Mayana Zatz

b. July 16, 1947

by Anat Falbel and Nachman Falbel
Last updated

In Brief

Mayana Zatz was born in Tel Aviv, immigrated to Brazil with her family, and became one of the pioneers of human and medical genetics in Brazil. Zatz is a Professor of Genetics and Director of the Human Genome and Stem-Cell Research Center at the University of São Paulo. In 1981 she founded the Brazilian Muscular Dystrophy Association (ABDIM), directed at the poorest population, where patients undergo therapy to improve their quality of life. In 2008 she started the “80 plus” project to generate a genome bank of elderly, healthy individuals from Brazil. She has worked on the Zika congenital syndrome and on cancer and was very involved with the Brazilian Congress’s approval of a bill allowing human embryonic stem cell research, ratified in 2008.

Family and Education

Mayana Zatz was born in Tel Aviv on July 16, 1947. Her father, Lony Eden (1912–1984), from Dorohoi, Romania, graduated from law school in Europe. Her mother, Ella Kott Eden (b. 1914-2006), was from Warsaw; her maternal grandfather belonged to the industrial bourgeoisie of Łódź, Poland, where he owned a textile factory. Ella Kott graduated in languages and philosophy at Warsaw University. In 1939 Lony and Ella fled the Germans, arriving in Israel, where their daughters, Dana Antonio (b. 1945) and Mayana, were born. The family returned to Europe in 1949, settling in Paris; in 1955 they decided to emigrate to Brazil, where Lony Eden set up a textile factory. Mayana, who had begun her studies at the Lycée Pasteur in Paris, attended public schools in the city of São Paulo. She graduated in biology in 1968 at the University of São Paulo, where she also completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in human genetics, specializing in neuromuscular diseases, under the supervision of Oswaldo Frota-Pessoa, one of the pioneers of human and medical genetics in Brazil. Between 1975 and 1977 she was a post-doc at the University of California under the supervision of Michael Kaback and David Rimoin. 

Mayana Zatz grew up in a non-religious environment and in her youth developed her Jewish identity in an apolitical Zionist youth movement. In 1969 Mayana married Ivo Zatz (b. 1944), engineer and chairman of a construction company. They have two children, Fabio Zatz (b. 1971) and Cintia Zatz (b. 1973). 

Scientific Career

Zatz is Professor of Genetics and Director of the Human Genome and Stem-Cell Research Center at the University of São Paulo and together with her group has published more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, most related to neuromuscular disorders. Her group helped to identify six of the genes responsible for neuromuscular diseases. Mayana Zatz coordinated one of the laboratories involved in the Xylella Genome project at the Institute. She is also responsible for the genetic counseling program at the University at São Paulo, which has assisted more than 20,000 people from families with neuromuscular diseases and has helped to diagnose and prevent the birth of children affected by serious irreversible illnesses. In 1981 she founded the Brazilian Muscular Dystrophy Association (ABDIM), directed at the poorest population, where patients undergo physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, occupational therapy, and other activities that can improve their quality of life. In 2008, working in partnership with the Human Longevity Institute in San Diego, she started the ”80 plus” project to generate a genome bank of elderly, healthy individuals from Brazil. More recently, she has worked on the Zika congenital syndrome and cancer. 

Honors

Zatz has received numerous awards and honors, among them the UNESCO/L’Oréal prize for Women in Sciences presented to the top Latin American scientist (2001); the Muscular Dystrophy Association prize, for her work Growth hormone deficiency and Duchenne muscular dystrophy (1986); the Highly Cited Brazilian Articles of the 1990s Prize, from the ISI Web of Science, awarded to the authors of the 27 most-cited Brazilian works of the 1990s (2000); the Honor of Scientific and Technological Merit Award of the State of São Paulo, for her participation in the project of sequencing the Xylella genome (2000); and the TWAS (Third World Academy of Sciences) Prize in Basic Medical Sciences ( 2003). She has also been involved with science policy and ethical questions related to research into the human genome and human cloning—subjects on which she has frequently lectured and written, including numerous articles defending therapeutic cloning and the use of embryonic stem cells for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. In this context, she was very much involved with the Brazilian Congress’s approval of a bill allowing human embryonic stem cell research, ratified by the Supreme Court in 2008.

Selected Works

A selected list of Mayana Zatz’s publications can be found at https://genoma.ib.usp.br/en/pesquisa/pesquisadores/mayana-zatz

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How to cite this page

Falbel, Anat and Nachman Falbel. "Mayana Zatz." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 23 June 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 29, 2024) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/zatz-mayana>.