Investigating the progression of breast cancer and neutrophils
Dr. Zvika Granot, a senior lecturer, investigates breast cancer and its metastasis. A developmental biologist and award-winning scientist, he focuses on the role of neutrophils: white blood cells that help to fight infection. His laboratory recently discovered that healthy cells surrounding a tumor may be critically involved in the progression of cancer.
Dr. Granot co-led an important study that works with model tumors and human blood samples. His findings have challenged the concept that mature neutrophils have limited ability to change and adapt new characteristics. Dr. Granot discovered that while some neutrophils have anti-tumor properties, others promote tumor progression. In the early stages of cancer, tumor-limiting neutrophils prevail. However, as cancer progresses, the tumor-promoting neutrophil subpopulation outcompetes the tumor-limiting neutrophil subpopulation, leading to disease metastasis. Dr. Granot has received prestigious research grants, including from the Israel Cancer Research Fund. The Hebrew University Ph.D. conducted his postdoctoral training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Every person’s cancer grows in its own way and is unique in terms of the therapies to which it responds. Thus, there is a pressing need for personalized cancer therapies. Dr. Nataly Kravchenko-Balasha’s laboratory at the Hebrew University Faculty of Dental Medicine is analyzing the molecular variations between tumors. By studying inter-tumor heterogeneity, her goal is to help develop tumor-specific smart drug cocktails for fighting cancer.
Dr. Kravchenko-Balasha moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union at the age of 16; she spent four years as a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech but has always felt that Israel is her home. She remarks, “And the same is true for the Hebrew University, which is not only home, but is also among the best universities in the world, with world-class scientists working together.”
Improving sustainable and less toxic agriculture for the world
Dr. Nadav Kashtan sees his work at the Smith Faculty as having “major importance for the futures of our children and subsequent generations.” His goal is to develop forms of sustainable agriculture that will have less toxic effects on the environment and to help ensure adequate food sources for the world’s rapidly growing population. In his new lab, Dr. Kashtan and his multidisciplinary team are studying the microbial communities that live on plants.
He is employing systems biology approaches that combine mathematical models and computer simulations with lab experiments and field sample analyses, while optimizing the latest research technologies such as single-cell genomics and advanced microscopy. Dr. Kashtan joined the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology after holding a postdoctoral position at MIT.
Working to improve disease resistance in livestock
Dr. Sharon Elizur-Schlesinger is a lecturer in the Department of Animal Sciences. She pursued her postdoctoral research at Columbia University’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute and is developing expertise in the field of stem cell research. Thus far, she has published four first-author papers.
Dr. Elizur-Schlesinger completed all three of her academic degrees at the Hebrew University. Two world-renowned researchers from the Faculty of Medicine, Professor Howard Cedar and Professor Yehudit Bergman, both experts in the field of cancer epigenetics, supervised her Ph.D. She further researched stem cells in the laboratory of HU’s Professor Eran Meshorer.
Dr. Elizur-Schlesinger is researching reproduction in domestic animals with the goal of generating true pluripotent embryonic stem cells from bovine and other domesticated animals. Such cells, she says, can be employed towards “the establishment of an efficient animal cloning technology, using the procedure of embryonic cells nuclear transfer (ECNT).” This research is designed to improve the breeding of transgenic livestock with higher levels of productivity and improved disease resistance.
Create energy-efficient light and sustainable energy sources
Dr. Ori Gidron joined the Institute of Chemistry as a senior researcher in 2015. He conducted his post-doctoral fellowship at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He received his Ph.D. in Organic Electronics, Organic Synthesis, and Physical Organic Chemistry from The Weizmann Institute. In addition to winning major awards, he has two registered patents.
His work involves organic electronic materials, which have many advantages over inorganic semiconductors; they offer low cost, flexibility, and ease of fabrication. One emerging scientific field where organic electronic materials can prove useful is that of spintronics. These new molecules apply to all areas of modern life; from the medicines we take, to the cars we drive, to the clothes we wear. Dr. Gidron’s laboratory is contributing to spintronics research aimed at developing new materials that can be used to create energy-efficient light sources and sustainable energy sources.
Designing algorithms to help people understand underlying structures of intricate topics
Dr. Dafna Shahaf aims to turn complex and extensive information into insight by analyzing massive amounts of data. She designs algorithms that help people understand the underlying structure of intricate topics. Her most recent work includes design of an algorithm that retrieves information and automatically creates a “metro map” of this information, connecting the dots between them by identifying structured storylines in the news, scientific documents and even advanced literature.
Dr. Shahaf joined the Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering in 2015, following postdoctoral fellowships at Microsoft Research, Washington and at Stanford University. She explains how the multidisciplinary nature of her research made Hebrew University an obvious choice: “As my research touches upon topics in social science and humanities, it was important for me to join an institute that is strong all-around.”
