Neither politics nor summer temperatures have prevented him from joining a top lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science
Jonathan Bayerl investigates the earliest stem cells
When the opportunity presents itself for you to sit at the feet of one of the top scientists in their field of research you jump at it, even if that means traveling to the edge of the earth. For Jonathan Bayerl a PhD student in the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Molecular Genetics Department, the thought never crossed his mind whether coming to study in Israel was a “safe” choice.
“For me this was not a reason. For me it was very important to become a good scientist. That’s only possible if you join a top notch lab and learn from the best of the best. This was far more important to me than the political situation here.”
Bayerl, who is from Vienna, Austria, became a member of Dr. Jacob (Yaqub) Hanna’s research group in 2015 after learning of his work via scientific publications as well as talk throughout the scientific community that Hanna is one of the leading scientists in the field of stem cell research. He received his MSc from IMBA – Institute of molecular Biotechnology where he performed research on mouse stem cells. Today in the Hanna lab he is studying how stem cells are created. His focus is on human pluripotent stem cells, the earliest cells giving rise to various tissues in the development of the human body. Bayerl attempts to grow the cells in different conditions to mimic specific stages during development, such as pre- and post-implantation in the uterus, or ex vivo in a dish, allowing them to grow indefinitely so he can study their molecular and functional behavior.
Such experiments can not only broaden the basic understanding of stem cells but could also, in the future, enable scientists to produce any cell type found in the human body for regenerative purposes. In other words heal broken bones or replace skin damaged from cuts or burns. Stem cell research is still a relatively new field of study, but it holds great potential for the future as stem cells are the basic “clay” from which all of the organs, tissues, blood and the immune system cells are generated.
“It will take time for stem cell research to evolve to the stage where it’s used to actually treat patients, but stem cell biology is key technology to the 21st century,” Bayerl says. “I’m sure it will one day be applied to human beings. This is what pushes me, what motivates me.”
Because cells have to be closely monitored, Bayerl spends 12 hours or more in the lab most days. In his spare time he enjoys playing volleyball and touring the country. Acclimating to Israel’s scolding temperatures has been challenging but he has managed to survive.
It is important in science that you can follow your dreams, plans and experiments
“When I first arrived in Israel, in September, Dr. Hanna took me and some other students to the Dead Sea. It was almost 44 degrees and I was nearly dying. It was really like a shock to me. I think now I’m getting used to the heat.”
Bayerl has not been deterred by the hurdles and trepidation one might face as a foreigner in an unfamiliar place and culture. On the contrary, he has found the perfectly equipped institute to pursue his aspirations.
“There are no boundaries here. I am totally free. I think it is important in science that you can follow your dreams, plans and experiments, and do not have to concern yourself with money.”
Israel BDS – building dialogue through science – aims to promote the kind of international collaboration that can lead to true understanding between people. Israel BDS stands for the free and open exchange of ideas among scientists everywhere. By reporting on the benefits of Israeli-international scientific research and the web of connections that these scientists create around the world, Israel BDS takes a vibrant approach to highlighting the global necessity of continued international scientific collaboration.