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Cleveland Clinic researchers find link between bacterial...

October 5, 2017, Cleveland: In a newly published study, Cleveland Clinic researchers have uncovered differences in the bacterial composition of breast tissue of healthy women vs. women with breast cancer. The research team has discovered for the first time that healthy breast tissue contains more of the bacterial species Methylobacterium, a finding which could offer a new perspective in the battle against breast cancer. Bacteria that live in the body, known as the microbiome, influence many diseases. Most research has been done on the "gut" microbiome, or bacteria in the digestive tract. Researchers have long suspected that a "microbiome" exists within breast tissue and plays a role in breast cancer but it has not yet been characterized. The research team has taken the first step toward understanding the composition of the bacteria in breast cancer by uncovering distinct microbial differences in healthy and cancerous breast tissue. "To my knowledge, this is the first study to examine both breast tissue and distant sites of the body for bacterial differences in breast cancer," said co-senior author Charis Eng, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Cleveland Clinic's Genomic Medicine Institute and director of the Center for Personalized Genetic Healthcare. "Our hope is to find a biomarker that would help us diagnose breast cancer quickly and easily. In our wildest dreams, we hope we can use microbiomics right before breast cancer forms and then prevent cancer with probiotics or antibiotics." Published online in Oncotarget on Oct. 5, 2017, the study examined the tissues of 78 patients who underwent mastectomy for invasive carcinoma or elective cosmetic breast surgery. In addition, they examined oral rinse and urine to determine the bacterial composition of these distant sites in the body. In addition to the Methylobacterium finding, the team discovered that cancer patients' urine samples had increased levels of gram-positive bacteria, including Staphylococcus and Actinomyces. Further studies are needed to determine the role these organisms may play in breast cancer. Co-senior author Stephen Grobymer, M.D., said, "If we can target specific pro-cancer bacteria, we may be able to make the environment less hospitable to cancer and enhance existing treatments. Larger studies are needed but this work is a solid first step in better understanding the significant role of bacterial imbalances in breast cancer." Dr. Grobmyer is section head of Surgical Oncology and director of Breast Services at Cleveland Clinic. The study provides proof-of-principle evidence to support further research into the creation and utilization of loaded submicroscopic particles (nanoparticles), targeting these pro-cancer bacteria. Funded by a grant from the Center for Transformational Nanomedicine, Drs. Grobmyer and Eng are collaborating with investigators at Hebrew University to develop new treatments using nanotechnology to deliver antibiotics directly to the bacterial community in breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women (after skin cancer) in the United States, where 1 in 8 women will develop the disease in their lifetimes. The study was funded by a Clinical Research Mentorship Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Society of Surgical Oncology Foundation, Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Institute, Earlier.org, and Randy and Ken Kendrick. Dr. Eng holds the Sondra J. and Stephen R. Hardis Endowed Chair of Cancer Genomic Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation's best hospitals in its annual "America's Best Hospitals" survey. Among Cleveland Clinic's 51,000 employees are more than 3,500 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 14,000 nurses, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic's health system includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 10 regional hospitals, more than 150 northern Ohio outpatient locations - including 18 full-service family health centers and three health and wellness centers - and locations in Weston, Fla.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2016, there were 7.1 million outpatient visits, 161,674 hospital admissions and 207,610 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic's health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 180 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. Editor's Note: Cleveland Clinic News Service is available to provide broadcast-quality interviews and B-roll upon request. The Lerner Research Institute is home to Cleveland Clinic's laboratory, translational and clinical research. Its mission is to promote human health by investigating in the laboratory and the clinic the causes of disease and discovering novel approaches to prevention and treatments; to train the next generation of biomedical researchers; and to foster productive collaborations with those providing clinical care. Lerner researchers publish more than 1,500 articles in peer-reviewed biomedical journals each year. Lerner's total annual research expenditure was $260 million in 2016 (with $140 million in competitive federal funding, placing Lerner in the top five research institutes in the nation in federal grant funding). Approximately 1,500 people (including approximately 200 principal investigators, 240 research fellows, and about 150 graduate students) in 12 departments work in research programs focusing on heart and vascular, cancer, brain, eye, metabolic, musculoskeletal, inflammatory and fibrotic diseases. The Lerner has more than 700,000 square feet of lab, office and scientific core services space. Lerner faculty oversee the curriculum and teach students enrolled in the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine (CCLCM) of Case Western Reserve University - training the next generation of physician-scientists. Institute faculty also participate in multiple doctoral programs, including the Molecular Medicine PhD Program, which integrates traditional graduate training with an emphasis on human diseases. The Lerner is a significant source of commercial property, generating 64 invention disclosures, 15 licenses, 121 patents, and one new spinoff company in 2016.Read the source article at EurekAlert! Science News
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Israel: land of milk, honey and medical cannabis