Dr. Shoham Choshen-Hillel is an expert in judgment and decision-making. She joined the Hebrew University’s Jerusalem School of Business Administration in 2015, following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, as a Rothschild Fellow.
Dr. Choshen-Hillel’s research focuses on decision making by individuals in social contexts. Drawing on methods from judgment and decision making and social psychology, she provides novel perspectives on social processes, with important implications not only for psychology, but also for public policy, behavioral economics, law, management and behavioral organization. Soon after joining HU’s faculty, Dr. Choshen-Hillel states that she felt “at home.”
Rothberg International School: The Gateway to Global Adventure
In 1955, the first program for international students opened at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, more than 50 programs for international students are offered at The Hebrew University and its Rothberg International School (RIS), located on the beautiful Mount Scopus campus in Jerusalem.
Undergraduate students from leading universities and colleges throughout the world are offered a rich array of interdisciplinary programs extending over an academic year or semester. Students attend an intensive Hebrew language course (Ulpan), designed to help them acclimate to Israel before they launch their studies. Students also enjoy an extensive program of extracurricular studies and enrichment activities that expands their knowledge and heightens the pleasure of their overseas study experience in Israel.
Programs in the Division of Graduate Studies at the RIS are offered in cooperation with the Faculties and Schools of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel’s top-ranked and most comprehensive university. Both Master’s degree and visiting scholar options are available to RIS students. Seminars and tutorials are provided in areas such as Jewish and religious studies, Jewish education, Israel studies, the Middle East, the Bible, nonprofit management and leadership, business and law. Many courses are taught mainly in English, and Hebrew language instruction is available on all levels, as are courses in Arabic, Biblical Hebrew and Greek.
A variety of exciting short-term summer courses and special programs are also made available through the RIS. During the summer term, visiting undergraduate and graduate students from other countries benefit from a stimulating academic and cultural experience. They gain the opportunity to live and breathe their chosen subject matter, and to experience Israel to the fullest.
Detailed information about the Rothberg International School programs is available on the RIS website. Follow RIS on Facebook.
Nanoscale chip system measures light to enable portable chemical detection
Further development could open door to on-chip biological and chemical sensing applications, e.g. detecting chemicals in real-time continuous flow systems and even in an open-air environment
August 30, 2017 — Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have created a nanophotonic chip system using lasers and bacteria to observe fluorescence emitted from a single bacterial cell. To fix the bacteria in place and to route light toward individual bacterial cells, they used V-groove-shaped plasmonic waveguides, tiny aluminum-coated rods only tens of nanometers in diameter. The novel system, described in the journal Nano Letters, paves the way for an efficient and portable on-chip system for diverse cell-based sensing applications, such as detecting chemicals in real-time.
The field of on-chip photonic devices for biological and chemical sensing applications presents many powerful alternatives to conventional analytical techniques for applications ranging from “lab on a chip” to environmental monitoring. However, these sensing schemes rely mainly on off-chip detection and require a cumbersome apparatus, even when measuring only single cells.
The Hebrew University team looked for ways to integrate all system components, including light sources and detectors, on-chip at the nanoscale. This would result in a lab-on-chip system that is small, portable and can perform sensing in real-time.
To achieve this, they molecularly engineered live bacteria that emit a fluorescent signal in the presence of target compounds. They paired these on-chip with a nanoscale waveguide, which not only served the purpose of guiding light, but also allowed mechanical trapping of individual bacteria within the V-groove.
In three different illumination conditions, they experimentally demonstrated the interrogation of an individual Escherichia coli bacterial cell using a nanoscale plasmonic V-groove waveguide. First, they measured the light emitted from a bacterium flowing on top of the nanocoupler in a liquid environment by allowing the fluorescence from the bacterium to be coupled directly into the waveguide through the nanocoupler. Next, a bacterium was mechanically trapped within the V groove waveguide and was excited by laser directly either from the top or through the nanocoupler. In all cases, significant fluorescence was collected from the output nano coupler into the detector.
The system worked well both in wet environments, where the bacteria are flowing on top of the waveguide, and in dry conditions, where the bacteria are trapped within the waveguide.
The research was led by Professor Uriel Levy, Director of The Harvey M. Krueger Family Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the Hebrew University in collaboration with Professor Shimshon Belkin, at the Hebrew University’s Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, who genetically engineered the bacterial sensors, and Professor Anders Kristensen from the Danish Technical University, who was in charge of fabricating the V-groove waveguides. Professor Levy is the Eric Samson Chair in Applied Science and Technology, and Professor Belkin is the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare Chair in Industrial Hygiene, at the Hebrew University.
