Israeli Chatbot Could Diagnose Early Alzheimer’s Disease
Hundreds of drugs have been developed to address Alzheimer’s disease, says Dr. Shahar Arzy, director of the computational neuropsychiatry lab at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. “Do you know how many have been found effective? Zero.”
But if patients could be diagnosed in the preclinical stages of the disease, perhaps some of the new biological medications showing excellent results in other domains of neurology could be effective when applied early enough in the course of Alzheimer’s disease.
Arzy and his colleagues have developed a computer-based system to ferret out early signs of Alzheimer’s.
The system, dubbed Clara (“a hint towards ‘clarity of mind,’” Arzy says), is an artificial intelligence-based chatbot that asks patients questions about themselves and their relationships to people, places and events.
Clara then uses machine learning to compare that information to a baseline in order to generate a computer-based test tailored for the specific individual that can diagnose very early Alzheimer’s.
Arzy’s work on Clara is based on a relatively recent understanding of how the brain works and what Alzheimer’s does to it.
Alzheimer’s affects the brain’s “orientation system” that dictates how a person relates to the world outside. “It’s easy to test memory,” Arzy says. “I can give you three words and ask you to retrieve them.” That’s very different than processing specific relationships.
For example, a patient might remember both the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy and the election of Barack Obama but be confused about which came first. Or a patient might recognize his or her spouse and doctor, but not be able to distinguish which person is standing closer.
Orientation can be measured in a functional MRI. Your brain will light up differently if you see a picture of your own daughter vs. someone else’s child or a generic image of a baby.
“The overlap between how the self is oriented to the world and the brain mechanisms that are disturbed by Alzheimer’s disease is astonishing,”Arzy says.
In the preclinical stages of Alzheimer’s, the orientation system begins to deteriorate, “but people can still compensate for this by tapping into other resources like memory,” Arzy says. “They can write down a note, for example. Maybe their performance is a little off, but they come up with the same output.”
It’s only when both systems – orientation and memory – go under a certain threshold that the disease becomes apparent. That’s when people seek help. But it’s already too late to present an effective treatment.
The key to Clara is that the questions it asks are taken from a patient’s personal orientation system and are not just generic questions that could draw on the brain’s memory system.
A blessing in disguise
Arzy’s original idea was to skip the chatbot and get information about a patient from Facebook and social media. “That’s what we did at the beginning,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “We spent two years writing the code.”
Then, just when they were done, the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.
Cambridge Analytica was the consulting firm that mined openly available user data on Facebook in order to influence voting in the 2016 US elections. Facebook responded by disabling the functionality that allowed third parties to access user data. That threw Arzy and his team back to square one.
It was a blessing in disguise. Arzy says that “the information we were getting from Facebook was not perfect” and that using artificial intelligence, as Clara does now,“is a better solution.”
Arzyen visions Clara to be available free as a public service, through doctors’ offices and through download onto mobile devices or computers. The pilot Android and web versions support English, Hebrew, Chinese and Portuguese so far. French, Russian, Arabic and Japanese options are already under development.
Clara is not ready to make its public debut, Arzy says. “We are at the stage of proving the efficacy of the AI agent and the two-system [orientation vs. memory] theory.”
Clara is now in the second year of a five-year test at Harvard to compare data generated by the system with data from Alzheimer’s markers taken via amyloid PET scan, quantitative and functional MRI and other neuropsychological tests. Assuta Medical Center in Tel Aviv has been running its own study on Clara using combined PET-fMRI over the past year.
Developing Clara has been a team effort on the part of the neuropsychiatry lab.
Were These 3,500-Year-Old Carvings of Nude Women Used As Ancient Fertility Drug?
An inscribed ancient Egyptian scarab and five clay tablets with carvings of naked women have been found in Rehob, a 3,500-year-old city in Israel.
The carvings likely depict ancient fertility goddesses, such as Asherah or Ashtarte, Amihai Mazar, an archaeology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Live Science. “[They] were used at home, as part of popular domestic religious practice in the domestic sphere, mainly related to fertility of women,” Mazar said in an email, noting that similar carvings have been found at other archaeological sites in the region.
The excavation showed that Rehob (known today as Tel Rehov) was founded about 3,500 years ago, and the city flourished at a time when Egypt controlled much of the region. Rehob was constructed near Beth Shean, a town protected by an Egyptian garrison, Mazar and Davidovich wrote in the journal article. [The 25 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]
Mazar and Uri Davidovich, a lecturer at the same institution, detailed their findings in a paper published recently in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Made of a mineral called steatite, the scarab contains a hieroglyphic inscription saying that it was created for a deceased man named “Amenemhat,” who was “scribe of the house of the overseer of sealed items,” according to Arlette David’s translation of the inscription.
The “sealed items” referred to in the title represent various products and raw materials dealt with by the administration,” wrote David, an archaeology lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the appendix of the journal article.
It’s a mystery who exactly this individual was and what the scarab was doing in the building where it was found. “Since there is no other attestation of an Amenemhat ‘scribe of the house of the overseer of sealed items,’ we don’t know anything else about him, including where he was buried,” David told Live Science in an email. [Photos: Mummies Discovered in Tombs in Ancient Egyptian City]
David noted that it’s possible that Amenemhat never lived in or visited Rehob and the scarab may have been used in Rehob as a reminder of Egypt’s control over the area.
3,500-year-old staircase evidence of conquered Canaanite king’s grandeur
Seven stunning large basalt stairs recently excavated at Tel Hazor give new indication of the ancient grandeur of the Canaanite kingdom 3,500 years ago, that according to biblical tradition was conquered by the Israelites and razed to the ground.
As depicted in Joshua 11:10, Hazor was the “head” of the Canaanite settlements taken by the Israelite leader. While there are still more stairs to be uncovered, it is thought that they lead into the large palace complex from where the King of Hazor ruled on the northern slopes of the upper city facing the lower city.
“This is exactly the palace that, if you were to go by the biblical narrative, would have been conquered by the Israelites,” said Tel Hazor co-director Dr. Shlomit Bechar. Tel Hazor National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be visited by the public.
The newly unearthed 4.5-meter wide monumental staircase is unprecedented in its craftsmanship in this era and region, according to Bechar. Each stair is shaped to fit snugly into place in a manner that is not found anywhere else, said Bechar in conversation with The Times of Israel.
Hazor has served as a training ground for Israeli archaeologists — past, present and future. In 1955–1958 and 1968-70, celebrity archaeologist Yigael Yadin led excavations at the site assisted by another stalwart researcher, Yohanan Aharoni. Now its 30th consecutive dig season, the current Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin was founded by Hebrew University Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor in 1990 and under the auspices of the Israel Exploration Society.
Located north of the Sea of Galilee on a trade route connecting Egypt and Babylon, Hazor was the largest biblical-era site in Israel. With an estimated population of 20,000, its size and strategic location made it an important city in antiquity. After its fiery destruction, it was rebuilt by the Israelites, perhaps by King Solomon. Several hundred years later, the Israelite settlement was destroyed by the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 BCE.
According to a Hebrew University press release, the remains of the last Israeli settlement of Hazor were also uncovered this year, including a considerable quantity of shattered pottery vessels — evidence of its destruction.
The stairs and two other much smaller basalt steps nearby were first uncovered in 2018. They have undergone conservation and are now available for viewing by the public. Bechar said she intends to continue the staircase’s excavation within the next three or four years.
In speaking with The Times of Israel, Bechar said that while these stairs, strangely modern in appearance, are grand in their own right, it is quite possible that they are not “the” staircase into the palace, rather that they could lead to another courtyard, which could then lead to another large staircase.
“To find such a grand staircase indicates the building is going to be much more amazing than what we would have expected,” she said. “Nobody expected to find this staircase, which is one of several. It could be that these are leading possibly to another staircase, possibly to another entrance, to another hall in the building. But we don’t know,” she said.