In August, a joint feasibility committee of the Health and Finance ministries submitted a recommendation that Israel open its booming medical marijuana business to international exports. The market could be worth as much as $4 billion a year in revenue. In the expectation that the proposal will be approved by legislators, an Israel company – Breath of Life Pharma (BOL) – is positioning itself to become the world’s largest medical cannabis facility. BOL’s new production, research and development campus in central Israel has a 35,000-square-foot plant, an 8,000-square-foot storage room, 30,000 square feet of grow rooms and labs, and a million square feet of cultivation fields. BOL CEO Dr. Tamir Gedo says his firm can store enough medical marijuana to supply the entire United States. Gedo estimates that BOL will produce 80 tons of medical cannabis per year. “Just don’t call it ‘marijuana,’” Gedo told a group of visiting journalists under high security (marijuana is, after all, a controlled substance in much of the world, including Israel). The word “marijuana” was used by US drug enforcement agents in the 1930s to make it sound foreign and dangerous. Gedo, like most in his industry, prefers to use the plant’s real name, cannabis. He refers to BOL’s business as the growing, packaging and distribution of “medical-grade cannabis” (MGC for short). BOL has no interest in pushing the legalization of recreational cannabis, Gedo says. Rather, BOL works toward bringing pharmaceutical-grade quality and delivery systems to purified extracts of the plant. Because the chemical composition of cannabis flowers from different branches is not at all consistent, companies in the medical cannabis space don’t use the whole plant but instead isolate specific molecules and turn those into controlled, consistent drugs. That can be quite a challenge: Cannabis has 142 different cannabinoids – active components – and each targets different illnesses. The two best known cannabinoids are THC and CBD. The former is the psychoactive component responsible for marijuana’s “high.” It also helps with pain and nausea, which has made it a much sought-after medication for patients undergoing chemotherapy. CBD, on the other hand, works on the autoimmune system and acts as an anti-inflammatory. It is being tested on inflammatory bowel diseases (including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) and has shown to be effective with conditions as diverse as autism, epilepsy, diabetes and heart disease. Moreover, you can’t get high from CBD. In order to get FDA approval, a company like BOL, which was founded in 2007, must conduct the same kind of double-blind clinical trials any drug would go through. Some 120 trials are currently under way in Israel – more than in any other country. Gedo says that if even 10 percent of trials underway at his facility result in a patentable drug, BOL could be the Pfizer of MGC. BOL’s autism trial, under the supervision of Dr. Adi Aran, director of the neuropediatric unit of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, will go to the FDA in 2018. If it’s approved, a commercial drug could be available as early as 2021. Medical cannabis drugs are delivered via pills you swallow, delayed-release gel capsules, sublingual tablets, drops, ointments, transdermal patches and metered inhalers. You don’t smoke MGC because that destroys the CBD and other components aside from THC. BOL is building on Israel’s reputation as one of the most cannabis-friendly countries in the world. Israel, which has the world’s highest ratio of cannabis users – 27 percent of the population aged 18-65 used marijuana in the last year – recently reduced penalties for recreational cannabis use to a fine. Prof. Raphael Mechoulam from the Weizmann Institute of Science was the first to successfully isolate THC. That was in 1964. Mechoulam, now 86, is still active in cannabis research at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and is on the board of directors of BOL. Testing medical cannabis on human patients has been part of the research landscape in Israel for years, but it’s nearly impossible to do in the United States. Only one facility, the University of Mississippi, is a licensed source for medical cannabis, and production is limited to just 650 kilograms per year. “We can produce that amount in half a day,” Gedo says. “Israel is a hotbed of quality cannabis research, because it has a much more favorable regulatory climate for doing serious scientific research on medical cannabis,” says Charles Pollack, director of the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. As a result, companies are increasingly turning to Israel to conduct their phase 1 and 2 clinical trials. If you can point to previous studies done overseas, the FDA is more likely to approve a phase 3 trial in US. Of the 15 companies signed up so far to conduct their R&D at BOL’s facility in Israel, at least six are American. And while importing cannabis into the United States remains illegal (even though 29 US states have legalized medical cannabis), if a product has FDA approval companies can circumvent that ban. Israel is also blessed with a climate conducive to growing cannabis, BOL’s Gedo said. “The many days of sunshine make it more suitable than many parts of the US and Europe.” BOL isn’t the only company in Israel to jump on the medical cannabis bandwagon. Tikun Olam was Israel’s first medical cannabis distributor and opened an American subsidiary in 2016. One World Cannabis Pharmaceuticals is working on a topical cannabis cream to treat psoriasis. NASDAQ-listed Therapix Biosciences is deploying THC to address Alzheimer’s and Tourette syndrome. And there are others. The Israeli firm iCAN sponsors CannaTech, a leading medical cannabis conference and trade show that started in Israel and is now on the road to London and Australia. While Israel’s medical cannabis industry is targeting the international market, big changes are afoot domestically. Last summer, 81 doctors completed a medical cannabis course from the Ministry of Health. And the number of licensed cultivators has increased from eight to 60, including several kibbutzim. The aim is to open up the Israeli market from just a few dispensaries serving the entire country to allowing doctors to prescribe MGC preparations that can be picked up at a local pharmacy. “There are 30,000 patients in Israel getting medical cannabis,” ICAN’s Saul Kaye told ISRAEL21c. “Most people know someone who’s getting it. The stigma is being removed.” Israel has gone so far as to publish a “Cannacopeia,” a guide to the use of MGC. “We call it the ‘Green Book,’” quipped Yuval Landschaft, director of the Medical Cannabis Unit in the Israeli Ministry of Health. Some 21 countries have requested a copy. In 2016, more than $250 million was invested in Israeli cannabis companies and about 50 American companies have established R&D operations in Israel or partnerships with Israeli companies like BOL. The medical cannabis industry in Israel may not eclipse high-tech, but the two share the common root of Israeli chutzpah and the belief that bucking the rules often yields the biggest payout. When Mechoulam first wanted to study cannabis, there was none to be had. So his boss at the Weizmann Institute called a buddy at the local police station and scored a confiscated stash of 11 pounds of Lebanese hashish (also from cannabis) that the cops were planning to burn. Mechoulam hopped on a bus to pick it up. This creative approach jump-started an entire industry. Now the only question is: how high can Israel leap? Four billion dollars in potential exports (and taxable revenue) certainly raises the bar. For more information, click here.Read the source article at ISRAEL21c
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How to Cope With Tragedy When You Have Anxiety

