Professor Aviv Regev - North America – Bioinformatics

North America – Bioinformatics

Professor Aviv Regev 2

Leveraging mathematics and computation to revolutionize understanding of human cells 


Professor Aviv Regev is awarded for her pioneering work in single cell genomics (the study of individual cells). Her innovative experimental methods combine mathematics and computer science to enable scientists to discover and characterize the trillions of cells within the body. Importantly, this enhances our ability to decipher and target the mechanisms that cause disease, while developing better diagnostics and therapies. Her own laboratory has discovered previously unknown cells that play roles in healthy tissue or diseases including cancer, ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s disease, cystic fibrosis and Covid-19. In 2016, she co-founded the Human Cell Atlas (HCA), a global open initiative. It now counts more than 2500 member scientists from 86 countries, and has profiled more than 100 million cells across the body, establishing itself as an important biomedical reference tool. 

“The basic unit of life is the cell – the challenge is that we don’t know the full identities and characteristics of all the cells that exist, let alone how they function individually or collectively in tissues,” she says. “Leading the Human Cell Atlas has been an amazing journey - it is very humbling to be part of the great science and team work of our research community.”


In 2020, Professor Regev became one of the first women to lead the research and development division of a major pharmaceutical company, Genentech. Prior to joining Genentech, she served as the founding director of the Klarman Cell Observatory and was Chair of the Faculty at the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, and a Professor of Biology at MIT. 

A ground-breaking journey

As a child, she showed a particular interest in mathematics, physics, languages and reading, supported by her family of science and engineering enthusiasts. Her first inclination was always towards mathematics and computer sciences, but she later became fascinated by genetics and evolutionary biology, leading to a PhD in computational biology.  

Realizing the benefits of leveraging mathematical approaches to a better knowledge of human cells with an unprecedented level of precision and scale, Professor Regev has since dedicated her laboratory work to innovative research. She has not been afraid to experiment, pioneering new and unexpected concepts. Together with her team, she has invented diverse methods to measure the expression profile (or ‘calling card’) of each cell individually (i.e. cell activity and reactions in different situations) – for tens of millions of cells. And to make sense of this substantial amount of data, she has invented computational algorithms, including from machine learning, to identify patterns and discover different types of cells and their properties. Her methods allow scientists to determine where cells reside within tissues, the molecular circuits controlling them, and how they maintain our tissues in health or malfunction in disease. Her methods can also be used in clinical trials to characterize patients’ specimens, for example in response to a drug, or to engineer cells that can be used as therapies. 

Interdisciplinarity in science is the way forward 

Professor Regev highlights the need to combine different scientific disciplines to solve biomedical questions. “In academia, we can do great biology, amazing chemistry, and ground-breaking computer science, but we haven’t traditionally put these things together in a way that delivers real benefits for patients.” she explains: “I want science - biology, chemistry, medicine, and computer science – to provide clear solutions, making more and better medicines, using the best quality tools and at a lower cost to society. And I believe we, as a scientific and medical community, are closer to realizing this dream than we’ve ever been before.” 

Professor Regev believes that creating greater diversity in science starts with encouraging girls to study science at school and continues with developing effective career paths and tackling unconscious bias and other prejudices in science, and providing effective infrastructure for scientists with children. She also sees a responsibility for scientists to make science clear, accessible and part of everyday conversations in

The importance of female role models

Professor Regev recognizes that she has been fortunate in her career, with superb mentors, talented collaborators and sufficient funding for her ideas. However, she also recognizes the hard fight led by her predecessors to pave the way for her own path in science. This includes scientist Nancy Hopkins, whose report on the status of women at MIT in 1999 made waves at the university and at the national level. Professor Regev is determined to give back by supporting future women scientists, including by acting as a role model and mentor.  

“I am optimistic [about the glass ceiling] but also realize that a lot remains to be done and we cannot take anything for granted, not even our current gains,” she says, adding that women scientists have made some of the greatest discoveries of the past century, changing our world, developing fields, training new generations of scientists, leading institutions, curing patients and more.  

To future generations of women scientists, she says: “It’s important to feel empowered to what you think is best, even if it seems unorthodox – you can be your own role model. And don’t feel obliged to constrain yourself to one discipline – combining all the areas that inspire you is incredibly fun and rewarding.” 

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