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​Dr. Oren Parnas: We explore how cancer escapes the immune system. We investigate the effect of suppressive signals that produce by cancer on innate immune cells, aiming to find new biological mechanisms that paralyze the immune response in early stages of tumor development

Dr. Oren Parnas
After high school, I was mainly interested in engineering and finance. I completed a B.Sc. degree in industrial engineering and management and M.Sc. in economics at the Technion. In 2001, I started working in the analytics department of Bank Hapoalim. My work in the bank, developing analytical tools, was very interesting and rewarding but I did not feel fulfilled. I was attracted to science and decided to take classes in biology at Tel Aviv University in parallel to my work at the bank. Amazed by a fascinating course in genetics, I asked Prof. Martin Kupiec, the lecturer, if I could do a project in his lab. After two years (2002-2004) working in the bank and studying biology in parallel, it was clear to me which I preferred. I saw my future in science.
I joined the Ph.D. program at Tel Aviv University under the supervision of Prof. M. Kupiec. I investigated mechanisms that prevent genome instability, a hallmark of cancer and elucidated the role of Elg1, a protein that is involved in DNA replication, DNA repair, chromatin remodeling and sister chromatid cohesion.
After the Ph.D., I chose to implement the genetic approach, as a post doc, first in the virology field at Duke University and as second post doc, in the Broad institute in Prof. Aviv Regev lab, to explore the immune system. When I started in the Regev lab in the beginning of 2014, the CRISPR revolution in mammalian genetics had already started, providing new tools to allow a complete knockout of desired mammalian genes. This was an exciting opportunity to apply and further develop methodologies that I had used in lower eukaryotes during the Ph.D., towards mammalian cells and immune cells. I performed a genome-wide CRISPR screen in immune cells, and chose to investigate dendritic cells which are a bridge between the innate and the adaptive immune systems and have an important role in pathogen control and cancer.
I joined the Immunology and Cancer Research Department at the Hebrew University in July 2016. We explore the effect of suppressive signals on innate immune cells especially dendritic cells. We focus on suppressive signals that produced by cancer.
Cancer escape the immune system using several strategies including the production of signals that suppress the ability of the immune system to respond to danger. We explore: (1) Which suppressive signals produce by cancer, at which stage during the development of the disease, and how they affect the immune cells. (2) Which key genes, that expressed by immune cells, sense and transfer of the suppressive signals and therefore can be targeted to block the effect. We are using advance genetics and genomics methods, to characterize the interactions between the immune cells and the malignant cells in several solid tumors. It includes single cell RNA-seq technics that enables to monitor cell type and cell state in unbiased way and genome wide CRISPR-CAS9 screens that are useful in order to find new genes that play a role in immune regulation. We aim to find new mechanisms that affect the immune system function in different stages of the disease and to find key regulators to manipulate and improve the immune system function.
I believe that at this point in time, with all the amazing breakthroughs and advances in our understanding of biological systems and the new tools, basic research will uncover new biological mechanisms and will, at the same time, have an important clinical impact.