Sammy Nickalls OCT 3, 2017 4:00PM EDT On Monday morning, thousands of Americans woke up to the news of a horrific mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip, in which more than 50 people were killed and over 500 injured on Sunday night at a country music performance. Social media was almost exclusively filled with responses of shock, horror, and grief as Americans attempted to wrap their minds around this gruesome event, while acknowledging a sickening truth: this is not the last time our country will experience senseless violence at the hands of a white man with a gun.Which leads us to the question: When you have anxiety and want to stay connected to the nation’s events, how do you cope with increasingly disturbing news?Talkspace advisory Board Member Iris Reitzes, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, marriage and family therapist, and emeritus lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told Teen Vogue that the interconnectedness of social media “without a doubt” has an effect on people with anxiety. “We’re constantly being inundated with distressing news about the world, most of which is updated in real time,” Reitzes said. “When something like the Las Vegas shooting occurs, we not only read about it on news outlets, but are also forced constantly to read other people’s reactions all over social media.”Reitzes pointed out that those who observe trauma via their newsfeeds are affected because they “aren’t even able to disassociate.”“Social media puts us all in the position of being observers of trauma, forced to identify with other people’s anxiety, but without any ability to distance ourselves from it," she explained.Reitzes added that constant access to the news in the 21st century “makes us feel more out of control.”A particularly disturbing aspect of the Las Vegas shooting was that victims were simply enjoying a seemingly innocent country music show. “Mass murderers like the Las Vegas shooting are unexpected, dramatic, and massive, making people feel like they can’t go anywhere safely,” she explained. “Yet statistically, there’s a great chance that one will die from a car accident, or even cancer, as compared to a terrorist attack.”With that in mind, this is how to cope with tragedy when you have anxiety.Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).Reitzes suggests using facts such as the aforementioned, which is considered a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — a technique used to challenge distorted thoughts. “Most people don’t realize they are accepting life’s uncertainties on a daily basis, whether that’s the potential for a car accident or a cancer diagnosis,” Reitzes said. “That’s because we don’t hear about everyone who gets cancer on the news.”Sometimes, using concrete facts can feel cold, but it’s important to stay grounded if you want to stay plugged in and make a difference. “We always live in a state of uncertainty, and while that may produce anxiety, it helps keep things in perspective in the wake of mass tragedies,” she explained.Read news outlets directly.Instead of getting your news from Twitter or Facebook, Reitzes suggests making it a habit to read stories from news outlets directly. “That will help you avoid over-identifying with other people’s anxiety, as it provides a more direct pathway to the news itself,” she explained.Address your emotions directly.If news outlets still are making you anxious — understandable, considering the disturbing news constantly filling our feeds — Reitzes suggests making your emotions a priority. “[D]o your best to be aware of uncomfortable feelings as they arise, rather than avoiding or denying them,” she said. “And make sure to do so without judgement.”Don’t use methods of brushing your anxiety off, Reitzes pressed, such as ‘It will pass with time.’” “The reality is that quite the contrary will happen,” she explained.While that sounds anxiety-inducing in itself, Reitzes explained that the point is that pushing down your feelings will not help, but addressing them will. “If your behaviors are changing in the face of anxiety, you need to talk about what you’re feeling and seek support from others,” she said. “If your anxiety persists, you may want to seek counseling from a professional.”Monitor yourself for physical symptoms.Don’t just make your emotions a priority — watch how your body responds to traumatic news. “Look out for symptoms like having trouble sleeping, irregular heartbeat, or excessive sweating,” Reitzes said. “These are symptoms of more acute anxiety. Try to notice other manifestations of anxiety, like avoiding crowded places or isolating yourself more than you normally would.”Surround yourself with loved ones.Everyone is feeling shaky during these turbulent times, and spending time with friends and family would be beneficial not just to you, but to your loved ones. “Even when we aren’t able to identify our own discomfort as ‘anxiety,’ we’re still in a state of greater vulnerability and need support from others,” Reitzes explained. “Whether or not you’re talking about anxiety, the presence of others will help create a feeling of safety and security.”Go on a walk.If you’re feeling particularly disturbed after reading the news, try going on a light walk to concentrate on your physical state instead of your emotional state. “The same goes for seeing someone else in a state of anxiety — encouraging them to take a walk or do some light exercise — anything to get out of the state of emotional paralysis that anxiety can create,” she explained.Read the source article at Teen Vogue
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Hadassah Doctor Brings New Hope to Cystic Fibrosis Patients

