Singapore, 2012: Adi Kimchi

Adi Kimchi makes you think. You might recognize her as a woman who invented a field—the death-associated protein kinases, or DAPk’s—but she is far more complex and provocative than that.

In all fields we go through several periods. In the first phase, a discovery explains everything we need to know. In the second phase, the discovery does not explain everything, as there are complications or alternatives. In the third phase, we begin to integrate the several options. For the field of cell death, the first phase would be the period in which apoptosis was considered to be the entire explanation of how cells die. The second phase would be the period in which it was recognized that autophagy might also be a major form of cell death. In the third phase, we began to understand that these pathways and others are interconnected.

A few voices have argued, somewhat inarticulately, that they were connected. After all, if a cell is very sick and you block one way to death, sooner or later the cell will die. You do not need an instruction manual to die. However, it was Dr. Kimchi who has forced us to think about how this might work. Using systems analysis and every available technique, she forces us to look at the big picture, how all the pathways interact. In essence, she is a juggler, throwing 23 balls into the air all at the same time and forcing us to watch all of them. It is a tough job, and I don’t know anyone who does it as well as she does. However, in cell biology, it probably is the only way to go. When you alter just one parameter, you necessarily force all the other parameters to adjust accordingly. For all their value, cells that have genes knocked down, knocked in, or knocked out, and cells in which one activity is poisoned, make adjustments to their new lives, and we will never truly understand them until we can observe them in their entirety. This is Adi’s gift to us. Like a very demanding teacher, she forces us to look at the entire story and thus to become better and more thoughtful researchers.

Dr. Kimchi has published well over 150 provocative and challenging papers. She has already won several prestigious awards, including the Milstein Award for Excellence in Cytokine Research, the Landau Award for Excellence in Biology and Biotechnology, the Seroussi Award for Cancer Research, and the Lombroso Prize for Cancer Research. She is the Helena Rubinstein Professor in Cancer Research at the Weizmann Institute in Israel and heads the Department of Molecular Genetics there. As she says, “My aim is to reveal the complete self-destruct network. This understanding will help us to fix problems—both those of excess cell death, as in degenerative nerve diseases, and those in which harmful cells fail to die, such as cancer.” We thank her for making us work and think, and we are delighted to add to the accolades.