All Roads Lead to Tel-Hai: The Parallel Lives of Two Young Researchers

All Roads Lead to Tel-Hai: The Parallel Lives of Two Young Researchers

Dr. Roee Gutman and Dr. Andrea Szuchman-Sapir did not know it, but for years, they had been living parallel lives. They finally met six years ago when they began careers as lecturers at Tel-Hai College and researchers at MIGAL – Galilee Research Institute, but until that point they followed almost identical paths in terms of the research they carried out, doing international postdocs, their travels abroad, even down to the number of children they had. Both scientists also spent their younger lives in northern Israel so the opportunity to return after a long and winding academic path felt like a chance to come home.

For Dr. Gutman, it all began when he was a junior in high school and part of the first cohort of the North Star Project, a program at MIGAL for exceptional students, where he completed his thesis on algae energy balance. He grew up in the northern communal settlement of Chorazim to parents who made Aliyah from Buenos Aires.

Dr. Szuchman-Sapir also has roots in Buenos Aires; she moved to Israel with her family at the age of two and they settled in the northern town of Karmiel. It was during her military service at the field school in Sde Boker that her love of teaching and biology developed. From there it seemed natural to begin her bachelors of Science degree in biology and a teaching certificate through Haifa University and Oranim Teacher’s College. Upon finishing her degree, she returned to Sde Boker to work as a technician in the Department of Ecophysiology where she engaged in very unusual research that involved training animals. “For seven hours straight I had to make sure that pigeons continually flew through the air without landing,” she laughs. “I sat on top of a tower throwing stones so we could study models for water loss aviation.”

Dr. Szuchman-Sapir continued on to graduate school at Ben-Gurion University where she studied anti-viral properties of the cactus plant Nopalea Cochenillifera. When the opportunity arose to do her doctoral studies in the joint laboratory of Professor Jacob Vaya, a professor at Tel-Hai and researcher at MIGAL, and Professor Michael Aviram from the Technion, Andrea and Nadav jumped at the chance to return to the North.

Dr. Gutman’s academic career took place almost exclusively at Tel Aviv University but, like Dr. Szuchman-Sapir, he would spend much of his time doing research in the desert down south. After finishing his military service in the Armored Corps, Dr. Gutman packed a backpack and went travelling in the Far East, where he met his wife Meirav while hiking in Nepal. They spent the next six months traveling together and ultimately made the decision to study in Tel Aviv upon their return.

Pursuing his love of biology, Dr. Gutman studied foraging behavior of desert rodents at the Department of Zoology and Ecology Research. “For two years I was chasing spiny mice in Ein Gedi, travelling back and forth to Tel Aviv.”

The decision to accept positions as lecturers at Tel-Hai and researchers at MIGAL was a natural choice professionally for both researchers, but also made sense in terms of finally putting down family roots.  Dr. Gutman received the proposal from Tel-Hai during the last year of his postdoctoral training. In 2010 Professor Snait Tamir, Dean of the Faculty of Sciences and Professor Gad Degani, the Scientific Director of MIGAL, invited him to teach coursework at Tel-Hai while conducting independent research at MIGAL. His research goals are aimed to understand the mechanisms underlying energy homeostasis (body weight regulation), circadian physiology and their mutual interaction.

Professor Tamir is also to thank for bringing Dr. Szuchman-Sapir to Tel-Hai and MIGALafter spending almost three years as a post-doc researcher, in the ANZAC research Institute and the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Australia.On her return she worked as a researcher at MIGAL and lecturer at Tel-Hai with the support of the Ministry of Absorption. In 2012 she became a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and has gone on to teach a number of courses including chemistry, human nutrition, advanced nutrition seminar and a nutrition graduate course as well.

Five years ago, Dr. Szuchman-Sapir began a study investigating a new mechanism for regulating blood pressure and has supervised five master students at Tel Hai along the way. During the study she also collaborated with a researcher in the United States and together, with the financial help of the BSF (Binational Science foundation),they have revealed new metabolites for vasodilation that will potentially lead to the development of novel inhibitors of this process and new drugs that would combat high blood pressure. 

Since joining the Human Health and Nutritional Science Lab at MIGAL nearly five years ago, Dr. Gutman has supervised four master degree students in biotechnology and nutritional science. He is hopeful that students will see the partnership between Tel-Hai and MIGAL as a major advantage and return to this scientific community as future researchers. In addition, Dr. Gutman has won a three-year grant from the Israeli Ministry of Science amid at developing a novel food supplement for reducing obesity and hyperparathyroidism.

For young researchers and lecturers like Dr. Roee Gutman and Dr. Andrea Szuchman-Sapir, the strong partnership with MIGAL – Galilee Research Institute allows them to carry out their research at MIGAL’s state-of-the-art facilities while teaching and supervising students at Tel-Hai. “Even here I continue to juggle between research and teaching,” says Dr. Szuchman-Sapir. “My reality is such that I wear two hats, I am part of two institutions that have a common interest.” In her words, she is waiting for the time when MIGAL and Tel-Hai operate under the same banner. “It will certainly make it easier on those of us who split our time when the two entities are integrated into one institute.”