In a significant breakthrough in AIDS research, an international research team of scientists from institutions in Nevada, New York, Germany, and Italy have discovered a pathway that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) uses to enter the nucleus of a healthy cell.
The team’s study, published recently in the journal Nature Communications, also identified three proteins the virus needs in order to invade cells. The study’s authors synthesized molecules targeting one of the proteins, potentially paving the way to new treatments for AIDS.
This discovery is remarkable on its own merits.
But looking at the research paper through a Jewish lens, we see another remarkable aspect: The study’s senior author is Dr. Aurelio Lorico, professor of pathology and interim chief research officer at Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine. Another author, Dr. David Manna, is based at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Middletown, New York.
Touro is the largest private Jewish university in the United States.
It was established in 1970 to offer higher education and career preparation for the Torah-observant Jewish community, using a model similar to Yeshiva University’s. Touro College of Liberal Arts and Sciences opened in September 1971 in Manhattan with a freshman class of 35 men. A parallel college for women opened in 1974.
Today, Touro is a university system comprising nearly 40 schools in a dozen cities across the United States and in Jerusalem, Berlin, and Moscow.
The system still includes a variety of undergraduate and graduate schools geared specifically to Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox students. All its schools — offering 34 different degree programs — are strictly kosher and shomer Shabbat.
But today, Jews make up only about 40 percent of the university’s 19,000 enrollees. Roughly 3,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students at Touro identify as Orthodox, while another approximately 3,500 are Jews of non-Orthodox, or no affiliation.
An Orthodox Jew from Teaneck, former practicing cardiologist Dr. Alan Kadish has presided over the entire university system since 2010.
He’s not the university’s only Orthodox administrator from Teaneck. Others include Dr. Saloman Amar, senior vice president for research affairs and chief biomedical research officer; Dr. Judah Weinberger, dean of Touro New York school of career and applied studies, associate vice president of undergraduate education, and vice president of collaborative medical education; and Melvin Ness, senior vice president and chief financial officer. Rabbi Moshe D. Krupka of Passaic is Touro’s executive vice president and university ombudsman.
Dr. Kadish sees Dr. Lorico and his colleagues’ HIV research as “a testimony to the importance that Touro University gives to its mission of service to humanity.… The potential therapeutic applications of this new pathway to improve patient care are immense and may help us better navigate the next pandemic.”
The emphasis on service to humanity is part and parcel of the Jewish nature of Touro, he said, and this value “resonates with all students regardless of geographic location or religion.”
And despite an increasing investment in expanding research opportunities in the biomedical area and others, Dr. Kadish said that Touro is not a research university but rather “a university that does research.
“We still put education as our primary mission,” he said. “Of course, an important part of educating students is having them learn about and participate in research, and we’re proud of our faculty and students who are doing that. But we try very hard to make sure the teaching remains excellent. We don’t want to lose our focus on student success as we build our research enterprise.”
The university’s nonsectarian expansion beyond its core constituency, he explained, actually grew out of its original vision of equipping observant Jews with the tools for both professional and personal success.
“As we found that more and more students from our community are interested in health-science careers, we’ve continued expanding the opportunities for students to do that,” Dr. Kadish said. “It began with a physician assistant program and extended to medical school, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.
“And when we heard there was a need to have a dental school friendly to observant students, we opened a dental school. And then as mental-health issues have become increasingly recognized in the community, though we’ve always had a mental health counseling program, we also opened a PsyD program.
“But we’ve also recognized that there are other communities that need Touro’s specific expertise,” he added.
“We just started a new osteopathic medical school in Great Falls, Montana. We certainly didn’t expect a large Jewish population there. Great Falls has great clinical and research synergies, and that’s why we are there.”
Touro University Nevada in Henderson is another example of this expansion strategy.
Opened in 2004, its stated mission is “to provide quality education programs in the fields of healthcare and education in concert with the Judaic commitment to social justice, intellectual pursuit, and service to humanity.”
University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine is now the state’s largest medical school and largest school for physician assistants. It also houses the Engelstad Research Complex for Biomedical and Human Performance Research.
Dr. Kadish said the Henderson campus has about 1,600 students, few of them Jewish. “Close to half are medical students and the rest are PA students, nursing students, education students, and physical therapy students.”
Although it does not have a single large campus, the university also has schools in Chicago and Skokie, Illinois; in Los Angeles and Vallejo, California; in Middletown, East Meadow, Central Islip, Valhalla, and Hawthorne, New York; and 15 schools in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.
Dr. Kadish said that Touro’s presence in diverse locations is enhancing not only the university’s reputation “but also the communities we’re in.”