Unlike the more traditional plasmonic waveguides consisting of either silver or gold, the choice of aluminum was instrumental for being able to guide the fluorescent light emitted from the bacteria all the way to the output nanocoupler. Furthermore, the waveguide dimensions allow for efficient mechanical trapping of the bacteria and the multimode characteristics may become instrumental in gathering more information, e.g., on the specific position and orientation of the bacteria.
The results provide a clear indication of the feasibility of constructing a hybrid bioplasmonic system using live cells. Future work will include the construction of waveguide network, diversifying the system to incorporate different types of bacterial sensors for the detection of various biological or chemical analytes.
# # #
The research is a collaboration between scientists at the Department of Applied Physics, the Rachel and Selim Benin School of Engineering and Computer Science, the Harvey M. Krueger Family Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; and the Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark. Additional researchers include Oren Lotan, Jonathan Bar-David, Cameron L.C. Smith, and Sharon Yagur-Kroll.
Support: The researchers acknowledge financial support from the Danish International Network Programme (grant no. 1370-00124B) with Israel. Work in the Belkin lab was partially supported by the Minerva Center for Bio-Hybrid Complex Systems and by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme project 985042.
Citation: Oren Lotan, Jonathan Bar-David, Cameron L.C. Smith, Sharon Yagur-Kroll, Shimshon Belkin, Anders Kristensen, and Uriel Levy*. Nanoscale Plasmonic V-Groove Waveguides for the Interrogation of Single Fluorescent Bacterial Cells. Nano Lett., Article ASAP. DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b02132. Publication Date (Web): August 3, 2017. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b02132
Academic partnership launches between US and Israel
An initiative headquartered at Tulane University fosters academic collaboration between U.S. and Israeli universities to address shared energy challenges. The work of the planned U.S.-Israel Energy Research Innovation Center has been jump-started by a $100,000 gift from Tulane parents Stuart and Suzanne Grant. “This is letting us build bridges between institutions, both within the U.S. but also between the U.S. and Israel in a way that would have simply not been possible without it,” said Daniel Shantz, who holds the Entergy Chair in Clean Energy Engineering and is a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Tulane. The Grants’ gift enabled Shantz to travel to Israel in May 2017 to meet with academics and government officials there. The gift also allowed Tulane student Imri Frenkel, a rising senior majoring in chemical engineering, to participate in a summer internship in the Segal-Peretz lab at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Frenkel’s work, making ultrafiltration membranes for water purification, builds on his research experience in the Albert lab at Tulane. In addition to Tulane, American partners include the University of Louisiana–Lafayette, University of Washington, Texas A&M University, Louisiana State University and Argonne National Laboratory. Partners in Israel include the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Geological Survey of Israel. The Grants’ gift will position Tulane to compete for the proposed U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Center of Excellence in Energy Engineering and Water Technology that was authorized by Congress in 2014. Congress had allocated funding for the center in both the House and Senate Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations bills, so a request for proposals from DOE is possible within 3 to 6 months. “We are delighted to be a part of such a worthwhile endeavor that will promote academic partnership between the United States and Israel,” said Stuart Grant. “Tulane is well positioned to host the center given its position in the Gulf and storied history of research and development in energy technologies.”
Hebrew University is Ranked #11 Worldwide for Math
July 3, 2017 – The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the 11th best university in the world for Mathematics, according to the new “Global Ranking of Academic Subjects” for 2017, released by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, which rates universities worldwide.
As well as its high achievement in Mathematics, the Hebrew University was named in the top 50 in the world in three additional subjects: 39th worldwide in Communication, 40th in Political Sciences, and 46th in Economics.
Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program Call for Postdoctoral Fellowship Applications 2018-19
The Zuckerman STEM Leadership Programis designed to transform Israel’s scientific landscape, dramatically expanding its talent pool by attracting excellent postdoctoral researchers from leading universities in the United States and Canada. Zuckerman Scholars will join the faculties of the Hebrew University for postdoctoral training and research in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Zuckerman Scholars enjoy unique programming and activities specially organized for them by the host universities, such as touring, educational experiences, and social programs. These programs are aimed at strengthening the scholars’ knowledge of and connection to Israel, and at cultivating an esprit de corps within the program, enabling them to exchange ideas and foster new relationships.
Candidates for the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program are assessed based on their academic and research achievements, as well as on personal merit and leadership qualities, without regard to race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or age.
Five postdoctoral scholarships are given out per participating university in 2018-2019.
Israel Prize in Medicine awarded to Prof. Marta Weinstock-Rosin, developer of Alzheimer’s drug
Jerusalem — The Israel Prize for Medicine in 2014 was awarded to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Professor Marta Weinstock-Rosin. A professor emeritus at the Hebrew University’s School of Pharmacy-Institute for Drug Research in the Faculty of Medicine, Professor Weinstock-Rosin is best known for developing Exelon, a blockbuster drug for the treatment of confusion and dementia related to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Professor Weinstock-Rosin is married with four children and 20 grandchildren. She became a professor at Hebrew University in 1981 and head of its School of Pharmacy in 1983. Her current research is focused on drugs that improve brain function and memory in patients with degenerative diseases of the central nervous system.
