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May 31, 2024

Spotlight on Tal Yardeni, PhD

ICRF Research Career Development Award Recipient
Chaim Sheba Medical Center

Tal Yardeni, PhD, is a renowned expert in mitochondrial genetics and function. Known as the “powerhouse of the cell,” mitochondria produce the energy necessary for the cell’s survival and functioning. Dr. Yardeni’s distinguished research background includes a PhD from National Human Genome Research Institute/National Institutes of Health and post-doctoral training at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She now leads the Mitochondrial Research Lab at Chaim Sheba Medical Center, where her groundbreaking work focuses on how mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variations affect immune function and cancer progression. As a rising star, she was awarded the new investigator grant, the “Research Career Development Award,” sponsored by the Israel Cancer Research Fund.

Dr. Yardeni’s innovative research addresses the urgent need for more effective melanoma treatments. Checkpoint blockers, which are the current first-line immunotherapies that target specific proteins on cells, are not effective for all patients. In fact, 70 percent of patients are experience disease progression following checkpoint blockers therapy. Dr. Yardeni’s research explores the potential of mitochondria to enhance immune responses against cancer. Her early research shows that haplotypes, sets of genetic markers inherited together from a single parent of mtDNA, can significantly impact how melanoma develops by affecting immune cell function in mice. By focusing on mitochondrial haplotypes, Dr. Yardeni aims to develop precision therapies tailored to improve the effectiveness of a salvage therapy for the checkpoint blockers therapy which is tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) therapy; which are a type of immune cell found within tumors. Dr. Yardeni’s approach involves taking TILs from melanoma patients, augmenting them with different mitochondrial haplogroups (group of haplotypes) to strengthen their function, and reintroducing them into patients. This strategy holds promise not only for melanoma, but potentially for other cancers.

Dr. Yardeni’s research aims to create targeted therapies that significantly enhance the efficacy of TIL treatments for melanoma patients. By modifying the mitochondria of TILs, her work seeks to reduce the resistance of melanomas and other cancers to traditional therapies, thereby improving patient outcomes and quality of life. Skin cancers are the most common group of cancers diagnosed worldwide, with more than 1.5 million new cases estimated in 2020. Cutaneous melanoma remains the most severe type of skin cancer and accounts for approximately 1 in 5 skin cancers. Given the high mortality rate and significant emotional and financial burdens associated with melanoma, her innovative approach offers new hope for patients and their families. This precision-based framework could transform cancer therapy, making it more effective and personalized.

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