As the 2019 Nobel Prize winners are being announced this week and last in Oslo, Bar-Ilan University is honoring one of Israel’s 12 laureates of the coveted award. The University’s Cancer, AIDS and Immunology Research (C.A.I.R.) Institute, in the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, bestowed its Dr. Tovi Comet-Walerstein Science Award for 2019 upon Nobel Prize recipient Prof. Aaron Ciechanover.
The Dr. Tovi Comet-Walerstein Science Award was established nearly 30 years ago in memory of the late Dr. Tovi Comet-Walerstein, who dedicated her life to medical research. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1953, she earned her degree of Doctor of Medicine and Surgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Following her death from cancer at the age of thirty-eight, her family also created a research chair in her name at the C.A.I.R. Institute.
In accepting the award, Prof. Ciechanover said he found that he had many things in common with Dr. Comet-Walerstein. She was a doctor, a scientist who tried to discover the causes of disease, and she tried to advance Judaism and medicine. She paved her way at a time when women played less of a role in many fields, he said. His acceptance was followed by a talk entitled Bioethics and Science — The Two Must Go Together. Prof. Ciechanover, of the Technion, received the Nobel Prize in 2004, along with Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose, for characterizing the method that cells use to degrade and recycle proteins using ubiquitin.
At the award ceremony in the presence of members of her family, C.A.I.R. Institute Director Prof. Benjamin Sredni fondly remembered Dr. Comet-Walerstein’s commitment to helping others and her warmth towards her patients. “She was an oncologist specializing in breast cancer, and then she herself was diagnosed with it,” he recalled, adding that she went in an instant from a doctor to a patient and opened a hotline for all women who wanted to consult with her. “She worked until almost her last day to help these women,” he said.
University President Prof. Arie Zaban said that if Dr. Comet-Walerstein were still alive she might have found herself affiliated with Bar-Ilan’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine. He cited a Hebrew phrase he learned from Faculty Dean Prof. Karl Skorecki, which has become the Faculty’s motto. The phrase is a play on a number of very similar words in Hebrew whose translation is “in fighting disease towards full recovery one needs great compassion”. Being who she was, Dr. Comet-Walerstein would have connected to this motto and felt at home at the Bar-Ilan Medical School, said Zaban.
Vice President for Research Prof. Shulamit Michaeli said she met Prof. Ciechanover 30 years ago and every time she sees him he tells me about another article he’s publishing in a scientific journals. “He is a Nobel Prize winner, but what is of greatest importance to him is his ongoing research,” she said. She praised Dr. Comet-Walerstein’s beauty, inside and out, adding that she was an incredible women who died before she had a chance to fulfill all of her dreams.