Twenty five years ago, Dr. Batsheva Kerem and Dr. Eitan Kerem made a significant contribution to the scientific world’s understanding of genetic mutations and cystic fibrosis. Together—with their medical-research teams—they mapped the genetic mutation profile of cystic fibrosis among different Jewish ethnic groups in Israel. Since then, life expectancy for individuals with cystic fibrosis has shifted dramatically, thanks in part to their medical and genetic research and ongoing commitment to fighting the disease. These Israeli doctors, long married, represent two of the world’s major cystic fibrosis research centers: the Hadassah Medical Organization and Hebrew University. Today, the Kerems’ research serves as a map for the genetic counseling many Jewish couples undergo before having children. Cystic fibrosis, a fatal genetic disease, causes a thick mucus buildup in the lungs and other organs that leads to breathing difficulty and increases susceptibility to life-threatening infections. More than 10 million Americans carry a faulty CF gene, many unknowingly. Thanks to the Doctors Kerem, we know that for Ashkenazi Jews, there’s a 1 in 24 chance of being a carrier, while for Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews it’s a 1 in 26 chance. If two people who carry the mutated gene have a child, the child has a 1 in 4 chance of having cystic fibrosis. In the 1980s, when the Kerems made their breakthrough, CF patients generally didn’t survive their teens. Today in the United States, where more than 30,000 people are living with cystic fibrosis, the median life expectancy of someone with CF is 37. Roughly 1,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, most by age 2. A well-published research leader in cystic fibrosis medicine, Dr. Eitan Kerem’s life’s work has focused on developing drug therapies that help CF patients overcome genetic mutations. Currently head of the Division of Pediatrics at the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), he founded the Center for Children with Chronic Diseases at Hadassah Mt. Scopus. At the same time, Dr. Kerem embodies the best in benchto-bedside medicine. As the mother of two of Dr. Kerem’s CF patients in New York City—both healthy in their 20s—put it, he’s an “angel on earth, one of the greatest people I know.” Dr. Kerem has been recognized for his outstanding contributions, his advocacy for children in need, and his efforts to build bridges to peace through medicine, including creating a Gaza offshoot of the HMO Center for Cystic Fibrosis that trains Palestinian medical professionals while providing much-needed medical care. At the same time, Dr. Kerem’s team is raising crucial issues in the broader medical community. In The Lancet, for example, they wrote about CF treatment strategies to improve longevity and quality of life in resource-poor countries. “Growing up, my CF doctors had an upbeat attitude, but there was no planning for the future,” says LevaChaya Simon, 29 (pictured here with her sister, who also has CF). From the start, it was clear that Dr. Kerem was different, telling her: “We want Jewish women with cystic fibrosis to be grandmothers.” A newlywed and a recently licensed nurse, Leva credits Dr. Kerem with her good health. “Dr. Kerem gave me a future to look forward to.” Cystic fibrosis mutations occur in the CFTR gene, short for cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator. This fall, Dr. Kerem will lead a new HMO clinical trial on a drug that instructs cells to avoid mutation. In April, Dr. Kerem met with positive results in a phase II clinical trial for a drug that produces enzymes to make CF patients’ mucus less viscous. As we recognize the progressmade in the past 25 years, Kerem has a clear vision of what we can achieve in the next 25 years: Nothing short of a cure for the disease. But is that realistic? “There is a good chance,” he says, “that within 25 years we will have what we need to cure our CF patients.” For Dr. Kerem and the Hadassah Medical Organization, that’s just the beginning. “The true breakthrough in confronting CF,” says Dr. Kerem, “will only occur when everyone with this disease, no matter where he or she lives, can expect to achieve a normal life expectancy and quality of life.”Read the source article at momentmag.com
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Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine gets Ben-Yehuda as...

