds and raises awareness about the work done by the Weizmann Institute in Israel.
In addition, it nurtures future scientists and researchers in Canada through programs like its Math-by-Mail program, an extracurricular math program for grade 3 to 8 students; its Shalheveth Freier Physics Tournament, in which high school students compete to win a trip to Israel; and its Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute program, which sends senior high school students to work with researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.
While it is hoping to raise $8 million dollars to refurbish and equip the new centre, Weizmann Canada also wants to people to become aware that medical breakthroughs like Amit’s can affect anyone personally.
Weizmann Canada’s national annual meeting was called “Let’s get personal,” and its board members, national presidents and supporters spoke about how this research is personal to them.
“It’s unique in the way it provides me with an opportunity to get involved in areas of research that speak to me personally, that it affects the future we’re hoping to create for our children,” said Carolyn Cohen, a Toronto board member.
Amit doesn’t take all the credit for his work. He said personalized medicine has been around for a long time, but the new centre’s multi-disciplinary approach and its advanced technology will allow his team to significantly increase the speed of discovering and testing new theories about the treatment of specific diseases.
“The changes in our genomes are what usually make us different,” said Amit. “If we can understand that, then we can treat people with personalized drugs, instead of just general treatments.”