Exelon been shown to be an effective medicine for treating the symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. It is manufactured by the drug company Novartis, which acquired it from Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, Yissum. Professor Weinstock-Rosin is also the co-developer, with Professor Moussa Youdim of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, of Ladostigil. During its develop, ent Professor Weinstock-Rosin discovered that at low doses Ladostigil prevents brain degeneration and memory impairment in aged biological models. The drug is undergoing Phase II clinical trials in Israel and Europe for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Born in Vienna in 1935, Professor Weinstock-Rosin obtained her B.Pharm and an M.S. in pharmacology from the University of London, followed by a Ph.D. in pharmacology at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School. She became a lecturer in pharmacology at the University of London, and in 1969 moved to Israel with her husband and children and joined Tel Aviv University’s medical faculty. From 1976-77 she took a research sabbatical at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and received a grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse for her research on the mechanism of action of opiates.
Expressing Anger Can Make You Happier, According to Study |
Are your children getting on your last nerve? Did a coworker’s comment rub you the wrong way? There’s no need to plug the steam coming out of your ears. In fact, science now gives you full permission to let those emotions rip; you might actually be happier for it. If that seems counterintuitive, hear us out. A new study suggests that people tend to be happier if they can feel and express emotions as they want. That goes for unpleasant emotions like anger and hatred, too. An international team of researchers recruited 2,300 university students from the United States, Brazil, China, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Poland, and Singapore. They then asked the participants to tell them which emotions they desired and which ones they actually felt, and then compared those responses to how the participants rated their overall happiness or life satisfaction. The results showed an interesting trend. While participants across the board wanted to experience more pleasant emotions, they reported higher life satisfaction if the emotions they experienced matched those they desired. More surprising still, 11 percent of people wanted to feel less of positive emotions, such as love and empathy, and 10 percent of people wanted to feel more negative emotions, such as hatred and anger. At first glance, these results might seem confusing. But there’s a simple explanation, according to the study’s authors. Happiness is “more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain,” they write. It is also learning to release negative emotions when you feel them, instead of ignoring them or bottling them up. (And truth be told, money CAN buy happiness if you spend it like this.) “If you feel emotions you want to feel, even if they’re unpleasant, then you’re better off,” lead researcher Dr Maya Tamir from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem told the BBC News website. “Someone who feels no anger when reading about child abuse might think they should be angrier about the plight of abused children, so want to feel more anger than they actually do in that moment.” Sounds simple enough. But in case your anger gets too out of hand, try these tips to get calm fast.
Reader Submitted: This Student Merged Science and Design to Produce a Joint System with Endless Opportunity
Flat surfaces with carefully planned cuts—with a single motion their purpose is revealed.
I graduated from a unique joint program for Computer Science at The Hebrew University and Industrial Design at Bezalel Academy. My project is a result of my studies, combined scientific research with aesthetics and leaves an opening to variety of potential applications.
My fascination of using mathematics as a tool to enhance design led me to the development of a new design and production form based on auxetic structures. Auxetics are structures or materials that when stretched, become thicker perpendicular to the applied force. This structure serves as the basis for planning cuts that provide the flat sheet with its potential third dimension.
Designer: Tamar Levy
Advisor: Tal Gur
Stainless steel hangerFrom 2D metal sheet to 3d hanger
Oded AntmanKinetic bamboo BagReacts to hand movement inside
Oded AntmanKinetic bamboo Bagside view
Oded AntmanKinetic bamboo BagReacts to its varying content volumes
Oded AntmanTextile partition – detailUnder gravity laws the parametrically designed textile partitions receive a three dimensional transformation.
Hanger – stretching manipulationStretching manipulation – from 2D metal sheet to 3D hander
Kinetic bamboo BagKinetic bag, reacts to its varying content volumes
Oded AntmanTextile partitionSphere mapping, 3D transformation detail
Oded AntmanTextile partitionGradient mapping, 3D transformation detail
Oded AntmanTextile partitionUnder gravity laws the parametrically designed textile partitions receive a three dimensional transformation.
My project, guided by Tal Gur, was a process of cutting style development, transforming from 2D to 3D and exploring behavior of various materials under deformation. The cuts are made using common techniques and technologies, while abiding to two central constraints: minimize material loss and create the ability to transform the two dimensional form into a three dimensional structure in a single manipulation.