For the first time since the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s medical faculty was established in 1949, a woman has been named as its head. Prof. Dina Ben-Yehuda will be the second woman to head an Israeli medical school, after Prof. Rivka Carmi – now president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev – was named dean of BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 2000. Ben-Yehuda, director of hematology at the Hadassah University Medical Center, will take office as the 23rd dean of Hebrew University’s medical faculty on October 1. She will succeed Prof. David Lichtstein, who held the position for four years. A graduate of the BGU Health Sciences Faculty, Ben-Yehuda completed her internship in internal medicine and hematology at Hadassah and her research at the Center for Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City. Upon her return to Israel in 1992, Ben-Yehuda established a lab for the diagnosis and research of malignant hematological diseases. A decade ago, she was appointed professor at the medical faculty and since 2002 has been running the hospital’s hematology department. She is involved in innovative research in the treatment of malignant cells using nanoparticles of a protein inhibitor in combination with extensive clinical work. The new dean is the mother of three girls and is married to Prof. Arie Ben-Yehuda, head of Hadassah’s Department of Internal Medicine. Dina Ben-Yehuda lost her oldest brother to cancer when he was seven years old. The family tragedy was a formative event that led to her decision to study medicine. During the Yom Kippur War, she coordinated the treatment of casualties for members of the Armored Corps and their families and was awarded the Chief of Staff’s Medal in 1967. “Our faculty is unique in that it trains medical professionals: researchers, pharmacists, specialists in public health, occupational therapists and nurses,” Ben-Yehuda said. “Only with the cooperation of all sectors, including students, can we train the next generation of medical professionals and give them the ability to understand the nature of the profession, while striving for knowledge, professionalism and respectful and ethical behavior in the process of medical treatment.”Read the source article at Jpost
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Atox Bio Awarded Next Milestone-based Option by BARDA to...

"We appreciate and continue to benefit from BARDA's ongoing support in the development of Reltecimod as a novel, host-based, immunomodulatory therapy to treat severe infections," said Dan Teleman, Chief Executive Officer of Atox Bio. "We have a very collaborative partnership with BARDA and look forward to continuing to work together." Reltecimod (AB103) is a rationally designed peptide that binds to the CD28 co-stimulatory receptor to modulate the host's immune response to severe infections. By limiting, but not inhibiting, the body's acute inflammatory response, Reltecimod helps control the cytokine storm that could quickly lead to morbidity and mortality. Reltecimod received Orphan Drug status from the FDA and EMA as well as Fast Track designation. NSTIs, commonly referred to as "flesh eating bacteria", represent the most severe, rare types of infections involving the skin, skin structure and soft tissues. NSTIs progress rapidly and often result in significant tissue destruction and systemic disease leading to multiple organ dysfunction, failure and death. Currently, there are no approved treatments for NSTIs - the standard of care includes prompt and repeated surgical debridement, aggressive resuscitation and physiologic support, in addition to antibiotics. About ACCUTE The phase 3 ACCUTE (AB103 Clinical Composite endpoint StUdy in necrotizing soft Tissue infEctions) study is an ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled study, that plans to enroll 290 patients with NSTI at approximately 60 level 1 trauma sites in the U.S. Patients receive Reltecimod or placebo, administered as a single dose during or shortly after surgical debridement, in addition to standard of care treatment. The primary end point is a clinical composite that evaluates both the local and systemic components of this disease. About BARDA The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides an integrated, systematic approach to the development and purchase of the necessary vaccines, drugs, therapies and diagnostic tools for public health medical emergencies. This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, under Contract No. HHSO100201400013C. Atox Bio is a late stage clinical biotechnology company with operations in the US and Israel that develops novel immune modulators for critically ill patients with severe infections. Atox Bio is exploring the potential of Reltecimod in NSTI and additional critical care indications such as Acute Kidney Injury. Atox Bio is supported by an investment syndicate including SR One, OrbiMed and Lundbeckfonden Ventures. Atox Bio was established by Prof. Raymond Kaempfer and Dr. Gila Arad from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Yissum.Read the source article at PR Newswire
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HU Bioengineering: Building a Better Tomorrow

Bioengineering is a multidisciplinary field that weaves together knowledge of biology, physics, chemistry and computer science, aiming to create tangible applications in life sciences and medicine.

The Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering educates a new generation of multidisciplinary innovators and entrepreneurs at the cutting edge of biotechnology and medical science. The Grass Center for Bioengineering aims to bring together researchers at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem who work on the development of transformative technology. Projects include nanotechnology-based diagnostic devices, innovative medical devices advanced computational models, and microchip alternatives for animal and human testing. Read more about the Grass Center here.

BioDesign: Medical Innovation

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Biodesign is a multi-disciplinary, team-based approach to medical innovation, created by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical Center in partnership with Stanford University. The program takes outstanding medical fellows, bioengineering and business graduate students and tutors them in the science and practice of bringing a medical innovation to the market.

BioDesign is a one-year academic course taught by Hebrew  University  faculty, clinical experts, medical  device  entrepreneurs,  corporate  executives,  intellectual  property  attorneys  and  venture  capitalists.  It  provides  a  unique  opportunity  to  gain  real  world  experience  in  an  academic environment growing a new generation of entrepreneurs.

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The BioDesign Innovation program is headed by Professor Chaim Lotan, director of the Heart Institute at Hadassah Medical Center and Dr. Yaakov Nahmias, director of the Grass Center for Bioengineering at the School of Computer Science and Engineering of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in partnership with Professor Dan Galai, former dean of The Hebrew University School of Business Administration.

Since starting 2012, the BioDesign program has developed innovations such as:

‘Liver-on-a-chip,’ functional liver cells that detect real-time changes in metabolism and viability and drastically reduces using animal testing in research

A semi-automatic catheter insertion gun seeks to reduce pain in hospitalized children

Digital holography reducing dentures procedure Headphones to help detect ear infection and lung disease in infantsPressure-sensing socks feel the pain of diabetic patients Robotic intubation prototype crawls to the lungs in difficult situations Curvy plastic tube protects against obesityBioDesign Medical innovations have been featured in MedGadget, FoxNews, MSNBC, Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post and more
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ACHIEVEMENTS

Pioneering Medicine

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SPOTLIGHTS

Suaad Abd-Elhadi

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SPOTLIGHTS

Dr. Igor Schapiro

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It only takes a few gene tweaks to make a human voice

How and when did we first become able to speak? A new analysis of our DNA reveals key evolutionary changes that reshaped our faces and larynxes, and which may have set the stage for complex speech. The alterations were not major mutations in our genes. Instead, they were tweaks in the activity of existing genes that we shared with our immediate ancestors. These changes in gene activity seem to have given us flat faces, by retracting the protruding chins of our ape ancestors. They also resculpted the larynx and moved it further down in the throat, allowing our ancestors to make sounds with greater subtleties. The study offers an unprecedented glimpse into how our faces and vocal tracts were altered at the genetic level, paving the way for the sophisticated speech we take for granted. However, other anthropologists say changes in the brain were at least equally important. It is also possible that earlier ancestors could speak, but in a more crude way, and that the facial changes simply took things up a notch. Liran Carmel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his colleagues examined DNA from two modern-day people and four humans who lived within the last 50,000 years. They also looked at extinct hominins: two Neanderthals and a Denisovan. Finally, they looked at genetic material from six chimpanzees and data from public databases supplied by living people. They looked for genes that became more or less active over the course of evolution. To identify these epigenetic changes, they examined whether genes had methyl groups attached to them. In general, methylated genes are switched off and un-methylated genes are switched on. So by looking at changing methylation patterns, the researchers could track gene activity cranking up or down. Modern humans showed dramatic alterations in the activity of genes associated with face shape and larynx shape, compared with our forebears. In particular, genes linked with vocal cord and larynx development were the most significantly altered, compared with our ancestors. For example, a gene called NFIX was much less active in humans. It is crucial to jaw protrusion and larynx development, suggesting its dwindling influence allowed our faces to flatten. The researchers argue that this allowed humans to develop the optimal architecture for speech, in which the vertical and horizontal components of the vocal tract are the same length (see diagram). None of these changes in gene activity was seen in any of the other species studied. “We conclude that voice-affecting genes are the most over-represented as differentially methylated genes in the modern human lineage,” the researchers write. “Our results support the notion that evolution of the vocalisation apparatus of modern humans is unique.” Carmel declined to comment on the results because they will appear soon in a peer-reviewed journal. However, other researchers say that the study, while important, does not tell the whole story of speech evolution. In particular, changes in the brain’s ability to process vocalisations made by others may have been just as important as the anatomical changes, if not more so, says Erik Trinkaus at Washington University in St Louis. “Anatomy doesn’t impede primates from producing distinct vocalisations that are homologues to different human vowels,” says Adriano Lameira of the University of St Andrews in the UK. He has previously shown that orangutans can mimic some of the sounds of human speech. What’s more, a 2016 study found evidence that monkeys’ vocal tracts could produce speech-like sounds if only their brains could control them precisely enough – although this finding is disputed. Speech may have gradually improved over the course of hominin evolution. There is evidence that Neanderthals and Denisovans could speak, at least to some extent. “Neanderthals most likely had brains capable of learning and executing the complex manoeuvres involved in talking, but their speech would not have been as clear and comprehensible as ours, perhaps accounting in part for their extinction,” says Philip Lieberman of Brown University in Rhode Island. “I think Neanderthals could talk, but more indistinctly than us.”Read the source article at New Scientist
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Access to Medical Cannabis Speeds Ahead in Countries Outside...