Penn Dental Renews Exchange with Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine
Building upon its global engagement, Penn Dental Medicine has renewed ties with Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine in Jerusalem, Israel, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate collaborative exchange and research with faculty and students. The MOU signing was part of the Power of Partnership program, held June 18-19 at Penn Dental Medicine, when the School hosted a delegation from Hadassah.
This two-day program, which included meetings with faculty counterparts from both schools and a continuing education program, also celebrated the late Dr. D. Walter Cohen, Dean Emeritus of Penn Dental Medicine, who had close ties to Hebrew University over his lifetime.
“We are so pleased to reignite this relationship with colleagues from Hadassah,” says Dr. Mark Wolff, Penn Dental Medicine’s Morton Amsterdam Dean. “Already through this gathering, researchers and faculty have met and our relationship is alive and growing, and doing it in the name of Walter, is particularly rewarding. It is wonderful when a legacy like his can carry on.”
Dr. Cohen, a 1950 graduate of Penn Dental Medicine who led the School as Dean from 1972 to 1983, shared a strong bond with Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine.
His father, Abram, was the first Chairman of the Palestine Dental School Committee, which helped plan the dental school, and both father and son played central roles in its history. In 1997, these efforts were celebrated with the creation of the D. Walter Cohen, D.D.S. Middle East Center for Dental Education at Hebrew University.
The Power of Partnership dinner celebration, held June 18 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, honored Dr. Cohen. Along with the signing of the MOU by Dean Mark Wolff and Dr. Aaron Palmon, Dean of Hadassah School of Dental Medicine, tributes were made to Dr. Cohen by Stanley Bergman, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Henry Schein, Inc.; Daniel Perkins, CEO of AEGIS Communications; and Dr. Marc Rothman, past Chair of the Alpha Omega Foundation and co-developer of the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity’s Global Oral Health Initiative.
The continuing education program on June 19 included the inaugural D. Walter Cohen Memorial Lecture, presented by Dean Mark Wolff on The Global Challenge of Managing Oral Health. Other lectures included Periodontal-Prosthesis: 70 years in Retrospect by Dr. Henry Salama; Cells and Signaling Pathways in Microbe-driven Periodontal and Peri-implant Inflammation by Dr. Gabriel Nussbaum; CAD/CAM Ceramic Update by Dr. Markus B. Blatz; Esthetic Full-Mouth Rehabilitations – 40 Years Perspective by Dr. Gerard Chiche; and Modern Clinical Dilemma: Save or Extract and Implant by Dr. Syngcuk Kim.
It is anticipated that Penn Dental Medicine and Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine will gather annually for a collaborative meeting with the 2020 program to be hosted at Hebrew University.
Neanderthal Settlement Where Our Prehistoric Relatives Lived for 10,000 Years Discovered in Israel
A Neanderthal settlement that was occupied by our ancient relatives on multiple occasions over the course of 10,000 years has been discovered by archaeologists in northern Israel.
The ‘Ein Qashish site was first identified in 2005 when flint artifacts and bones that appeared to date to the Stone Age were found. In 2013, after the site was damaged during the construction of a road, researchers were able to excavate almost half of the huge site. At this time, they came across the skeletal remains of three individuals, two of which could be identified as being Neanderthals.
The discovery allowed archaeologists to start building a picture of the occupants of the settlement—including when they were living there and what they were using the site for. The findings have now been published in the journal PLOS One.
The researchers, led by Ravid Ekshtain from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, analyzed a 4.5 meter thick layer that they were able to date to between 71,000 and 54,000 years ago. Along with the Neanderthal remains, they found over 12,000 artifacts dating from across this period, suggesting the site was repeatedly occupied. They said Neanderthals probably lived at the site between 70,000 and 60,000 years ago.
Analysis of the artifacts and bones found indicate the occupants were making tools at the site and killing and consuming animals, including aurochs, deer and gazelle.
Annemieke Milks, an archaeologist from the U.K.’s UCL, who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek the findings provide an “exciting glimpse” into the potential settlement systems of Neanderthals. “We know that certain sites, such as La Cotte de St Brelade in Jersey were ‘persistent places’ used over long periods by Neanderthals, but these tend to be cave or rockshelter sites, providing natural locations for residential use,” she said.
“The evidence from ‘Ein Qashish shows repeated use over a very long period of at least 10,000 years of an open-air location, and increasingly looks to have been used for a variety of activities, including ones we would typically associate with living spaces. As a rare open-air site, ‘Ein Qashish helps us understand Neanderthal landscape use and behaviors.”
“We discovered that the site included evidence for meat consumption, transport of chert from short and longer distances into the site in order to knap and evidence for the knapping procedures at the site,” Ekshtain told Newsweek.
“One of the finds was a large partial skeleton of a wild cattle, including horn cores, located in an area surrounded by many flint artifacts. This find represents the location of the animal death because is unlikely that such a large animal was transported from a butchery location to an area of consumption activities.”
Normally, Neanderthal settlements are found in caves—these habitats provided shelter from the elements and a relatively constant temperature, being cool in the summer and warm in the winter. ‘Ein Qashish is unusual in that it is open air.
Ekshtain said the site would have been attractive to Neanderthals as it was close to a water source and different ecological niches—including mountains and a relatively low lying plateau. “The site’s inhabitants could hunt animals exploiting diverse habitats,” he said.
The team suggest that open-air sites like Ein Qashish may have been used by Neanderthals more than previously thought. They will now carry out more analysis on the artifacts found to build and even clearer picture of how the site was used—from how animals were exploited to the way tools were built and used. This includes the purpose of some unusual limestone slabs that appear to have been used as an anvil, “for purposes not yet known.”
Evidence suggests Neanderthals disappeared from the Levant about 50,000 years ago. “‘Ein Qashish dates very close to the end of this period [and] appears to be a site of repeated occupations,” Ekshtain said. “Each of the occupation hosted a range of general activities suggesting a complex and robust settlement system in the open air. The reasons for leaving the site or the region are still not clear.”
Commentary: A Huge Leap for Microscopic Health Treatments
WHEN CLEVELAND CLINIC first entered discussions with Hebrew University about a collaboration in nanoscience in 2016, I must admit I did not have extremely high expectations.
Although I was well aware of the University’s excellent reputation, I was mindful of the long distance between the institutions, which typically doesn’t lend well to fruitful partnerships.
The task we faced was daunting: Combining forces, nearly 6,000 miles apart, to create and commercialize new therapies, technologies and drug-delivery systems. Using particles too small for the naked eye to see, our goal was to utilize molecular-level engineering to target medications to attack illnesses ranging from cancer and cardiovascular disease to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. No small order.
The Cleveland Clinic’s Biomedical Engineering Department at the time had a group of engineers and scientists working on a few key projects, but their portfolio expanded dramatically once they were introduced to counterparts at Hebrew University.
Together with Hadassah, the university operates one of the leading hospitals in Israel, and its researchers have won worldwide acclaim, including eight Nobel Prizes. Albert Einstein was a supporter at its founding a century ago. They have been hugely successful in bringing nanotechnologies to the global market.
That’s why Victor Cohn, a Cleveland philanthropist who supports both institutions, brought us to the table to explore what we could accomplish together. He returned from a trip to Israel with a vision to form a global nanotechnology initiative to help patients around the world. The marriage of these two nanotechnology programs form what is now known as the Center for Transformative Nanomedicine.
While the Cleveland Clinic has a rich history of healthcare innovations, at the time we were relatively young in the field of nanomedicine.
Yissum, Hebrew University’s technology transfer arm, has a team-based approach to commercialization that assists the technology inventors each step along the sometimes-long timeline from discovery through licensing. Their approach has resulted in dozens of start-up companies, and their products generate billions of dollars annually. One of their most famous successes was the chemotherapy drug Doxil, which was invented by HUJI professor Chezy Barenholz and has prolonged the lives of millions of patients.
