Q&A with Moran Dvela-Levitt

Meet the Zuckerman Faculty Scholar Moran Dvela-Levitt, Bar Ilan University – Studying “Cellular Traffic Jams”

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Moran Dvela-Levitt joined the Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University after a her postdoc at the Kidney Disease Initiative at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

In her lab, Dr. Dvela-Levitt studies the cellular network of protein trafficking, an essential process required for the proper functioning of all cells and systems of the human body. Dysfunction of the trafficking machinery leads to cellular “traffic jams,” a hallmark of many devastating diseases such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and cystic fibrosis.

Please describe your current research, particularly the focus of your lab, and its practical implications.

There are many different pathologies or disorders that involve what I call protein “traffic jams.” These disorders cause genes to mutate – something changes in the structure – and then the cells don’t know what to do.  In the lab, we try to gain a better understanding of the mechanism of basic cell biology – why the cells do when they get stuck. When the cells get stuck, they damage other cells.  Many diseases are involved in these jams. We use high-content imaging through microscopy, and we are in the process of purchasing a High Content Screening Fluorescent microscope that is equipped with automated systems. This allows us to run several different experiments simultaneously in a very short time and achieve results with a very high-resolution.

We hope to find ways to relieve theses traffic jams and look for possible therapeutics to clear the traffic jams out of the cell.

Our lab focuses on diseases of the kidney. We take cells from patients and isolate them in a dish for each specific patient and generate something called kidney organoids.  We are actually growing a mini kidney, are able to study the sample without having to take a biopsy, for example.

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What inspired you to pursue this area of research?

At this point there is no specific cure for kidney diseases, so this is a great reason to do the research. I am hopeful that by focusing on the kidney, we will be able to identify potential treatments.

What do you enjoy most about your research and what you do? 

I really love the science, because science requires you to be innovative and creative, and bring new, original ideas. I really enjoy that part of it. For example, in researching kidney diseases, there are still only two main solutions: dialysis and transplantation.  This is all a nephrologist has to offer, and neither is a great option.

Where do you hope your research will have the greatest impact? 

For my postdoc at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I studied a rare kidney disease called MUC1 (MKD).  More common kidney diseases are very complex and not much progress has been made in understanding them.  Perhaps the part the kidney plays in these diseases is overlooked. Am continuing this research in my lab. By focusing on diseases where only the kidney is affected and is easier to examine, we hope to gain a better understanding of the role the kidney plays in these diseases.

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What does it mean to be part of the Zuckerman Faculty Scholars Program?

Bringing scientists back to Israel is so important, and I am honored to be included in this amazing effort. I am grateful for the funding provided by the Zuckerman Scholars Program to build my lab, and I look forward to getting to know my fellow faculty scholars better, now that the covid restrictions have eased.

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