Dr. Dalit Barkan, head of the Laboratory of Breast Cancer Dormancy and Metastasis in the Department of Human Biology at the University of Haifa, has been named one of the seven top breakthrough female scientists in Israel by leading business newspaper Globes.
Dr. Barkan has successfully developed a three-dimensional model that facilitates the reactivation of cancer cells, enabling her to study the molecular mechanisms linked to this process. Her findings have the potential to identify novel targets to fight metastatic growth. Ultimately, they may lead to the development of treatment that will prevent meta-static growth in breast cancer.
“When we speak of breast cancer,” Dr. Barkin explains,“it is known that amongst quite a large percentage of women the disease will recur between 5-15 years later because of changes in the tissue where the single dormant metastatic cells reside.” This change in the tissue resembles a scar tissue.
“Because the disease will recur in quite a number of women and manifest itself as a metastatic disease, we developed unique macrophages (white blood cells) that secrete soluble factors which prevent the scarring of the tissue” and in return inhibit the outbreak of the metastatic cells.
“I sat and looked in the microscope to examine the metastasis of breast cancer cells on the lungs of the female mice,” Dr. Barkan reported, “and I found that the lungs were almost clear. It was a wonderful feeling of success. Science is a roller-coaster- there are many downs and only a few moments of successes. This is why it is wonderfully exciting to know that you are working on something that may help women who have the disease.”
Dr. Barkan inherited her love of science from her father, a Weizmann Institute physicist, who gave Dalit her first microscope as a young girl. She continued in her father’s footsteps as a doctoral student at the Weitzman Institute of Science. Her choice to study biology and specialize in cancer research stemmed from the personal loss of friends and loved ones from the disease.
Dr. Barkan joined the University of Haifa after completing a five-year post-doctoral fellowship and a two-year research fellowship at the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute. While a fellow at the Laboratory of Cellular Biology and Genetics, Dr. Barkan received the National Cancer Institute Director’s 2007 Career Development Innovation Award, and published her findings in Cancer Research 2008, which was selected for the prestigious Faculty of 1000 Biology.
“The time I spent abroad was a wonderful experience for our family. I was lucky to work in a world-class laboratory – a true paradise for scientists – and although I had the opportunity to continue my research there, I didn’t hesitate to accept the University of Haifa’s offer,” notes Dr. Barkan.
For Dr. Barkan, returning to Israel was always in her long-term plan. “I knew I wanted to come back to the place where I was best suited and trained to use the tools and knowledge that I acquired. I knew I wanted to establish a laboratory that would lead and promote science in Israel,” she explains.