So despite my initial skepticism about logistics, I was truly amazed by the Hebrew University team’s willingness to collaborate and their commitment to making the partnership work—taking frequent late night calls, visiting Cleveland, and graciously hosting my team in Israel.
The research conducted by the Center for Transformative Nanomedicine has resulted in potential treatments including: loading nanoparticles with chemotherapy drugs to deliver them to precise tumor targets, reducing collateral damage to healthy tissues; destroying amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients using nanoparticle-enhanced drug delivery; using nanoparticles to deliver various drug combinations to miniature, personalized brain tumors to determine best treatments for individual patients; designing tiny pressure sensors that simulate healthy kidney function for patients with end-stage renal disease, potentially replacing the need for dialysis; and encapsulating drugs with nanoparticles so they do not degrade in the body, improving precision of dosages.
We see that real partnerships and relationships are built in person, and everyone involved felt very strongly that we needed to visit each other often in order to be successful. The Hebrew University team was on board from day one.
I am most proud that we’ve been able to raise a great deal of philanthropic support—approximately $6 million to date—and have been able to generously fund five promising projects at $600,000 each. That is a significant amount of start-up funding for an early-stage research project to get off the ground.
The initial two funded projects have done exceptionally well; the teams are currently preparing to apply for follow-on funding and to file for intellectual property.
Cleveland Clinic wants to leverage Yissum’s expertise to get its promising projects out of the laboratory and into patient care. In exchange, we offer Hebrew University researchers unprecedented access to valuable, anonomized healthcare data from our diverse and complex pool of patients and clinical trial participants.
These two institutions share common goals: to improve human health across the globe and to increase international exchange of ideas and academic opportunities.
While it remains to be seen if this partnership will truly “transform nanomedicine” as its name suggests, it is certain to boost worldwide innovation in nanotechnology research and discovery.
Geoffrey Vince will discuss biotech innovation and the quest to cure at Hebrew University’sNEXUS:ISRAEL conference May 6 in New York City.
Corrected on May 1, 2019: This article has been updated to correct the name of philanthropist Victor Cohn and of the Center for Transformative Nanomedicine.
Forget sperm and eggs, researchers have created embryo stem cells from skin cells
A new, groundbreaking study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) found a way to transform skin cells into the three major stem cell types that comprise early-stage embryos. This work has significant implications for modeling embryonic disease and placental dysfunctions, as well as paving the way to create whole embryos from skin cells.
As published in Cell Stem Cell, Dr. Yossi Buganim of HU’s Department of Developmental Biology and Cancer Research and his team discovered a set of genes capable of transforming murine skin cells into all three of the cell types that comprise the early embryo: the embryo itself, the placenta and the extraembryonic tissues, such as the umbilical cord. In the future, it may be possible to create entire human embryos out of human skin cells, without the need for sperm or eggs. This discovery also has vast implications for modeling embryonic defects and shedding light on placental dysfunctions, as well as solving certain infertility problems by creating human embryos in a petri dish.
Back in 2006, Japanese researchers discovered the capacity of skin cells to be “reprogrammed” into early embryonic cells that can generate an entire fetus, by expressing four central embryonic genes. These reprogrammed skin cells, termed “Induced Plutipotent Stem Cells” (iPSCs), are similar to cells that develop in the early days after fertilization and are essentially identical to their natural counterparts. These cells can develop into all fetal cell types, but not into extra-embryonic tissues, such as the placenta.
Now, the Hebrew University research team, headed by Dr. Yossi Buganim, Dr. Oren Ram from the HU’s Institute of Life Science and Professor Tommy Kaplan from HU’s School of Computer Science and Engineering, as well as doctoral students Hani Benchetrit and Mohammad Jaber, found a new combination of five genes that, when inserted into skin cells, reprogram the cells into each of three early embryonic cell types—iPS cells which create fetuses, placental stem cells, and stem cells that develop into other extraembryonic tissues, such as the umbilical cord. These transformations take about one month.
The HU team used new technology to scrutinize the molecular forces that govern cell fate decisions for skin cell reprogramming and the natural process of embryonic development. For example, the researchers discovered that the gene “Eomes” pushes the cell towards placental stem cell identity and placental development, while the “Esrrb” gene orchestrates fetus stem cells development through the temporary acquisition of an extraembryonic stem cell identity.
To uncover the molecular mechanisms that are activated during the formation of these various cell types, the researchers analyzed changes to the genome structure and function inside the cells when the five genes are introduced into the cell. They discovered that during the first stage, skin cells lose their cellular identity and then slowly acquire a new identity of one of the three early embryonic cell types, and that this process is governed by the levels of two of the five genes.
Recently, attempts have been made to develop an entire mouse embryo without using sperm or egg cells. These attempts used the three early cell types isolated directly from a live, developing embryo. However, HU’s study is the first attempt to create all three main cell lineages at once from skin cells. Further, these findings mean there may be no need to “sacrifice” a live embryo to create a test tube embryo.
Hebrew University hosts cannabis conference to forge way forward
Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, hosted a Wednesday conference aiming to boost cooperation between industry and academia for a variety of cannabis-related research and development.
Hebrew University is one of the leading academic institutions globally with expertise in cannabis-related research and patents. The university’s Prof. Raphael Mechoulam kickstarted the field in 1964 when he discovered tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis.
The Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research set up by the university supports over 30 labs dedicated to cannabis tech, covering related agricultural technologies, formulation and manufacturing methods, novel therapeutics and combination treatments.
The one-day conference held Wednesday brings Hebrew University researchers and industry professionals together to focus on furthering cannabis research for future commercialization. By some estimates, the global cannabis market is thought to be worth $150 billion with predicted growth reaching $272 billion by 2028 and legal worldwide spending hitting $70 billion, the university said in a statement.
The idea of the conference is to have a “face-to-face discussion between industry players, entrepreneurs and faculty members as to where we are today and how we can go forward, and also to create collaborations,” Yaron Daniely, the CEO and president of Yissum, said in a phone interview ahead of the conference.
In 2018, the university struck 25 licensing agreements or research collaborations related to cannabis, he said, with such agreements accounting for 10% of Yissum’s total licensing volume, he said. “The field has grown dramatically.”
In March, Weed Inc. announced a multi-million dollar licensing agreement with Yissum based on the research results of Hebrew University’s Prof. Elka Touitou.
The focus of the cannabis industry going forward will likely be in a number of areas, Daniely said in the interview. For medical use, research will focus on pinpointing which extracts of the cannabis leaf can be used to treat which conditions; it will also study what formulations of the weed are best suited to treat various diseases, whether in cream form or in drops, and focus on better understanding the endocannabinoid system, the neurotransmitters in our bodies that have the ability to bind and react to components in the cannabis plant.
The aim is to understand what role the endocannabinoid system plays in a variety of diseases, and how cannabis “can be combined with other drugs to either enhance their efficacy and or decrease the side effects of these drugs, allowing more appropriate and continuous use of these drugs,” Daniely said.
“The endocannabinoid system is a very important bodily system and we believe that the use of agents that work with the endocannabinoid system can potentially help existing drugs work better and also reduce some of the side effects,” he said. “This is something we are very excited about and seeing a lot of interest as well.”
During the event, Yissum will honor Professor Mechoulam for his achievements in advancing collaboration between academia and the medical cannabis industry.
Itzik Ozer, director of business development for the Jerusalem Development Authority, said in the statement that the authority sees cannabis as an industry with “huge potential” for creating jobs and attracting Israeli and international companies to the city. Biotech companies and new cannabis companies setting up operations in Jerusalem will be entitled to entry grants of NIS 100,000 ($28,000) for each employee and up to NIS 4 million for the company.