Designing the complex auxetic geometries was fraught with obstacles. By treating the pattern design as an algorithmic problem, I built an auxetic pattern rule-based system. The process led to various discoveries. For example, when the pattern is enclosed with an uncut border (see image…) the direction of expansion is upwards and is receives a three dimensional form. In addition, it became clear that there were three parameters that influenced the sheet’s behavior: material, geometry and transition method. While with textiles and layered materials the transformation can be repeated, with metal it is irreversible. The method of the transition between dimensions can be created by various forces which gives the object special characteristics. On the one hand, external physical forces, such as electromagnetic field or gravity. On the other hand, manual forces like stretching, pulling or pushing.
Potential applications of these forms could be done in different disciplines and varying scales, from medical stents to architectural structures. As a result of my research, I chose to demonstrate three applications that best show the production method capabilities from different angles. In a manual motion, the piece of metal stretches and becomes a hanger. Under gravity laws, the parametrically designed textile partitions receive a three dimensional transformation. The wooden bag reacts to its varying content volumes and to hand movement inside.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A 1,500-year-old mosaic floor in what may have been a Christian pilgrim hostel has been unearthed in an area heavily damaged by infrastructure groundwork on the road to Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, according to a report in The Times of Israel. The nearly intact mosaic contains six lines of Greek text, written in black on a white background. Leah Di Segni of Hebrew University translated the text, which reads, “In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction.” The inscription may commemorate the construction of the building by a priest named Constantine, who was abbot of the Nea Church, founded by Justinian. De Segni also noted that the word “indiction” refers to an ancient method of keeping track of time for taxation purposes. “This new inscription helps us understand Justinian’s building projects in Jerusalem, especially the Nea Church,” Di Segni explained. Archaeologist David Gellman of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the salvage excavation team also found traces of the building’s walls, pieces of pottery, and coins dating to the sixth century A.D. For more, go to “Byzantine Riches.”
Israel’s ‘medical weed wonderland’ draws US pot developers
Standing on the rear balcony of a gray factory building off the side of a highway, Tamir Gedo shields his eyes from the blazing sun. He points to the 23 acres of agricultural fields spread out before him. “We’ll be able to produce more cannabis here than the entire state of Colorado,” he says. Minutes later, walking past the 8,000 square-foot storage room, he adds, “We can store enough in this warehouse to supply medical marijuana for the whole United States.”
With one million square feet of cultivation fields, a 35,000-square-foot production plant, and 30,000 square feet of grow rooms and labs, Gedo’s company, Breath of Life Pharma (BOL), is about to open the world’s largest medical marijuana production, research and development facility. According to Gedo’s estimates, BOL will produce 80 tons – more than 175,000 pounds – of cannabis per year.
A tour of BOL’s new facility feels like a walk through the medical-marijuanaversion of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. With its patented extraction and purification equipment, grow rooms and germination labs, BOL will be pumping out pharmaceutical-grade cannabis tablets, capsules, inhalers and oils that are customized to treat certain ailments, with specific and controlled consistencies.
And no, this isn’t happening in Colorado, California, or anywhere near America for that matter. This medical weed wonderland sits in what might be the last place you would imagine finding the world’s largest facility for medical marijuana: Israel.
Over the past 50 years, Israel has become the epicenter of medical pot. Home to Raphael Mechoulam, the pioneer of marijuana research, Israel is where THC and the endocannabinoid system were first discovered. And with the world’s largest number of clinical trials testing the benefits of medicinal cannabis, Israel has become the global destination for medical cannabis research and development. Now it is becoming the offshore greenhouse for American cannabis companies seeking to overcome the federal roadblocks standing in their way.
Israel was among the first countries to legalize medicinal use, and is one of just three countries with a government-supported medical cannabis program. Though recreational use remains illegal, support for legalization is a bipartisan issue, with some of the most outspoken proponents coming from the right. Until now, Israel’s role in this multi-billion dollar field has been limited to R&D. Yet now that the Israeli government has approved the export of medicinal cannabis products, companies there are hoping to gain a larger piece of the market. While importing cannabis into the United States is illegal under federal law, companies can get around that ban by receiving drug approval from the FDA – and that is exactly what Israeli companies hope to do. According to the FDA, nothing is stopping them, as long as they meet the agency’s arduous requirements for drug approval.
While the FDA has approved three drugs containing synthetic cannabinoids (Marinol, Syndros and Cesamet, which treat symptoms of AIDS and chemotherapy), it has never approved a product derived from botanical marijuana. According to the agency’s guidelines, “Study of marijuana in clinical trial settings is needed to assess the safety and effectiveness of marijuana for medical use.” Yet initiating clinical trials on U.S. soil is difficult to the point of being nearly impossible. So, American companies are increasingly taking a shortcut: beginning phases 1 and 2 of their clinical trials in Israel, after which they will complete phase 3 in the U.S., speeding up the process through which they can apply for FDA approval of the botanical cannabis drugs they are developing.
