6 July 2022 – “One of the most important moments in my scientific career was when I found that one of the antibodies I had generated as a student recognized a very clear protein band of 14kDa in macrophages,” recalls new EMBO Associate Member Gabriel Rabinovich. He then showed that the protein the antibody cross-reacted with, later known as galectin-1, was immunosuppressive. Galectin-1, which binds to glycans on the surface of immune and endothelial cells, became the focus of his research career.
In the following 25 years, Rabinovich applied the finding to cancer, autoimmune, and inflammatory diseases. He showed that tumours use galectin-1 to evade the immune response: it kills activated anti-tumour T cells, triggers the differentiation of tolerogenic dendritic cells, and suppresses macrophage activation. In autoimmune disease, it kills Th1 and Th17 T cells that promote tissue damage. “We call galectin-1 the sweet case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the case of tumours, it’s the bad guy because it kills activated anti-tumour T cells. In the case of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, it’s the good guy, because the pathology is caused by hiked numbers of T cells that can attack different tissues,” Rabinovich explains. He also demonstrated that galectin-1 promotes angiogenesis and plays a role in tumours that are resistant to anti-angiogenic therapies. Recently his group developed galectin-1 antagonists and agonists for the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases, respectively.
Rabinovich, who is a senior investigator at the Institute of Biology and Experimental Medicine (IBYME) of CONICET (the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina) and professor at the University of Buenos Aires, hopes to move to patients very soon: “It is very exciting. We are trying to move to translational, clinical research. My dream is to see this working in patients.” He spent nearly his whole career in Argentina, except for two short stays in Israel and the UK. “I feel very proud and honoured to be elected an EMBO Associate Member. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to interact with such great scientists. I am grateful for the nomination and the support it has received,” Rabinovich says about his election. He would like to make use of his associate membership to help young scientists from Argentina and all Latin America to receive training, travel abroad, meet leading scientists, and collaborate.