In recent years, it’s become clear that RNA-binding proteins play a major role in cancer growth. These proteins, active in all cells but especially so in cancer cells, bind to RNA molecules and accelerate cancer cell growth. Unfortunately, no cancer treatment has targeted these proteins. Until now.
In the upcoming issue of Nature Communications, Professor Rotem Karni and his team at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) present a new technology to fight cancer. They designed decoy molecules that trick RNA-binding proteins into binding with them. Once bound, these RNA-binding proteins are no longer able to bind with the natural RNA molecules in cancer cells and lose their cancer-promoting activity. These “sterile” RNA molecule decoys are called oligonucleotides.
“Our technology is a new approach in the war on cancer. By understanding the biological function of RNA-binding proteins we successfully designed decoy molecules that inhibit these proteins and move us ever closer to creating an anti-cancer drug,” shared Professor Karni.
Professor Karni and his HU Institute for Medical Research team, led by Ph.D. student Polina Cohen-Denichenko, developed several decoy molecules that inhibit the RNA-binding proteins that speed-up brain and breast cancer growth. To test the decoys, they treated brain cancer cells with decoy molecules. When the cells were then injected into healthy biological models, the cancer cells did not replicate and, soon after, the tumors died off.
Though this study tested the efficacy of decoy molecules on breast and brain cancer cells, Karni explained that his technology enables scientists to tailor-make decoys for other types of cancer, thereby streamlining and improving treatment for cancer patients. “We still need to examine the toxicity of the decoy molecules and to test their efficacy before we can move on to humans,” cautioned Karni. “However, I’m optimistic, given that we’ve already succeeded at creating decoy oligonucleotides that inhibit RNA binding proteins in other kinds of cancers.”
To date, a patent describing this technology has been registered in the United States and Europe by Yissum, Hebrew University’s R&D company.
You can smoke it, vape it, sip it, or spritz it. You can bake it into brownies. You can find it in lotions and potions to rub on your skin, tinctures to drop under your tongue, capsules to swallow, or oils that have been added to your latte or ice cream. Cannabis is everywhere these days, and to hear its proponents talk, it’s the fix for everything that might ail you. But is it? And do you need a degree in medicinal plant studies (yes, that exists) to know your CBD from your THC?
What exactly is cannabis?
The cannabis plant contains more than 100 chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, some of which can affect how we feel and think. The most famous are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces a euphoric feeling and alters sensory perception, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is non-intoxicating but may be potent in other ways. Both hemp and marijuana are varieties of cannabis, but hemp has a very low concentration of THC, while marijuana’s is, no pun intended, much higher. The type and amount of cannabinoids in any given plant vary widely depending on the plant’s strain and how it’s grown; they help determine whether a cannabis product will perk you up, settle you down, or land you somewhere in between.
How do you consume cannabis?
Smoking pot leads to an almost- immediate high; in edible form, effects are delayed for 30 minutes to an hour but may be more intense, longer lasting, and, in some cases—especially if you overindulge—decidedly unpleasant (nausea, paranoia, even hallucinations).
Of course, cannabis has the potential to do much more than alter your consciousness. Yet because the plant’s longtime illegal status (see “Canna-Busted?,” right) stunted medical research, there’s still a lot to learn about its effectiveness. We’ve rounded up some of the most common cannabis claims to see which are solid and which may be as wispy as smoke.
Does cannabis actually relieve chronic pain?
The facts: When no less an authority than the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (nasem) released a 2017 report reviewing the health effects of cannabis, it included evidence to validate the plant’s efficacy in treating several health conditions; chronic pain was in the top three.
A comprehensive review published in JAMA in 2015, analyzing 79 trials with 6,462 patients, found evidence that cannabis worked for chronic pain—which is “encouraging,” says Raphael Mechoulam, PhD, head of the medicinal chemistry lab at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one of the world’s foremost cannabis researchers.
If you want to understand Israeli politics, stop thinking about the American political system.” Political scientist Reuven Hazan fixed his audience in Oakland with a stare and told them, plainly, that they had to take a broader view or they would never comprehend Israel.
“Don’t assume anything is similar to what you understand,” he said during his talk, “Making Sense of Israeli Politics.”
Hazan, former chair of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and an expert on the institutions of Israel’s democracy, is used to speaking to U.S. audiences and telling them what they’re not getting. That’s what he was doing at Temple Sinai on Feb. 20, ahead of an April 9 snap election announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We didn’t plan this trip knowing that there would be elections,” said Hazan, who also spoke at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco and the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. “So this was fortuitous.”
Hazan was brought to Temple Sinai in Oakland by American Friends of the Hebrew University and the synagogue’s Israel education committee. He took the audience through the differences between the U.S. democratic system, with its two-party system, voting districts and candidate-based ballots, and the Israeli parliamentary one, where each voter casts a ballot for a party and not a candidate, and the whole country is one parliamentary district. Parties get seats based on the percentage they win in the national vote.
“I’ll make a sports metaphor, because you just lost your football team,” Hazan said, alluding to the Raiders. “American politics is an individual sport. Israeli politics is a team sport.”
In Israel, coalitions of several parties have the power; even dominant parties like Netanyahu’s Likud can’t get enough of a majority to govern alone. And if a coalition breaks down for some reason, new elections can be called. That’s not the same as instability, Hazan cautioned, although it does give small parties — like the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism — “kingmaker” power. And that’s fair, Hazan said.
American politics is an individual sport. Israeli politics is a team sport.
“I might not like the result of it, but I’m jealous of their ability,” he said.
He also highlighted a major difference between not only Israel and the U.S., but Israel and other parliamentary democracies: In most democracies, parties align on typical economic lines (such as free market vs. state regulation) and on social issues (such as marriage equality vs. socially conservative policies). But in Israel, there’s one big thing that trumps the other issues.
“You’re talking about the hawks versus the doves on security and survival,” Hazan said.
Where security is such an important issue, economics and social issues get pushed to the side, and alliances are made between “hawk” parties that are religious and secular, or “dove” parties that have different economic platforms, Hazan explained.
The situation is kept ever-shifting by the creation of new parties and new coalitions. The slides Hazan used during the lecture were out of date even as he spoke — the day before, Netanyahu had brokered a merger of two right-wing parties, while on the same day Hazan spoke in Oakland, two centrist parties announced a merger that aims to challenge Likud’s dominance. Still, he said the numbers were still in favor of a right-wing coalition.
“The whole story of the election, if the polls are correct, is that the dovish parties have lost 10 seats to the center,” he said.
But with the possibility that Netanyahu would be indicted on corruption charges, Hazan didn’t want to make too many predictions about what will happen in the April elections.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “But it’ll be interesting!”
Managers Who Listen Boost Staff Creativity, Study Says
Managers who listen attentively could boost their team members’ creativity, suggests a new study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and King’s Business School at King’s College London.
Published in the American Psychology Associations’ journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, the international study of nearly 700 participants used surveys and laboratory experiments to show that employees who felt that they were being listened to were more likely to rate themselves as creative, to be more prolific in their output in a creative task and to produce higher quality work. Their study also found that these positive effects do not take place when managers are distracted while listening to them.
In contrast with most research on creativity, which focuses on how people can make themselves more creative by listening to others and absorbing their ideas, this research focuses on the role of the manager and on the difference that can be made in one-on-one interactions.
Dr. Dotan Castro at Hebrew University’s Federmann School of Public Policy and Government explained that the series of studies was designed not just to establish the connection between creativity and being listened to but also to understand the reason for this link.
“When an employee feels listened to, it enhances their sense of psychological safety. It may be that this boosts creativity because they can focus more on the creative task; they aren’t wasting mental energy on making micro-calculations about how their manager might respond to what they are saying,” Castro shared.