Though this level of American R&D in Israel is new, Israel’s impact on the American cannabis industry is not. The very fact that medical marijuana is now legal in 29 U.S. states and counting, is a direct result of Israeli research, which essentially legitimized the study of cannabis in the international scientific community that had long stigmatized it. Without this research, “We wouldn’t have the scientific interest we have now around the world,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the D.C.-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “That really opened the door to making the study of cannabis and cannabinoids a legitimate avenue for more conventional scientists and researchers.”
Israel is becoming the offshore greenhouse for American cannabis companies seeking to overcome the federal roadblocks.
The Lambert Center is one of several American institutions that have partnered with BOL, collaborating on at least one of the more than 50 clinical trials the Israeli company will begin once its new facility is fully operational in late September. Of the 15 international companies that have already signed up to conduct their R&D at BOL’s facility, at least six are American, and Gedo is in talks with more.
BOL isn’t the only Israeli cannabis company benefitting from international interest. A growing number of American investors are getting on the Israeli cannabis wagon, which they see as the best vehicle for transforming the medical cannabis field, still in its infancy, into a pharmaceutical-level industry.
According to Saul Kaye, the founder of iCAN, an Israeli cannabis R&D firm, 2016 saw the investment of more than $250 million in Israeli cannabis companies and startups – half of that investment camefrom North America. Kaye predicts that investment will grow ten-fold over the next two years, reaching $1 billion. At least 50 American cannabis companies – and counting – have established R&D operations in Israel.
Israel’s journey to the forefront of the medical cannabis field began with 86-year-old Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam, known in the field as the Grandfather of Medical Marijuana. In 1963, as a young researcher, Mechoulam secured 11 pounds of Lebanese hashish, which had been confiscated by his friend at a police station in Tel Aviv. He used that hash to identify, isolate and synthesize THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, for the first time in history, and study its medical uses. He was also the first to decode the structure of CBD, the plant’s primary non-psychoactive ingredient. But Mechoulam’s most groundbreaking discovery came in 1992, when he and his team at Hebrew University in Jerusalem discovered the physical reason humans can get high.
“It turned out that the cannabinoids in the plant actually mimic the compounds that we form in our brain,” says Mechoulam, a professor and researcher at Hebrew University who works with several American cannabis companies. He and his team discovered that THC triggers the human body’s largest receptor system, now known as the endocannabinoid system, and that the human brain produces its own cannabinoids – compounds that stimulate the body almost exactly the way THC does.
While Mechoulam’s research is what first placed Israel on the medical marijuana map, the country’s progressive attitudes toward cannabis, coupled with the Israeli government’s liberal regulatory policies and the nation’s technological leadership, are what have maintained Israel’s status as the capital of medical marijuana research and development. It might also help that Israel has the world’s highest ratio of marijuana users, according to Israel’s Anti-Drug Authority, with 27 percent of the population aged 18-65 having used marijuana in the last year. That rate is followed by Iceland and the U.S., at 18 and 16 percent respectively.
“There are onerous restrictions on conducting this research in the U.S. that don’t exist in Israel,” says one expert.
Despite the fact that 95 percent of the U.S. population lives in states where cannabis is legal in some form, marijuana remains federally illegal. This policy makes conducting research into the medical benefits of marijuana notoriously difficult on U.S. soil. Researchers who wish to do so must go through the DEA, the FDA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Even when American researchers are given approval, they have only one source for their material: a cannabis farm at the University of Mississippi, operated by NIDA. The process, if successful, can take years.
“There’s a lengthy and arduous regulatory process for getting approval for doing studies, and limited resources at these agencies for processing those requests,” says Pollack, of Thomas Jefferson University. “It’s deliberately made very difficult for us.” In Israel, on the other hand, a cannabis clinical trial can get off the ground in a matter of months.
“I think they have approached the issue in a more even-handed and genuine way than the U.S. government has,” says Armentano of NORML. “There are onerous restrictions on conducting this research in the U.S. that don’t exist in Israel.”
This is precisely why many American researchers from universities and private companies are using Israel as an offshore research hub. For example, Pollack, from Thomas Jefferson University, will be conducting clinical trials at BOL’s new facility. Since the trials haven’t begun, he won’t divulge details, but says they will focus on orphan drug indications, meaning they will be testing the benefits of cannabinoids on people with diseases that don’t afflict many people in the U.S. (It also means that the clinical studies are smaller – and go faster – given that fewer patients are needed for these trials.) For that reason, he said, “Big pharma companies tend not to pursue them because there’s not a big enough market for these drugs.”
Kalytera – a California-based company with a lab in northern Israel and Mechoulam on its scientific advisory board – is also focusing on orphan drug indications, conducting clinical trials at Israeli clinics and hospitals in order to bring to market a cannabinoid drug for the treatment of graft-versus-host-disease, which can happen after certain kinds of transplants.