Despite newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Session’s unfounded proclamations that marijuana destroys families and lives, the steady march of medical marijuana successes and greater access to patients continues internationally. North and south of the U.S. borders, making medical marijuana available to patients who need it is making strong advances. Since its start in 2000, Canada’s nationwide medical marijuana system has evolved into a more accessible program for patients today, and 2018 is arriving with even more improvements. April 2017 is when Mexico’s Congress overwhelming passed a bill approved by its Senate last year to allow cannabis as medicine, allowing national research to proceed as well as decriminalizing its use among citizens. Mexico’s president Enrique Pena Nieto has fully supported this action, suggesting even more access to medical marijuana. Despite this and international research proving the merits of medical cannabis, our United States national government agencies continue promoting false “Reefer Madness” fears. (Source) A few years ago, Dr. Dustin Sulak created the Integr8 (not a typo) clinic network in Maine and Massachusetts to pioneer medical cannabis for pain issues and effectively resolving opioid pharmaceutical and street drug addictions. (Source) Dr. Sulak became an expert while pioneering this and other therapeutic cannabis approaches to the extent that he made it his mission to teach other clinicians how to administer cannabis for several health issues in addition to opioid addictions, which have become epidemic in America. His online educational system can be accessed here. A drug addiction recovery group in Los Angeles, California has adopted cannabis as the main medicine for rehab. This rehab group is called High Sobriety, a name fitting for its approach of using cannabis to be sober. Most drug rehab programs will drop recovering addicts who use marijuana. But High Sobriety doesn’t merely tolerate using cannabis to help through withdrawal to achieve total opiate drug addiction, it includes marijuana as an essential part of the program. High Sobriety co-founder Joe Schrank explains the program this way, Schrank was once an alcoholic who has remained sober 20 years after graduating successfully from Alcoholics Anonymous. (Source) Alcoholics Anonymous worked for him, but not everyone succeeds. Recent estimates show only a five to ten percent success rate with AA type programs for all types of substance addictions. This type of program is a zero tolerance abstinence only activity. Other similar programs for heroine or opiate drug addicts throw out participants who use cannabis. So it make sense that the High Sobriety experiment has had a few critics, even from those who also criticize AA type programs. It seems that the High Sobriety group should have referred those critics to Dr. Sulak in Maine to see their “experiment” has proven successful with his Integr8 clinics in that state and Massachusetts. Not only do AA type programs have a low success rate, so do medical drug rehab programs that use pharmaceuticals to wean addicts off opiates or alcohol. The official “harm reduction drug” for heroine addicts is methadone, which is full of drawbacks and side effects, including addiction and even death. Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is not physiologically addictive and not using cannabis for any stretch of time does not cause painful withdrawal symptoms. Also, cannabis is no more a gateway drug than milk, even though it’s easy to illogically point out that most heroine addicts and alcoholics once drank milk. According to Amanda Reiman, a former manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, As far back as the late 1800s, hemp was denoted as a cure for opium sickness. High Sobriety is not a state or federally supported rehab center, and it is expensive. Years long animal research in Germany’s University of Bonn in Germany with the assistance of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel demonstrate that low level chronic cannabis with THC halts brain deterioration from aging. After determining that older mice memory and other brain dependent performance improved, the researchers examined the mice brains. They were surprised to find the molecular signature was not that of older animals, but very similar young animals. The number of links between the nerve cells in the brain had also increased. Science minister of Svenja Schulze North Rhine-Westphalia, the German state where Bonn University is located, commented, California research is also onto reducing or reversing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, with cannabis. The Scripps Research Institute of California determined in 2006 that THC prevented amyloid plaque from forming. It’s uncertain whether amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles cause Alzheimer’s or are a symptom of the disease but there is correlation and connection. More recent research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California has gone one step further, showing that cannabis THC also inhibits the inflammation of nerve cells where plaque and fibrillary tangles occur: Coconut oil consumed liberally also has had much anecdotal success with seniors’ senility and Alzheimer’s. So why not combine cannabis and coconut oil? All of this research is fine for getting cannabis a foothold in officially sanctioned medicine in the U.S. Unfortunately, official medicine tends to support only synthetic extracts that can be patented for profit while ignoring the vital supporting cast of marijuana plant compounds, cannabinoids, and plant terpenes, which are part of a variety of cannabis plants. There is already anecdotal evidence supporting what officially recognized research is trying to prove and the anecdotes are coming from folks using whole plant cannabis. See the following articles: DEA head Chuck Rosenburg has claimed more than once over recent years that “medical marijuana is a joke.” This boy and his mom in the video below, among probably hundreds of thousands of others, strongly differ.Read the source article at Health Impact News
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HU Researchers Find Way to Potentially Protect Kidney Health...

