The NIH hopes the MERIT Award will encourage scientists to "take greater risks, be more adventurous in the lines of inquiry, or take the time to develop new techniques." Less than five percent of NIH investigators are selected to receive the MERIT Award, which provides long-term support for researchers, freeing them from the burden of securing and renewing funding for their work year after year. The award has been presented annually since 1987 to individuals whose "paradigm shifting ideas" and "excellent productivity" make them leaders in their field.
Prof. Oren's research gained the attention of the cancer research world in the early 1980s for his role in cloning p53, the "tumor suppressor gene." Since that time, p53 has been the object of intense scientific scrutiny. It soon became clear that p53 is a part of a complex molecular network, that can suppress -- or fail to suppress -- cancerous growth.
The discovery of p53 and its key role in maintaining healthy cells led to a burgeoning new direction in cancer research. Although it is not the only tumor suppressor gene, mutations in the p53 gene are most common in cancer. In normal cells, p53 sets in motion a complex series of molecular events that can cause cell suicide, or apoptosis -- which, despite its name, is a necessary and healthy mechanism that prevents damaged cells from replicating possibly cancerous mistakes in their DNA. When p53 does not function properly, cancerous cells do not undergo apoptosis, and are able to proliferate in the body. Understanding how p53 works, and what other factors affect it is of prime importance in illuminating the underlying causes of cancer and how to prevent it.
Prof. Oren came to the Weizmann Institute in 1981 and became a Full Professor in 1991. He was a visiting professor at Stanford University from 1988-1989. In 1993 he was appointed Director of the Leo and Julia Forchheimer Center for Molecular Genetics at the Weizmann Institute, and he served as Dean of the Biology Faculty at the Weizmann Institute from 1999-2003.
The Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's foremost centers of scientific research and graduate study. Its 2,500 scientists, students, technicians, and engineers pursue basic research in the quest for knowledge and the enhancement of humanity. New ways of fighting disease and hunger, protecting the environment, and harnessing alternative sources of energy are high priorities at Weizmann.