King’s Business School Professor Frederik Anseel added, “any manager could put this research into practice today. However, organizations should also consider the potentially powerful effect of introducing listening training or adopting a listening circle as a complement to the brainstorming techniques that are more commonplace.”
The scientists’ final laboratory test explored the impact of the quality of listening on an employee’s creativity by placing a flickering screen in the listener’s eye line. The speakers were unaware of the presence of the screen, and were tasked with coming up with as many creative slogans as they could for an imaginary product.
Those who had a partner distracted by the screen gave their listener a poorer score for listening. More importantly, these speakers came up with fewer slogans and these were typically rated as less creative, by independent judges, than those produced by the group with ‘good listeners’.
As Castro concluded, “this finding is also crucial: if you want to use the power of listening to enhance creativity, you can’t fake it. You have to give your employee your undivided attention and it is worth making sure that the setting you choose gives you the opportunity to do that.”
Research says you shouldn’t feel singled out for flying solo on Valentine’s Day
The whole love and marriage thing isn’t for everyone, but sometimes it feels like it should be — especially for those who frequently find themselves sitting at the kids’ table at one Jewish function or another.
Fortunately, if you’re enjoying the single life, a new book by Hebrew University’s Dr. Elyakim Kislev confirms that you are not alone: Singles are statistically likelier to have more fun, more active and far-reaching social networks — and yes — a better sex life than their married friends.
For his book, “Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living,” the Israel-born Kislev analyzed data from 300,000 people in 31 countries, and conducted in-depth interviews with 150. The research concluded that not only are there a growing number of single people – 25 percent of people in the United States today will never marry – but that their solitude is an increasingly conscious decision.
Thirty percent of men and 26% of women in Japan, Kislev says, don’t consider their singledom a stop on the path to marriage, but a destination in itself. This can be attributed, he says, to factors such as increased social and financial independence for women, as well as the ubiquity of social media.
Full disclosure: “Happy Singlehood” might not help you make the case to concerned friends or family about why you’re staying home with a good book this Valentine’s Day. But it can go a long way towards soothing the seeds of doubt sown by those who think they’ve got it all figured out.
“You’re missing an absolutely beautiful day in Tel Aviv,” Kislev tells a reporter who telephoned him from the library in what was once Gestapo headquarters in Berlin.
With the wind blowing and the mercury hovering uncomfortably close to the freezing point, Berlin’s signature steel-gray skies aren’t particularly encouraging — and the symbolism behind Kislev’s comparatively sunny view doesn’t go unnoticed. After all, the 37-year-old “Happy Singlehood” author is happily single himself, and says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Singles are now the majority in many Western countries,” Kislev says. “And there’s so much potential for tapping into them as a group. They can be organized into voting blocs; in consumerism there can be certain products targeted at them, housing markets, fashion – it’s really endless.”
Kislev took a break between meetings to share with The Times of Israel why he believes that not only will the singles phenomenon continue to grow, but that we should already be adapting to it.
The following interview has been edited.
Okay, first off — is this book just a way of explaining to your parents why you’re still single?
Not really. If I wanted to answer my parents I would have written something like, “This is a huge phenomenon,” and all about the phenomenon. But the book is not about the phenomenon itself – it’s about the quality of life. It’s more an answer to myself and to other people for whom it’s already a given that they’re singles, who are not trying to justify anything. The book discusses ways that singles can maximize their quality of life, deal with discrimination, what values they have, how they can forge communities, and so on.
Why do you think people are staying single for longer these days?
There are several reasons for this. Maybe the most important one is that women’s status is much improved nowadays, so they don’t feel the pressure to be with a spouse and to get married, and they invest in their education and their career, and so on. So they delay marriage, and if they don’t feel comfortable with their husband, they just get divorced. We also have migration – internal migration, international migration, urbanization. So people move around and they don’t want to be tied down.
There are also economic reasons – and this is very surprising. All economic conditions, no matter what, lead people to be single. So we see that in Sweden, for example, the government subsidizes apartments for young people, so they think, “Okay, if I have a cheap apartment I can live by myself, I don’t need to marry in order to save money.” And in other countries we see the opposite – because if people prosper and have money, one of the “goods” they buy themselves is privacy – they want their independence, and they pay to be alone.
But it’s remarkable because even in Italy and Spain after the recession, they went through this huge recession and you’d think that okay, so these people don’t have money, the country can’t subsidize their living expenses, so they’ll probably end up getting married, right? But no, what they actually did was go back and live with their parents, and keep the disposable income. They call them bambuccini, grown babies. So it’s remarkable — all economic conditions lead to single living.
It seems like there’s a bigger emphasis on friends, family, and being in a relationship in Israel than other countries – and getting married at a younger age.
I don’t have numbers on Israel, my research is focused on Europe and the US. But I can tell you that the comparison I made in terms of levels of happiness and well-being, I can tell you that singles in Israel are far behind. They don’t feel so good about themselves, and they probably feel the pressure to marry. It is a part of the culture – for example, we do know that Israel is first among OECD countries in terms of birthrate, children per woman. Even Turkey and Mexico, and of course Europe and the US, are far behind. In Israel I think it’s around 3.1 children, and even in Mexico and Turkey it went from five, six, seven children a few decades ago to 2.1 or 2.5 today, and in Europe it’s 1.3 or something like that. So in this sense I know that Israel is a leading country in family values and pressure to marry, and so on.
Is loneliness not an issue compared to earlier generations?
Many people criticize technology and say that we’re lonelier than decades ago, but actually, single people became more social and more connected. Now, we refer to singles as “networked individuals.” Technology makes us more connected, and at least facilitates ways for people who want to be connected, to be connected. We also see that in recent decades, married people became lonelier while the single population became more connected, and that’s due to technology. I see in my research that singles use the internet more extensively. So they use it to be more connected, and I guess it alleviates the feeling of loneliness.
With marriage equality and all that’s going on today, does the LGBT community face the same pressure for singles as the heterosexual community?
I’m not absolutely sure about this, but I can think of two sides, and it’s kind of complicated. One the one hand, LGBT people might feel more comfortable being single simply because in the past they were already placed outside the mainstream. And they’ve had to innovate more as far as family status and family conditions, which could make that part more flexible for them.
At the same time, LGBT people are leading the fight for marriage equality and push for marriage more than heterosexual people do – but I think one of the reasons for this is that they are still struggling for equality in general. It also depends, I guess, on where people are living. In New York City I think people are more comfortable being single, so they don’t care, but in other parts of the US and Europe, maybe they do want to get married to feel more a part of the community, otherwise they might feel like outsiders. So yeah, it’s complicated.
You said the birthrates have gone down in many countries – do you see this trend of staying single as having a positive impact, a negative impact, or something in between?
I don’t know – I’m a researcher and I really like it this way, and I don’t want to be judgmental about any phenomenon. This is simply a phenomenon, and I think that the challenge now is not to judge the phenomenon of singlehood, but just to recognize that this isn’t going to change, that in fact it’s going to grow, and now to find ways to cater to the single population. To take care of them, to have facilities, community centers, services, and think in terms of policy making how do we make the single population more comfortable, more connected, and happier.
Is an aging single population a concern?
That’s a huge question, but let’s talk about the personal perspective first and the collective policy perspective after. First, we ourselves care a lot about, and we fear, aging alone. Actually many studies show that aging alone is such a big fear that we enter into wrong relationships and compromise about partners, and some studies even show that we go back to exes that we know that they are not good for us, but we still go back because we feel lonely and we fear being lonely in old age.
I show in my book that the fear of being alone in old age is bigger – and it’s just like how we often have a greater fear of the unknown – and then the negative expectations usually don’t materialize. So we see that, for example, people fear disability and immobility in old age, and the actual consequences are much, much better – many more people fear it than actually happens.
