Professor Eitan Friedman and Dr. Harry Ostrer

Scientists – In Their Own Words
Professor Eitan Friedman and Dr. Harry Ostrer discuss their collaboration

Professor Eitan Friedman is with the S. Levy Gertner Oncogenies Unit, Sheba Medical Center.  Dr. Harry Ostrer is with the Pediatrics/Human Genetics, New York University.

How did your collaboration begin?

EITAN: I heard Harry speaking so passionately about the history of the Jewish people, and I knew of Harry’s seminal work on cancer predisposition in Ashkenazi Jews.  After the lecture, it dawned on me that he was the ideal person to spearhead the effort to elucidate the genetic background of the Jewish people.

HARRY: I approached Eitan to ask him if he wanted to collaborate on the Jewish HapMap Project because I knew he would be able to recruit the many Jewish Diaspora   populations   in Israel that were not well represented in the United States.  I had admired Eitan’s work in cancer genetics and knew that he was ideally situated to recruit people for this project.

How does working collaboratively contribute to the progress of this project? 

EITAN: Over the course of the project Harry and I traveled to some distant places in Israel and in Southern Europe in order to recruit Jewish individuals and lecture to them about the importance of the project.  I am sure that without Harry we would not be able to get to these individual groups and would not be able to expand the   spectrum of genotyped individuals.

What do you learn from each other?

EITAN: I have learned a lot from Harry about how to present the project and how to respond to people’s inquiries, specifically about genetic discrimination.  I have also learned a great deal from my discussions with him about the statistical analyses and the tools he uses for this.

HARRY: Eitan taught me about life in Israel. There is nothing quite like walking in the shoes of a colleague to learn about the road not traveled.

How is the project coming along?

HARRY: The project is coming along amazingly.  We had a paper accepted for publication in the American Journal of Human Genetics.  We have started analyzing our data from another 10 Jewish populations, so we can see the whole genetic overview of the Jewish Diasporas.

What is the future of your research?

EITAN: There are multiple lines of progress we envision in the future. We would like to put the genetic map of the Jewish people in the appropriate perspective, namely to compare it to the HapMaps of other Middle Eastern populations.  We would then like to use this information to analyze the genetic basis of multifactorial multi-genetic disorders in the Jewish population, for example breast cancer.

What impact might your findings have on the world at large?

HARRY: The genetics of Jews is the genetics of the Old World – stable populations that lived in specific geographic locales for a long time. The genetic methods that we are developing now for understanding common diseases will be applicable to peoples in much of Asia, Africa and Europe. The genetics of the New World is really quite different.

EITAN:  First   and foremost, the   results would be the first comprehensive effort to decipher the genetics of Middle Eastern individuals, and provide a source for comparison with other world populations as it relates to history migration patterns and clinically relevant disorders.

Do you find it more worthwhile to have a partner working on the same effort -- how and why?

EITAN: Having a partner who shares your goal and understands every aspect of a project of this magnitude is crucial for its success.

HARRY: Absolutely. I could not have done this work in Israel without Eitan, and I suspect that he could not have done this work in the United States without me.