Schwartz was honored for “groundbreaking discoveries that led to a new understanding of the interactions between the immune system and the brain”
Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute of Science is the recipient of the 2023 Israel Prize in Life Sciences, according to a recent announcement by Minister of Education Yoav Kisch. Schwartz, of Weizmann’s Brain Sciences Department, will be awarded the Prize during the celebrations of the 75th Independence Day of the State of Israel.
The Prize committee, which was headed by Prof. Elisha Haas and included Profs. Shulamit Levenberg, Yosef Shiloh and Michal Shapira, wrote that “the Prize is awarded to Prof. Schwartz for groundbreaking discoveries that led to a new understanding of the interactions between the immune system and the brain. Her work opened new directions of research in neuroscience and shed light on incurable neurodegenerative diseases. Her discoveries include the key role played by immune system cells in repair processes within the central nervous system, the importance of the immune system to the functioning of the healthy brain and the link between the decline in immune system function and dementia.”
The committee also noted that “Prof. Schwartz courageously opposed prevalent views in the field, put forth an original idea and managed to prove its accuracy. Her work forms the basis for the development of drugs to treat diseases of the central nervous system. Prof. Schwartz has trained many generations of young Israeli scientists, who have taken up her pioneering way of thinking, vision, perseverance, and above all – love of science.”
Toward the end of the 1990s, Schwartz and her team led pioneering research that challenged the prevailing dogma. They argued that, contrary to what most brain researchers believed at the time, the immune system plays a significant role in the functioning of the brain and is essential for its life-long maintenance and repair. Two decades on, this once-revolutionary idea has turned into a mainstream concept – and it has now earned Schwartz the Israel Prize.
In November 2022, a special issue of the scientific journal Neuron presented “a series of reviews and opinions on reciprocal interactions between the nervous and immune systems.” The journal’s cover featured Schwartz’s proposal to view these interactions as an ecosystem – like a forest ecosystem, which thrives or withers depending on the balance of its components. In addition to an article co-authored by Schwartz herself, the issue included two articles co-authored by her former students, Profs. Jonathan Kipnis and Asya Rolls.
“My love affair with science began in 5th or 6th grade when I took a walk at the Weizmann Institute. Walking around the campus, I had a feeling that the air here was saturated with knowledge, and I said: This is where I want to be… This was my fantasy. Since I didn’t grow up in a family of scientists, I didn’t know what exactly science was. I only knew that I had a thirst for knowledge,” Schwartz said recently in The Future Is Here – a docuseries of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation devoted to “Israeli researchers who changed the course of medicine.”
Over the years, Schwartz received numerous prizes and awards, including the 2019 EMET Prize in Life Sciences, the 2017 Rappaport Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Research in the Established Researcher category and the 2015 Blumberg Prize for Excellence in Medical Research. Many of her former students now hold key positions in academia and industry.
Prof. Michal Schwartz’s research is supported by the Thompson Family Foundation Alzheimer’s Disease Research Fund and the Sagol Institute for Longevity Research.