Fighting Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, and the Flu

The Fellowship  |  February 23, 2018

Elderly woman sitting in a red chair smiling at the camera.
Fighting Cancer

Age: 84

Known for: An Israeli biochemist and professor of immunology, Ruth Arnon is researching vaccinations to fight cancer and influenza, and also helped develop the multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone.

About her: Born in Tel Aviv on June 1, 1933, Ruth Rosenberg developed a love of science because of her father. Alexander Rosenberg studied electrical engineering and mathematics and worked for Israel’s Electrical Corporation until the mid 1960s. Ruth’s father and her older siblings taught her basic arithmetic and reading at a young age, and the girl showed academic potential even in elementary school.

Ruth also wanted to serve in the Israeli military, but was too young. Instead, she studied chemistry at Hebrew University and joined a special IDF program that allowed her to study and spend her summers doing military training. She earned her master’s degree in 1955, then served for two years as an officer in the IDF. It was during her military service that Ruth met and married Uriel Arnon, with whom she would have two children.

Ruth joined the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1960. There, she has focused much of her work on immunology. She served as Head of the Department of Chemical Immunology, the Dean of the Faculty of Biology, and as the Director for Molecular Biology of Tropical Diseases from 1958-1994.

Much of Ruth’s work has focused on cancer research and developing vaccines. To this day, she is still researching possible vaccines for cancer, as well as a universal vaccination for the flu, including against H5N1, the pandemic commonly known as the bird flu.

But perhaps Ruth’s greatest accomplishment was when she, along with Professor Michael Sela, developed the drug Copaxone to treat multiple sclerosis. It has proved highly effective in treating this horrific disease.