So, many people fear aging alone and get married, but get divorced after 10 or 20 years, and then they made a double mistake: They got married to the wrong person, and they’re still alone in their old age anyway. So I’m not sure the future needs to be such a factor in our decision making.
In terms of the collective, we do need to think of it at some point. We know that there’s a lot of innovation around that question in Japan, which is leading the world in terms of robotics and other technologies to help people who are aging alone. So we’ll have to define the problem, and if this is the problem and we need someone to help these people, we will find ways to deal with it. But this is the reality. We can’t force people to marry just to solve a hypothetical problem in the future.
Drive three hours south of Jerusalem towards the southern tip of Israel – between ancient stone terraces and barren golden hills – and a surprising sight rises above the horizon: a lush wine vineyard spanning dozens of acres. The pastoral carpet of green stands out amidst the sandy surroundings.
The Nana Estate Winery is just one of approximately 250 wineries that have, quite literally, cropped up in Israel in recent decades. Together, they’ve turned the small Mediterranean country into not only a wine lover’s paradise, but also a haven for viticulture experts.
Which brings us to Zohar Kerem. The 57-year-old heads up Hebrew University’s master’s program in winemaking. To earn the degree, students spend 20 months taking classes in everything from agricultural studies to business management. It’s all capped off with an excursion to the University of Bordeaux in France where they get firsthand experience in one of winemaking’s most storied regions.
On the day we catch up with him, Kerem finds himself in San Francisco – part of a five-city U.S. tour to promote the program and recruit new students. Apparently, talking about wine at 9 AM is nothing new for the professor. Especially one whose last name is the Hebrew word for vineyard. “It was my destiny. It was written in my cards,” he laughs, clarifying that, “I didn’t change my name in order to become a wine researcher.”
Kerem, who grew up in the fertile plains of Israel’s Jezreel Valley, began his career as a chemist before pivoting to food science. Like the wine he studies, his research is bold and complex: One day he may be looking into the health benefits of drinking wine, while on another he’s focused on how Israel’s unique climate can serve as a laboratory for liquor. It’s the latter that has him particularly jazzed today.
“In Israel, you can experience many different climate regions within a radius of 200 miles,” he tells From The Grapevine. “You can see climates that are ranging from very cold to very warm, from very dry to very humid, soils that are basalt and lime and gravel. You can see all of this in close proximity.”
Having all of that at your fingertips allows Israeli vintners to experiment, to see how different varietals perform in specific climates. That type of research is of particular importance in recent years as hotter temperatures are making extreme weather more frequent. “It’s not only warmer temperatures, but it’s the distribution of rain days,” Kerem explains. “So now we may have a few strong storm days, and then a long time with no rain at all.”
Climate change is impacting the world’s leading winemaking countries – like France and Italy – and they are increasingly turning to Israel as a resource for how to better grow grapes in such arid temperatures. Drip irrigation techniques, which were modernized in Israel more than half a century ago, are continuously being refined. WiFi-connected drones now fly over vineyards to study every single water drip in the process, allowing winemakers the ability to irrigate specific vines. Several Israeli startups are focusing on other agricultural and fertilization technologies.
What’s more, Kerem and his colleagues are researching the archaeology of Israeli wine, which dates back for centuries. As an example, he points to an epidemic called the “phylloxera plague” which destroyed most of the grape vineyards in Europe more than 150 years ago. New roots had to be shipped in from America to graft with the European vines to help them grow again. Meanwhile, many of the vines in Israel proved resistant to the disease.
Studying why could lead to the introduction of new varietals of wine, if not new flavors entirely. A pinot grown in one country will taste different when grown in other conditions. “There are varietals that are known to work well in different geographical regions, and we try to introduce them to different climate zones in Israel and see how they perform there,” Kerem explains.
The master’s students he oversees are each given their own row to tend to in a vineyard in Israel. “It’s a scientific experiment, which we then harvest and try to see what are the differences,” Kerem says. With 20 rows of cabernet, for example, they can try different levels of irrigation to see which produces the best wine. As all the classes are taught in English, many of the students come from outside of Israel. The hope is that upon completing the program, they return to their home countries and take what they learned from Israeli winemaking to the wider industry.
Varietals from Israel are already competing with the likes of wine from Napa and France in international competitions, which makes it an exciting time for wine enthusiasts. “I wasn’t born with a glass in my hand,” says Kerem, who admits to catching up by trying a new wine every week.
When asked if he prefers a cabernet over a chardonnay, a merlot versus a zinfandel, Kerem pauses for a moment. He swirls the question around as if tasting something new. “I think my favorite wine is the wine that raises discussion, the wine that lets you just enjoy and relax and think about the wine. Wine that has something in it that makes me daydream for a second – this will be the wine that I’m interested in.”
Every day seems to bring with it a new headline about the issue of climate change, but this one seems to be primed for the history books. The findings from a major new study published today in the journal Science may require a recalculation of climate change models to more accurately predict the pace of global warming.
And, quite unexpectedly, it comes from research about how the earth is cooling faster than we thought.
Allow us to explain: It all starts from tiny particles in the air known as aerosols. Think of it like dust that enters the air either from natural sources (ocean salt, volcanic ash) or from man-made means (burning coal, driving cars). Broadly speaking, these aerosols cause cloud cover which, in turn, reflects sunlight back into space. Meaning, heat leaves the earth, and aerosols actually end up cooling our environment. Sounds like a good thing, at first.
Daniel Rosenfeld is an Israeli professor at the Institute of Earth Sciences at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Along with his colleague, Yannian Zhu from the Meteorological Institute of Shaanxi Province in China, they have developed a new method to more accurately calculate aerosols’ cooling effects on the earth. What they discovered was that the aerosols’ cooling effect is nearly twice as high as previously thought.
However, if this is true, then how come the earth is getting warmer, not cooler? For all of the global attention on climate warming, aerosol pollution rates from cars, farming and power plants is still very high. For Rosenfeld, this discrepancy might point to an even deeper and perhaps more troubling reality. “If the aerosols indeed cause a greater cooling effect than previously estimated, then the warming effect of the greenhouse gases has also been larger than we thought, enabling greenhouse gas emissions to overcome the cooling effect of aerosols and points to a greater amount of global warming than we previously thought,” he explained.
Rosenfeld’s work at his lab in Israel comes on the heels of news from last week, also published in the journal Science, that the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought. Although there is somewhat of a silver lining. “If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now,” Malin L. Pinsky, a Rutgers University professor, told The New York Times. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now.”
Next week, scientists and thought leaders from around the world will descend on the Swiss Alps for the annual Davos conference, hosted by the World Economic Forum. Expected to be one of the major topics discussed are issues related to climate change – including extreme weather events and water scarcity in emerging countries.
As in previous years, representatives from various nations will be bringing any and all solutions to the table. Shai Agassi, an Israeli entrepreneur, famously hatched his idea for an electric car network at the Davos conference. This year, viewers will be able to watch more than 100 sessions streamed live and can be part of the global conversation using the #Davos hashtag.
The race for the next Dead Sea Scrolls, and why we may lose it
A narrow path leads up to Qumran, a series of caves dotting the stone cliffs where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The mouth of a recently discovered cavity, Cave 53, is gaping but once inside the space is narrow and dark, like a rabbit hole. Following its most recent excavation, Cave 53 is all of 15 meters long and 80 centimeters high. Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who just finished his second excavating season at Cave 53, pointed to a wisp of straw. “This is almost certainly the remains of a mat from the Second Temple period,” he remarks. For a minute there, I’m breathless.
After 2,000 years of concealment and 70 years of competition between archaeologists and robbers to find new scrolls – is it even possible that any remain to be found? After a few hours in Qumran, an obsessive optimism comes easy. Every node in the limestone rock suddenly looks like the lip of a jar with hidden treasure inside. The dust burns one’s eyes, but Indiana Jones would never give up at this stage. Cave 53 is one of about 500 caves between Qumran and Masada, some natural, some carved into the limestone cliff. It is in these caves that the search for Israeli archaeology’s Holy Grail – more ancient scrolls – is taking place.