What institutions like Kalytera and Thomas Jefferson University do is they conduct the initial phases of their clinical trials in Israel, since it’s much easier to get the process started here, and then they do the final stages in the U.S., since FDA approval requires that part of the study be done there. Once they reach the final stage (phase 3) it’s much easier to conduct the rest of their study in the U.S., because they’ve already amassed enough data to show that it’s safe. This is the ultimate goal for Kalytera, Pollack and other researchers in Israel: to speed track the process of conducting a clinical trial that meets FDA standards, thus shortening the journey toward FDA approval of their drugs.
In addition to Kalytera, Mechoulam works with two other American companies, helping them develop new cannabinoid drugs and delivery methods out of his lab in Jerusalem, where he tests the specific properties, compositions and combinations of the cannabis compounds that are best suited to alleviate a specific ailment. American companies then use that research and data to manufacture cannabinoid drugs in the U.S.
According to Saul Kaye of iCan, about 50 U.S. cannabis companies are conducting research in Israel through partnerships, joint ventures or by employing Israel-based researchers like Mechoulam. At least 15 American cannabis companies have set up their entire R&D operations on Israeli soil, conducting clinical trials, and developing the appropriate dosing forms and delivery systems for pharmaceutical-grade cannabis-based drugs. According to Michael Dor, senior medical advisor at the Health Ministry’s cannabis unit, at least 120clinicaltrials are currently under way in Israel to test the medicinal benefits of cannabis — more than any other country.
At least 15 American cannabis companies have set up their entire R&D operations on Israeli soil.
Cannabics, a Maryland-based, publicly-traded company, is conducting a clinical trial at an Israeli hospital in order to develop a capsule for cancer treatment. In 2015, One World Cannabis Pharmaceuticals, a public company based in Delaware, established an Israeli subsidiary overseen by Yehuda Baruch, the first head of the Israeli government’s medical cannabis program, established in 2007. They are now beginning phase 1 of a clinical trial to test the benefits of a topical cannabis cream to treat psoriasis. Their next trial will study the efficacy of a soluble pill for the treatment of chronic pain. They eventually plan to conduct clinical trials on patients with multiple myeloma.
Some Israeli companies have partnered with American companies to establish a presence in the U.S., where they sell products that were developed in Israel. For example, Tikun Olam, Israel’s first medical cannabis distributor, opened an American subsidiary in 2016. It now sells its proprietary medical-grade plant strains at 10 dispensaries in Delaware and Nevada and will soon be available at dispensaries in Oregon and California. Their most popular strain is Avidekel, a non-psychoactive CBD blend used to help children with seizures.
Some American researchers have even moved to Israel all together. Alan Shackelford, a Harvard-trained physician, was among the first American doctors to prescribe cannabis to a child. His eight-year-old epileptic patient Charlotte Figi sparked national interest in CBD after her miraculous story aired on CNN’s Weed documentary in 2013.
Yet after years of failed attempts to conduct clinical trials in the U.S., Shackelford recently established his own research entity in Israel because of his frustration with the American government’s stonewalling.
“The U.S. government has funded $1.4 billion in marijuana research since 2008,” says Schackelford. “Yet $1.1 billion of that went to studying addiction, withdrawal and drug abuse,” problems that barely exist with cannabis when compared to the effects of other legal medications, like prescription painkillers, which killed more than 17,000 Americans in 2016.
His research subjects in Israel will include the development of new delivery methods, he says, “because to date, most medical cannabis products no matter where you look in the world, are pot-culture derived. They’re things like brownies, cookies, candy and smoking. Even with advances to these things being much more consistent, they’re still not medically appropriate.”
While the U.S. government restricts American cannabis companies on U.S. soil, it does not prevent them from or penalize them for conducting their work in Israel. According to Robert Farrell, president of Kalytera, “The FDA has no problem with this work being done in Israel. When you file with the FDA, in the application you say, ‘Look we’ve done the previous studies in Israel, gave the drug to this many patients, the drug is safe, it works, now we want to conduct a larger study with patients in the U.S.’ If the FDA is satisfied with the data, they’ll say, ‘Go ahead, try it in the U.S.'”
The FDA will never get behind cannabis the plant as medicine, since it can’t be controlled as a consistent drug.
Even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded cannabis research in Israel. Indeed, much of Professor Mechoulam’s groundbreaking research was funded by the American government. The NIH provided him with grants to the tune of $100,000 a year for over four decades, says Mechoulam.
There is also nothing preventing Israeli companies from receiving FDA approval for their cannabis-based drugs, as long as they meet FDA requirements. In order to do so, they will need to develop the kind of products that are more in line with pharmaceutical standards, such as the kinds of capsules and inhalers BOL is developing.
