Altman and Isakov Unlock Mysteries of the Immune System


If Dr. Noah Isakov and Dr. Amnon Altman could use one word to describe their partnership, they know what it would be: synergy.

“We have always worked very well together, and we are very grateful to BSF for aiding us in continuing to work together,” Altman said.

Isakov, an Israeli, is a professor of immunology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Altman, an American, is the Director of Scientific Affairs at the La Jolla (California) Institute for Allergy and Immunology. As their titles suggest, they both focus on the immune system.

Dr. Amnon Altman

They received their first BSF grant nearly 30 years ago, and they’ve been working together – with continuous BSF support – ever since. Even before they were accepted for this first grant, they knew each other well. In the 1980s, when Altman was an associate member in the Department of Immunology at what was then the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation (now the Scripps Research Institute) in San Diego, Isakov studied there as a post-doctoral fellow. Altman was very impressed, and when Isakov went back to Israel, they still wanted to work together. That’s where BSF funding came in handy.

“I knew that, especially since Noah is Israeli, getting the BSF grant was very important to him,” Altman said. “But the way I see it, I’ve gained a lot from the BSF grants, too. They have helped to provide ways for us to continue working together, so I get the benefit of his knowledge and talent. Plus, we’ve also become very good friends.”

The immune system is one of the most complex, intricate parts of the body, charged with the critical task of protecting the body from infection and diseases. Like a hockey player guarding the puck from going into the net, the immune system guards against germs and microorganisms by attacking them when they invade the body.

Isakov and Altman are interested in lymphocytes, which are specific cells in the immune system that act to keep illnesses at bay. Lymphocytes do this by identifying so called “foreign” molecules and destroying them before they can harm the body.

However, for reasons that are still not fully understood, regulation of immune responses can be derailed. When that happens, illnesses often follow. With their previous BSF-funded work, Isakov and Altman have already made a promising discovery. They found two molecules, termed PKCθ and Pin1, that can apparently affect the nature and intensity of immune respon

Dr. Noah Isakov

se. Now, they’re hoping to learn more about how these molecules interact. Their findings could play a key role in future development of tools and treatments that would prevent – or at least lessen the severity – of immune system breakdowns.

The grants have allowed both to visit each other’s labs, and work closely with each other’s teams. This, said Isakov, allows for very critical and important feedback on the work being done in both labs.

“For me, as an Israeli, it has always been a source of pride to know that BSF considers our work to be important and worthy of grants,” Isakov said. “But more than that, the grants have helped to sustain a partnership not only between Dr. Altman and myself, but also between the teams working with us. We both have excellent teams, and we both benefit from sharing our knowledge and our discoveries.”