Yosef Refaeli’s interest in medicine began early on when he realized he enjoyed disassembling household appliances to see how they were built. While this may not have amused his parents, (he wasn’t always successful in putting things back together) it did cause him to realize that learning how things worked piqued his interest. He eventually moved from machines to living organisms.
Largely influential in Yosef’s decision to study medicine, was the time Yosef spent as a youth in developing countries when his father worked for the Israeli Foreign Service. It was in the poorest areas of East Africa, and Venezuela where he saw the effects that poverty had on what would normally be preventable diseases in economically developed countries. According to Yosef, diseases such as blindness caused by malnutrition were avoidable provided you could pay for the treatment. This experience is what eventually led him to focus on applied research that has practical use in real-world situations rather than basic research which is more theory-based.
Although Yosef says it wasn’t a conscious decision, a correlation can be found between his family’s history and his current field of research. All four of his grandparents were interned in concentration camps in Nazi Germany. They lived through the experience, but not without repercussions. Medical experiments that were notoriously and unethically performed on prisoners in those camps, including Yosef’s grandfather, eventually led to a blood disease that caused his death. Years later, he finds himself researching the very treatments that could have saved his grandfather’s life.
Yosef’s research is focused on blood stem cells; specifically as they relate to lymphoid tumors and blood regeneration. His research includes finding drugs that will target cancer stem cells, the type of cell widely believed to be at the root of tumor growth. His laboratory is the first in the world to conditionally immortalize and regenerate blood cells indefinitely. This discovery could lead to cures for leukemia, lymphoma, and other cancers. It could also provide a permanent solution to blood storage which would eliminate the need for blood banks as well as provide a pathogen-free source of blood.
Yosef has been with Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research for two years. He says he was attracted to the Center because of the collegial and collaborative environment. The world-class program, located in brand new facilities has helped him to recruit some of the best investigators and researchers for his lab.
To contact Yosef Refaeli and to get more information on his research, please visit his webpage.