Hebrew University researchers team up with US firm to fight cancer

GRAIL, based in Menlo Park, California, aims to detect cancer early, using data science and machine learning to study cancer DNA

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative: Cancer cells. (Pixabay)
Illustrative: Cancer cells. (Pixabay)

Yissum, the technology transfer company of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said it has reached a strategic collaboration agreement with GRAIL, Inc., a healthcare company whose mission is to detect cancer early.

Under the agreement, GRAIL will sponsor a research program led by Professor Yuval Dor of The Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Professor Dor, working with Dr. Ruth Shemer, Dr. Tommy Kaplan, and Professor Benjamin Glaser from Hadassah Medical Center, is working on a way to find the tissue origins of circulating tumor DNA, which is fragmented DNA in the bloodstream that is not associated with cells and that derives from tumors. To do this, the team uses epigenetic “identity marks” from the DNA that are typical to each cell type. Epigenetic identity marks stem from nongenetic influences on genes, and these are termed DNA methylation.

In the new partnership, GRAIL and the Hebrew University team will collaborate to generate methylation data from a number of cell types, Yissum said in a statement on Tuesday.

GRAIL, based in Menlo Park, California, aims to detect cancer early, when it can still be cured. The company seeks to use the latest tools of data science, including machine learning, to classify patients according their types of cancer, so as to create high quality data, the analysis of which can then be dealt with clinically. Investors in the firm include Amazon, Bezos Expeditions, Merck, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, according to the company’s website.

Yissum serves as a bridge between academic research at the university and a community of entrepreneurs, investors and industry players, with the aim to commercializing the research and getting it to market.

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