Meet Dr. Iris Eisenberg, a Life Sciences Trailblazer

Dr. Iris Eisenberg

For Dr. Iris Eisenberg, research is more than just a task for a scientist. It is a passion that often leads toward meaningful discoveries.

“You can see how your work can help someone and be very useful,” she said.

She knows from experience. Her PhD research investigating the biology of neuromuscular disorders led to the identification of the gene (GNE-myopathy) causing hereditary inclusion body myopathy (HIBM), a debilitating genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle weakness. Her fellowship research in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy pioneered understanding of the role of small non-coding RNAs in the pathology of the disease, as well as their potential role in future clinical applications.

Now, as a new member of BSF’s Board of Governors, Eisenberg hopes to help Israeli and American scientists to follow paths toward their own discoveries.

“I believe the connection between U.S. and Israeli scientists is stronger than ever, and while a BSF grant does not provide a lot of money, it provides important opportunities for collaboration,” she said.

Eisenberg has teamed up with BSF-funded scientists and researchers throughout her career. As part of her research into GNE-myopathy, she worked with Prof. Stella Mitrani-Rosenbaum and Prof. Argov Zohar, both of Hadassah Medical Organization Israel. In 1996, Mitrani-Rosenbaum and Zohar received a BSF grant for their project, Identification of Gene Defect(s) in HIBM.

Currently, Eisenberg is the Scientific Director of Life Sciences Research at the Israel Ministry of Science and Technology’s Chief Scientist Unit. The ministry is responsible for the country’s investment in scientific research. It also serves as a link that connects academic research with industrial development.

She was always fascinated by science from as far back as she can remember. She grew up in Tel-Aviv with visions of becoming a veterinarian. But then, after her service in the Israeli Army as an officer in the medical corps, she began studying biology. Once she was introduced to the world of living organisms, there was no way of stopping her.

In 2003, Eisenberg completed a direct track and received her PhD in Human Genetics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Medicine. Subsequently, she joined Boston Children’s Hospital as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral research associate in the Kunkel Laboratory. She has also served as a researcher at the Magda and Richard Hoffman Center for Human Placental Research, Hadassah Medical Center Mount Scopus, with a focus on translational research in the field of fertility and placental dysfunction.

Along with her BSF responsibilities, Eisenberg serves as a board member of several leading European life science organizations, including the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, ELIXIR, Instruct-ERIC and the Human Frontier Science Program Organization. Eisenberg is also a member of the Israeli Council for the Advancement of Women in Science and Technology’s Gender and Health Committee.

When she’s not advancing life sciences, Dr. Iris Eisenberg loves spending time with her family, as on a 2019 trip to Holland with husband Tsafrir Loebl and children Guy, Noa and Gal. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Iris Eisenberg.)

“While I had wonderful mentors who supported and encouraged me over the years, and although Israel’s scientific community has made remarkable efforts over the last decade, women are still underrepresented in many fields of scientific research,” she said. “At BSF, we will need to be obligated to influence this disparity.”

At a time when the eyes of the world are on scientists looking for answers in the fight to stop COVID-19, Eisenberg believes that more people have come to understand how central science is to their lives. While recently approved vaccines hold much promise, she said the pandemic’s social consequences – such as mental health issues and residual effects of prolonged isolation – will be a factor in people’s lives long after the virus itself is tamed.

“We will most certainly learn a lot from this pandemic,” she said. “There will also be an opportunity to understand more about normal and pathological responses to such unique events. We can use what we learn the next time a pandemic hits us.”

When she’s not advancing life sciences in Israel, she loves spending time with her family and can often be found indulging in one of her other passions – baking. Especially cookies.

“Oh, I can make all kinds of cookies,” she said, laughing. “I have a lot of fun when I’m baking.”

Is there a connection between her love of science and her love of baking?

“Yes, there is,” she said. “Both are about discovering and creating. But with baking, you can eat what you create. How can you top that?”