The first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1946 or 1947, since which time the area has been combed over by scholars and thieves. But hope remains alive. Caves 53 and 54 were discovered just recently, in 2017. True, they held no scrolls, just tantalizing clues – including wrappings – that they might have in the past. Evidently robbers got there first.
The conversation with Gutfeld takes place at the entrance to the cave. In the two excavation seasons conducted in Cave 53, many non-scroll objects have been found, some of them valuable, some from prehistoric times and from the Second Temple era.
I asked if somewhere inside he expects, every time he begins to explore a new cave, to find scrolls. He looks at me and considers for a moment. “We come to each new cave with zero expectations. We try to understand the daily lives of those who used it,” Gutfeld says – then admits, “Almost every night I dream of finding a scroll. If we get lucky and find even one written line, that would be the best.”
Albeit scroll-less, every day of digging in the Judean Desert caves reveals new things about the material culture of people of the “Yahad” community (the cult that operated here), he says. “Discovering a scroll would be the ultimate, but it’s just as important to find things that shed light on who they were.”
There was a moment in the last season that Gutfeld uttered the words he had dreamed of: “Bring the scrolls kit.” It contains silk gloves and containers with hermetic seals to protect precious finds. “I was so excited I couldn’t speak,” he says. But the find turned out not to be a scroll after all.
Last week Gutfeld and his team began excavating Cave 52 on behalf of the university. Its mouth is at a difficult-to-reach spot on the upper part of the cliff. It’s harder to reach than Cave 53. Over the coming weeks they hope to find remains and clues from the 2,000-year-old cult. Perhaps they’ll even find a scroll.
Apocalyptic essays and life
The scrolls found over the past 70 years in Qumran are the most important Jewish cultural treasures on earth, says Adolfo Roitman, director of Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book. Pnina Shor, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Projects, calls them “the most important archaeological find of the 20th century.”
The scrolls are primarily religious manuscripts containing 230 texts from all the books of the Bible except for the Book of Esther. They also contain non-biblical Jewish texts from the end of the Second Temple period, apocalyptic and ritualistic essays, and descriptions of daily life.
The fact that in 2019 explorations to find scrolls are still ongoing may sound surprising. Gutfeld thinks otherwise.
“To many it seems obvious that everything that could be found in the Judean Desert caves has been found, and they are empty. But in the last few seasons we proved that there are findings galore and that these excavations are very important,” he says.
“From the first bucket we took out of the cave, we’ve been sifting out pottery fragments. We’ve found vessels and organic material including hundreds of olive pits, dates, seeds and nuts. We’ve found ropes, jars, lids, an intact decorated bronze pot, a candle unique to the Qumran region, linen textiles that were probably used for wrapping scrolls. We found leather straps that were probably used to tie the scrolls. Bedouin who were here long before us apparently broke jars, untied the straps, pulled the scrolls out of their wrapping and took them.”
The problem is that world-class antiquities attract robbers like flies. To this day items from Qumran can be found offered for sale that had not been found in orderly archaeological excavations. In the seven decades since the original discovery, archaeologists have been competing with robbers, most of them local Bedouins. So far the Bedouins have been winning by landslide.
It was Bedouin shepherds who, in 1946 or 1947, discovered seven parchment scrolls covered with ancient Hebrew writing that had been hidden by members of a Jewish cult living in Qumran during the first century. The shepherds sold the scrolls to two merchants in Bethlehem. Prof. Eliezer Sukenik of the Hebrew University – the father of Yigael Yadin – bought three and the other four were sold for $250 to the head of the Syrian-Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem.
The archbishop took them to the United States and tried to sell them there. In 1954, Yadin, who had completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ second chief of general staff, noticed a newspaper ad that offered the four scrolls for sale for $250,000. These seven scrolls are on display at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, and they considered the heart of ancient Jewish culture.
Tired of swiping right on that dating app? Not to worry. Feeling pressure from your parents and friends to settle down and get married? Take a breath and relax.
Decades ago, there may have been more of a stigma attached to being single, but that’s changing with each passing year. In Europe, more than 50 percent of households in major cities are occupied by singles. In the U.S., 22 percent of adults were single in 1950. Today, that number is more than 50 percent. One in four newborns in America are predicted to never marry.
Sociologist Elyakim Kislev, a professor at Israel’s Hebrew University, is the author of the new book “Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living.” The 37-year-old Kislev, who himself is single, is not anti-marriage. He’s just advocating for society to be more open and embracing of people who are single.
To help get the ball rolling – and just in time for Valentine’s Day – we asked Kislev why it’s beneficial to be single…
You’ll be healthier
Marriage could literally be killing you. Kislev points to studies showing that divorced people have a reduced risk of heart attacks and that they usually end up losing weight after they separate. “In my own research, I show that singles eat more healthy. They take care of themselves more. They exercise more. They have more physical activity.” One area this manifests itself is in the food we choose to eat. The eating habits of a married person are often influenced by a partner or the family unit as a whole. If your spouse or child is eating donuts and leaving the box on the kitchen counter, you’re more likely to eat them as well. “But if you’re alone, and really focus on your needs, you eat healthier,” he explained.
You’ll be more social
“Basically we have this notion that our society is less and less social, but studies actually show that the population that is less social are the married ones,” Kislev said. He points to a study of married and never married people that tracked them from the 1980s to the 2000s. “They showed that married people become more and more isolated and less social during these years, while single people became more adept at building social networks and having more friends and more social activities.”
Yissum, the Technology Transfer Company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and KYORIN Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan), a subsidiary of KYORIN Holdings, Inc., which is engaged in the development and commercialization of prescription drugs, announced today a strategic collaboration in the discovery of respiratory drug therapies. Under the collaboration, KYORIN will sponsor a research program led by Prof. Francesca Levi-Schaffer of Hebrew University’s Institute of Drug Research in the School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine and advance its own drug discovery research with the outcome from the program.
Prof. Levi-Schaffer specializes in the area of immunopharmacology for allergies. Her research focuses on mast cells and eosinophils, the main effector cells in allergic diseases such as asthma and atopic dermatitis. KYORIN focuses on R&D and commercialization of prescription drugs, and respiratory field is positioned as one of its franchises. In the new partnership, KYORIN and Prof. Levi-Schaffer will collaborate and screen for new drugs based on her expertise of allergic inflammation. As such, new potential targets for the suppression of asthma and other related indications will be identified. medici
For KYORIN, this international network with academic collaboration in research is significant and this opportunity to form cooperative research relationships for first-in- class drugs on various respiratory diseases will enhance our research capabilities for drug seeds discovery.
Trusted among patients and professionals in the medical industry, KYORIN strives to be a company that contributes to the public health and is recognized as a one with social significance by improving its presence in specified therapeutic areas and through global discovery of novel drugs. KYORIN uses its sales and marketing strategy in focusing on respiratory, otolaryngology and urology, and concentrates resources on the innovative drug discovery activities in its own research, with supplementing and strengthening external drug discovery programs and technology platforms from academic institutions, venture start-ups, and domestic and international drug discovery companies, as open innovation partnership. For further information please visit www.kyorin-pharm.co.jp/en/
Yissum is the technology transfer company of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Founded in 1964, it is the third company of its kind to be established and serves as a bridge between cutting-edge academic research and a global community of entrepreneurs, investors, and industry. Yissum’s mission is to benefit society by converting extraordinary innovations and transformational technologies into commercial solutions that address our most urgent global challenges. Yissum has registered over 10,000 patents covering 2,800 inventions; licensed over 900 technologies and has spun out more than 135 companies. Yissum’s business partners span the globe and include companies such as Boston Scientific, Google, ICL, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Microsoft, Novartis and many more. For further information please visit www.yissum.co.il
Once upon a time, Israel’s most famous export was Jaffa oranges. Fast-forward a good few years, and Israel’s turned into something much juicier – Startup Nation. Now, in a delicious twist of innovation, these two opposite ends of the country’s claim to fame are coming together to produce a much healthier spin on our all-time favorite.