While that goal is feasible, Gedo and others admit that it will take time, perhaps several years, to achieve. The process of getting FDA approval is an arduous one, especially for a drug that has long been viewed with skepticism by the medical establishment. Yet it is these clinical trials that are taking place at a record pace in Israel, along with the advancement of pharmaceutical grade cannabinoid drugs, that will enable Israeli companies to eventually receive FDA approval for their drugs, or for the drugs thatthey are helping American companies to develop.
As Gedo notes, the FDA will never get behind cannabis the plant as medicine, since it can’t be controlled as a consistent drug that has the same effect day in and day out. After all, there are 140 active compounds in cannabis, and the composition of the flowers plucked from one branch can fluctuate wildly, by up to 300 percent. “The experience of a user will vary a lot with the same strain,” says Gedo. “So even if you have the best-grown product, it will never become a scientific pharmaceutical product.”
This is precisely why the FDA has never approved a botanical marijuana drug, a larger problem than scheduling when it comes to drug approval. According to Senate testimony by the FDA’s Douglas Throckmorton in 2016, who was citing a report from the Institute of Medicine, in order to obtain FDA approval, drug manufacturers “must demonstrate that they are able to consistently manufacture a high-quality drug product. This is an essential part of drug development and presents special challenges when the drug is derived from a botanical source, such as marijuana…. If there is any future for marijuana as a medicine, it lies in its isolated components, the cannabinoids and their synthetic derivatives.”
BOL and other Israeli companies are working to meet that challenge by developing cannabis-based drugs – the capsules, inhalers, creams and oils composed of isolated, controlled and consistent cannabinoids. Going this route, they could eventually receive FDA approval.
While Gedo is optimistic, he’s also realistic, knowing the complexity of the FDA’s drug approval process, and the skepticism that remains among many in the medical establishment.
Still, asked when Israeli companies might be exporting their cannabis medicine to the U.S., Michael Dor, of the Israeli Health Ministry says, “I believe it’s not far.”
Ancient inscription unearthed in Jerusalem, thrilling archaeologists
An ancient Greek inscription was found on a 1,500-year-old mosaic floor near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. Byzantine emperor Justinian, who ruled in the 6th century A.D., is mentioned in the inscription, which was deciphered by Dr. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It reads: “In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction.” EXPERTS UNCOVER EVIDENCE OF ANCIENT JERUSALEM’S DESTRUCTION BY THE BABYLONIANS In a statement released by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Dr. Di Segni explained that the inscription commemorates the building’s founding by a priest called Constantine. “Indiction,” she noted, is an ancient method of counting years that was used for taxation purposes. The mosaic has been dated to 550 or 551 A.D – experts believe that the room was used as a hostel for pilgrims. The floor was discovered this summer during preparations for laying communications cables near the Damascus Gate. “The fact that the inscription survived is an archaeological miracle,” said David Gellman, who directed the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Gellman noted that ancient remains at the site had been badly damaged by groundwork in recent decades. “We were about to close the excavation, when all of a sudden, a corner of the mosaic inscription peeked out between the pipes and cables. Amazingly, it had not been damaged.” An important historical figure, Flavius Justinian was emperor when the later Roman empire completed its conversion to Christianity. He also established a large church in Jerusalem dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, known as The Nea Church, also known as The New Church. The church’s abbot was Constantine, whose name also appears on the mosaic floor near the Damascus Gate. Di Segni notes that the mosaic floor inscription is similar to an inscription found in the vaults of The Nea Church. “This new inscription helps us understand Justinian’s building projects in Jerusalem, especially the Nea Church,” she wrote. “The rare combination of archaeological finds and historical sources, woven together, is incredible to witness, and they throw important light on Jerusalem’s past.” LOST ROMAN CITY THAT WAS HOME TO JESUS’ APOSTLES FOUND, SAY ARCHAEOLOGISTS The ancient mosaic inscription has been removed from the site and is being treated at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s mosaic workshop in Jerusalem. The discovery is just the latest fascinating archaeological find in Jerusalem. Archaeologists excavating the City of David in Israel’s Jerusalem Walls National Park recently uncovered charred wood, grape seeds, pottery, fish scales and bones and numerous rare artifacts that date back to the city’s demise at the hands of the Babylonians more than 2,600 years ago.
Dr. Judah Koller is a Clinical Psychologist and Lecturer in the School of Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he is on the faculty of graduate programs in clinical child/school psychology and special education. He is an expert in the field of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), specifically in infancy and early childhood. Dr. Koller’s research currently focuses on the early expression and identification of ASD in young children. He is particularly interested in clinically relevant methods of screening for ASD and other developmental delays that can be implemented in the community.
In 2013, Dr. Koller came to the Hebrew University after completing his postdoctoral fellowship at the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Koller completed his doctorate in clinical child and school psychology, with a specialization in infancy and early childhood at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University. Dr. Koller serves on several working groups and committees, both at the university and in the community, dedicated to autism and early childhood.