Prof. Doron Gerber is a Senior Lecturer in the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences and Head of the Microfluidics Lab at the Bar-Ilan Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA).
He came to Bar-Ilan University from Stanford University, as part of the 2009 cohort of returning scientists, a special program within Bar-Ilan University to recruit young Israeli scientists to return to work in Israel.
Gerber and his team study pathogen-host interactions, and in particular, how viruses use complex interaction networks to “hijack” host networks. They have developed new techniques to map how viruses interface with the human proteins inside the cell.
These new methods allow them to investigate how viruses modulate host networks on the genome, transcriptome and proteome levels, and to further explore the common tools used by viruses to hijack host networks. Gerber and his group are also investigating how these tools evolve, how they can be modulated, and how scientists can mimic them in order to interface with cellular networks.
Gerber and his team developed a new technology that has facilitated the study of the genetic nature of viral disease. Their invention addresses a vexing biomedical “bottleneck”– the fact that traditional protein replication techniques produce inactive viral proteins, or, if active, produce them in insufficient quantities for the many experiments needed to isolate important protein-protein interactions.
Gerber designed a tool, half the size of a playing card and etched with thousands of microfluidic channels. Inside these channels, thousands of experiments – each consisting of a unique interaction – can be performed simultaneously, providing quantitative data about each reaction’s intensity.
Through this process, Gerber and his group are working to discover how viruses hijack cellular networks and use them for their benefit. They have characterized a new function for a membrane protein from the Hepatitis C virus, and have identified a compound for combating this function that has successfully passed preliminary clinical tests.
To study protein networks, Gerber and his group develop and assemble microfluidic platforms, robotic laboratories that work on the molecular scale and run thousands of experiments in parallel. These devices are connected to a pneumatic system that is controlled by means of a computer. Research conducted in Gerber’s lab includes applying microfluidic platforms towards applications in protein science, including “microbial warfare” for the discovery of novel antibacterial agents in microbial genomes.
Gerber’s team is also using these platforms to explore precisely which genes are responsible for the protein malfunctions that cause cancer, and they are also working to solve the mystery of how Hepatitis C causes liver cancer.
To further understand how viruses interface with host networks, Gerber aims to develop a human proteome chipand use it to map the binding landscape of viral proteins. In parallel, he plans to utilize a DNA profiler anda similar RNA profiler to map the DNA and RNA binding landscape of relevant viral proteins. Thecompatibility of the microfluidic tools with post-translational modifications couldprovide a unique view into the methods by which viruses interface with the host cell networks.
In addition, when combined with the human proteome, it could form a formidable and versatile tool for the study of systems biology. Armed with these tools, Gerber and his team intend to further explore the mechanisms by which viruses interface with host cells on the protein, RNA and DNA levels.