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Photo by Bruno Charbit

Gali Umschweif - Nevo

Principal Invastigator

How I got into science (or: how was I inspired by the ones I never met)

I owe my life to science. Not in the way we all do, but in the most literal sense – I wouldn’t be alive if scientific breakthroughs were not a part of my ancestry.

My grandfather, Dr. Bernard Umschweif, was a member of a Polish research group who developed vaccination against typhus, a disease that claimed the lives of millions back in the 1930s. He married Natalia, a pharmacist, and my father was their only child. After the Nazis invaded Poland, the family was deported to Auschwitz. Nonetheless, they were not immediately killed at the death camp. The Nazis kept my grandfather’s research group alive to continue their scientific work while their children’s lives were spared in return. Two years later, after camp liberation, my orphan father was the only family member who survived. He was among the very few young children who survived that death camp, thanks to the revolutionary science his father was involved in.

Motivated by my family history and fascinated by the world of pharmacology, I enrolled for Pharm. B studies at the Hebrew University, which will soon become my academic home. I earned my Ph.D. working on traumatic brain injury with Profs. Esther Shoami and Michal Horowitz. At this point, I was already hooked by science and lab life – the excitement that comes with discoveries, the teamwork, and how every day is entirely different from the other days.

After graduating, I joined as a postdoc at Rockefeller University to work with a neuroscience legend- Dr. Paul Greengard, who co-won the Nobel Prize for the discoveries that set the foundations for modern neuropharmacology. In his lab, I studied the basis of depression and anxiety while applying cell-type-specific molecular methodologies. Immediately thereafter, I closed the circle by joining the School of Pharmacy at the Hebrew University as a faculty member.

Why Neuroscience?

Research is about solving puzzles- scientists around the world adding piece by piece to uncover nature’s mysteries. And what is more mysterious than our brain? The organ that controls everything, from breathing to engineering quantum computers? The more we learn about the brain, the more we appreciate its complexity – brain regions, circuits, synapses, cell types, and signaling cascades. All these work in perfect harmony to execute everything we do. One little glitch and the result could be a devastating disease. In this perspective, psychiatric disorders are perhaps the most complex ones, as these still missing most of the pieces in the puzzle. Therefore, providing scientists with the greatest challenges.

A mother scientist

The endless, ruthless yet satisfying, juggling between being a mother and a scientist is my way of life. As a mother of three, I find myself slaloming between test tubes to feeding bottles, scientific writing to the kids’ playgrounds, giving lectures to reading bedtime stories. Much like the brain, everything has to be perfectly coordinated to keep on track. 

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