Professor Eli Pikarsky Receives 2013 Youdim Family Prize

The Youdim Prize Committee is pleased to announce the first recipient of the Youdim Prize for Excellence in Cancer Research:   Dr. Eli Pikarsky, MD, PhD, Chair of Pathology at Hadassah Medical Center and Associate Professor in the Department of Immunology and Cancer Research, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel. Professor Yosef Yarden nominated Dr. Pikarsky for the Youdim Prize in recognition of his paradigm-changing research that looked more deeply at malignant tumor invasion into the lining layers of tissues and in particular the lamina propria layers. Prior to Dr. Pikarsky’s research, the prevailing dogma was that epithelial tissue invasion resulted from the accumulation of successive mutations, eventually allowing the epithelial cells to acquire invasive attributes. However, Dr. Pikarsky’s studies suggest that this invasion is a pre-programmed process actively restrained by the tumor suppressor molecule p53.

A trained surgical pathologist and molecular biologist, Dr. Pikarsky is actively engaged in clinical work. He is the Chairman of Pathology at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center. His research laboratory at the medical school studies tissue interactions that modulate liver cancer progression, combining various methodologies including mouse genetic manipulation, imaging, and molecular biology. Dr. Pikarsky encourages staff and students to harness the power of tissue-based analytic methods to reveal the underpinnings of disease processes and to look for specific points that are amenable for therapeutic manipulation.

Dr. Pikarsky gained worldwide recognition as a leader in cancer research, and is an expert in animal models of cancer, particularly relating to molecular pathology, which has already identified several basic principles operative in carcinogenesis, in particular inflammation associated cancer (responsible for 20% of human cancers). Dr. Pikarsky’s early outstanding achievement used a using a mouse model of inflammation induced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) to provide was experimental evidence supporting the concept that inflammatory cytokines modulate epithelial cell fate, rendering them more susceptible to malignant transformation,. This milestone publication provided the first mechanistic link between inflammation and cancer. Recently he further expanded the spectrum of chronic inflammation associated cancer by demonstrating two new forms of inflammation which promote carcinogenesis: i. parainflammation, an intermediate state between basal homeostasis and chronic inflammation, manifested by a protumorigenic cytokine milieu, completely devoid of immune infiltrates; and ii. Focal inflammatory niches which nurse HCC progenitors at the earliest stages of hepatocarcinogenesis. Interestingly, he discovered that acquisition of independence from these niches is a prerequisite for their egression, possibly describing a new hallmark capability of cancer. In addition to these remarkable contributions to inflammation associated cancer, Dr. Pikarsky discovered that the embryonic stem cell determinant Oct4, is an oncogene to which germ cell tumors are addicted. This set the stage for the notion that was later validated and broadened by other laboratories, that stem cell transcription factors are oncogenic.

Dr. Pikarsky has received nine major awards since 2000, including the Yigal Alon Fellowship, the Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research (Australia), and this most recent Youdim Prize, awarded only to nominated researchers. With over 48 publications to his credit, and research that could change the approach towards our understanding of epithelial tissue invasion into the lamina propria, the Youdim Organizing Committee considers Dr. Pikarsky to be a worthy first recipient of the new Youdim Prize for Excellence in Cancer Research.