2017 Adelis Brain Research Award Won by Prof. Asya Rolls
On June 12, 2017, the Adelis Award for groundbreaking research by a young scientist was presented to Asst. Prof. Asya Rolls of Technion for her work in the field of brain-regulated immunity.
The Adelis Foundation was established by the late André Cohen Deloro to support academic excellence in Israel, in particular within the realm of medical and scientific research. In 2015, in line with Deloro’s legacy and in loyalty to his vision, the Foundation decided to inaugurate the Adelis Award for Brain Research and to budget $100,000 annually as a research grant to groundbreaking Israeli research. The purpose of the award is to encourage excellence among young Israeli scientists performing brain research in Israel; to advance understanding of the brain and its functions and of the ailments connected with it; and to achieve international impact.
Brain research holds a top position on the global scale of scientific research priorities.
In this third year of the award, the Adelis Foundation was both pleased and proud to witness such an impressive number of high-quality proposals representing Israeli potential in the field of brain research.
Senior figures from Israel’s scientific community were selected for the award’s panel of judges: Dr. Gal Ifergane, Prof. Moshe Bar, Prof. Illana Gozes, Prof. Eilon Vaadia, Prof. Jackie Schiller, Prof. Rafi Malach, Prof. Noam Ziv, Prof. Emeritus Amos Korczyn, and Prof. Michal Schwartz – all veteran brain researchers who number among Israel’s foremost.
The judging panel had no easy task, given the diversity of submissions and their superior level. The decision was to present the 2017 award to Rolls, a researcher at the Technion Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, with Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie and Rébecca Boukhris of the Adelis Foundation doing the honors. The award ceremony took place during the events of Technion’s Board of Governors.
Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute explained: “The committee members were impressed by Rolls’s past achievements and by her research proposal, the two main criteria for selecting the best nominee. Her research focuses on how positive emotions, such as those created by the reward system, help the immune system to fight pathologies. While this concept has been around for a while, it has never been proven experimentally, and the implications of placebo have been a mystery for decades.”
In 2016, Rolls published an outstanding paper in Nature Medicine in which she demonstrated a mechanism that connects the placebo effect to systemic immune activation. In her submission to the Adelis Foundation, Rolls proposed to test how the reward system affects the immune system in fighting tumors – a novel approach to fighting tumors.
Rolls joined the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at Technion in October 2012 after completing her postdoctoral training at Stanford University. She obtained her PhD from the Weizmann Institute, and her MSc from Technion.
Rolls is an elected member of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS)-Kavli network of excellence (2015-2019); she received the Fulbright, Rothschild, and European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) long-term fellowships; the NARSAD Young Investigator Grant; the Krill Prize, awarded by the Wolf Foundation; and most recently the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) International Research Scholar Grant.
“Thoughts and emotions impact physical health,” said Rolls. “This connection is evident in the emergence of disease following stress, or recovery in response to placebo treatment. Nevertheless, this fundamental aspect of physiology remains largely unexplored. Our laboratory aims to uncover the physiological mechanisms that underlie the connection between the brain and the immune system. By understanding the connection, we will be able to harness the brain’s potential to cure.
“Emotions and thoughts are reflected in specific brain activity. We developed a new experimental platform that maps how brain activity affects the immune system, and applied this platform to uncover a potential mechanism of the placebo response. We showed that activation of the brain’s reward system, which is active during positive emotional states, stimulates the immune system and its capacity to fight bacteria. The Adelis Award will allow us to understand whether brain activity can also enhance the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.”
Group photo of ADELIS foundation and guests
Group photo of ADELIS foundation and guests