It’s an unfortunate truth that while orange juice is full of vitamins and minerals, it’s also packed with sugar – one serving contains almost 1 ounce of the stuff. Plus, the juicing process leaves the juice devoid of the natural fiber found in the whole fruit, so that healthy-feeling glass of OJ isn’t actually all that good for us.
This is the problem the Better Juice startup wanted to solve. The four-person, Ashdod-based enterprise collaborated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to develop an innovative technology that reduces the load of simple sugars in 100% orange juice without taking away the all-orangey taste of the drink.
“Fruit juice is well-known for its healthy ingredients, like vitamins, but people reduce their consumption due to its high sugar content, says Eran Blachinsky, Better Juice’s founder and CEO.
“Physicians and dieticians recommend taking vitamin pills instead of juice, since they have only the good and not the bad. We at Better Juice have a solution to take out the bad sugar, leaving the good vitamins intact – thus making a Better Juice.”
The company’s patent-pending enzymatic technology uses natural ingredients to convert simple sugars like fructose, glucose and sucrose into non-digestible fibers and sugars. These, according to Better Juice, have been shown to have a number of health benefits.
“Our innovation is in having a solution to reduce all types of sugar in juices with a cost-effective technology, without altering the other juice ingredients. We use non-GMO micro-organisms with a sustainable technology,” Blachinsky explains.
But does it still taste the same?
“One cannot reduce sugars without reducing sweetness,” Blachinsky admits. “The bio-converted molecules and the dietary fibers have some sweetness – less than sugar, but still sweet. Therefore, bio-converting all the sugars doesn’t eliminate the sweetness, it only reduces it.”
Better Juice says that its edge over other attempts to reduce sugar content lies in the fact that the solution involves one simple step in the juice-making process, enabling the product to be competitively marketed.
“Up to now, there were few technologies treating only one type of sugar in a very expensive way, or fermenting the juice and destroying its natural taste,” Blachinsky says of the competition.
The company plans on marketing its product to fruit-juice producers and eventually to cafés and restaurants.
“Our goal is to give a solution to any sugary natural product – any fruit, honey, maple syrup and more. There are a few collaborations with big corporations that are ‘cooking’ now. Hopefully one will succeed.”
Blachinsky’s journey toward Better Juice spanned over a decade. He received his PhD in biology from the Hebrew University in 2006, and since then held various positions in the industry, working on biotechnology products and fruit processing.
Financial support for Better Juice came from The Kitchen Hub, food giant Strauss Group’s food-tech incubator.
“The Hub is not just a VC [fund] that gives money to startups. It is actually an incubator where there are advisers and lecturers coming to teach us lessons any entrepreneur must have,” Blachinsky notes.
“And the uniqueness of the hub is that its portfolio companies are managed by CEOs that are all friends. We help each other; there is no competition between us. We are truly happy for the success of our colleagues, and when possible try to help out.”
And it seems that being part of the Startup Nation has its benefits.
“This perception helps an Israeli company starting its first steps in the world. We are being watched by VCs and global corporations from all over the world,” says Blachinsky.
“I think that being the Startup Nation expands our entrepreneurial abilities as we seek new problems to solve. We are surrounded by people who think out of the box,” he adds.
“In the past, heroism in war inspired the young. Now the model for heroism has changed, and the model is a successful entrepreneur.”
AI tool helps radiologists clear dangerous data bottleneck
It’s not every day that TIME magazine calls you a genius.
“They’re not calling me a genius,” Elad Walach protests. “They’re referring to the company!”
Walach is the 30-year-old CEO of Aidoc, a two-year-old Tel Aviv-based startup that is saving lives through medical imaging.
Aidoc applies proprietary artificial intelligence to the millions of images generated every year by CT scans in order to catch serious issues before a human radiologist even has a chance to review the results.
Aidoc has already received US and European approval to assess scans of brain hemorrhages and spinal fractures.
TIME included the startup on its list of “50 Genius Companies of 2018,” a prestigious cohort that includes well-known names such as Amazon, Airbnb and Apple (and that’s just the As).
Aidoc’s always-on AI software reviews CT results as soon as they come out of the machine. If an abnormality is detected, an alert appears on the radiologist’s screen immediately.
“The radiologist doesn’t have to click anything for this to happen; that’s why it’s being used on a daily basis,” Walach tells ISRAEL21c.
The need for a solution like Aidoc is only getting more acute. In its article, TIME refers to a “looming data thrombosis” where medical information is projected to reach a total of 2.3 trillion gigabytes by 2020.
Aidoc has analyzed 40 terabytes of data a day just in the last six months. That’s too much for human radiologists – but it’s the bread and butter of machine learning and computer analysis.
Walach says radiologists using Aidoc can reduce turnaround time by up to 60 percent. The product is now used in 50 medical institutions including large university hospitals in the United States and Europe. Sheba Medical Center in Israel was one of Aidoc’s earliest adopters.
Walach says that nearly 300,000 patient scans have been analyzed, saving some 50,000 hours of human work. Aidoc software detected 140,000 abnormalities and prioritized 46,000 cases.
With $13 million raised, Aidoc is growing fast. Although currently the software only works with CT scans, regular X-rays as well as high-tech MRIs will be added in 2019, pending regulatory approval.
Aidoc charges clients an annual fee based on the size of the institution. “It’s not per scan,” Walach points out. “We don’t want our customers to worry about using it more or less because of the price.”
Along with clear benefits, the growing use of medical data brings concurrent privacy concerns. For Aidoc to work its magic, a patient’s scans must be compared with hundreds of thousands of existing images across dozens of computers running remotely. Walach says that Aidoc makes sure to anonymize all data it analyzes.
“The data is fully owned by the hospital,” he adds. “It’s uploaded to the cloud just for computational purposes.”
Israel’s expertise in security helps. “We have a lot of manpower here with this kind of background,” Walach says. “It helps us ensure our infrastructure is highly robust.”
Aidoc was launched in 2016 by three graduates of the IDF’s elite Talpiot program who “were passionate about using the same set of skills we had from the army to contribute” in civilian life, Walach says. “The healthcare space resonated for all of us.”
It didn’t hurt that Walach’s father worked for IBM’s Watson division, which is using the power of IBM’s most powerful computing system to advance healthcare. Family dinner-table conversations influenced the younger Walach’s professional direction, he says.
Aidoc now has 50 people on staff with offices in Israel, New York and Europe. More regulatory approvals are coming, Walach says, including for chest and abdomen imaging.
Easing a bottleneck
Are radiologists in danger of being replaced by this new technology? Hardly. As medical imaging becomes more common, the workload for radiologists has soared. In smaller, rural facilities, there may be no staff radiologist at all.
“The number of radiologists is stagnant, creating a bottleneck,” Walach says.
While Walach says it takes three hours on average for a scan to be read, in some cases, “a patient could wait up to 24 hours for a radiologist to interpret the images.”
As a result, an entire business of outsourced “tele-radiologists” has cropped up, where a radiologist in Israel or India will read the scan of a patient remotely.
Products like Aidoc enable radiologists – wherever they may be – to be more effective and for emergency cases to be flagged so the patient can be treated on the spot.
Walach quotes the chairman of the radiology department at one Aidoc client hospital, who told him, “You gave me the peace of mind that there were no patients with a brain bleed waiting for their scans to be read.”
Or as Aidoc’s new director of sales and strategy for North America Tom Shearer says, “AI isn’t the future for medical imaging. It’s the present.”