A new study provides insight into the mechanisms behind the development of kidney damage due to obesity, points to a potential target for protecting the kidney health of individuals with obesity.September 6, 2017 — A new study provides insights into the mechanisms behind the development of kidney damage due to obesity. The findings, which appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), point to a potential target for protecting the kidney health of individuals with obesity. Obesity-related kidney dysfunction develops early in the course of obesity, justifying the search for unique regulators that could be targeted for therapy. Obesity can cause structural and functional changes in the kidneys, which may help explain why individuals with obesity face an elevated risk of chronic kidney disease and its progression to kidney failure. Although multiple metabolic factors have been proposed to contribute to obesity-induced kidney problems, the underlying mechanisms are not completely understood. To investigate, a team led by Dr. Joseph (Yossi) Tam, DMD, Ph.D. and Ph.D. student Shiran Udi, M.S., at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Drug Research in Israel, examined the kidney cells that are responsible for the reabsorption of nutrients, while allowing other substances of no nutritional value to be excreted in the urine. These kidney cells, called renal proximal tubular cells or RPTCs, are especially sensitive to the accumulation of fat, or lipids — an effect called lipotoxicity. The researchers examined the potential role of endocannabinoids, lipid molecules that interact with the cannabinoid-1 receptor (CB R) and are abundantly expressed in the brain and periphery, including the kidney. Endocannabinoids act on the CB R receptor in RPTC renal cell lipotoxicity. Models that lacked expression of the receptor in the RPTC renal cells experienced significantly less obesity-induced lipid accumulation in the kidney as well as less kidney dysfunction, injury, inflammation, and scarring. Moreover, the study revealed the molecular signaling pathway involved in mediating the kidney injury and lipotoxicity in RPTC renal cells induced by the CB R cellular receptors. Specifically, these deleterious effects associated with decreased activation of liver kinase B1 and the energy sensor AMP-activated protein kinase, as well as reduced fatty acid β-oxidation. The research shows that manipulating the cannabinoid-1 receptor (CB R) specifically in the RPTC renal cells may provide a novel therapeutic intervention for treating obesity-induced nephropathy. “This work provides a novel approach to slow the development of renal injury through chronic blockade of peripheral CB Rs,” said Dr. Tam. “It also supports strategies aimed at reducing the activity of the endocannabinoid system, specifically in the kidney, to attenuate the development of RPTC dysfunction in obesity.” Study co-authors include Liad Hinden, Ph.D., Brian Earley, M.S., Adi Drori, Ph.D., Noa Reuveni, Rivka Hadar, M.S., Resat Cinar, Ph.D., and Alina Nemirovski, Ph.D. Dr. Tam is Director of the Hebrew University’s Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research, and Head of the Obesity and Metabolism Laboratory at the Hebrew University’s Institute for Drug Research in the Faculty of Medicine. FUNDING: The work was supported by a German-Israeli Foundation grant (#I-2345-201.2/2014), and an ERC-2015-StG grant (#676841) to Dr. Joseph Tam. CITATION: Shiran Udi, Liad Hinden et al. Proximal Tubular Cannabinoid-1 Receptor Regulates Obesity-Induced CKD. Published online before print August 31, 2017. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), doi: 10.1681/ASN.2016101085.
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Dr. Amir Amedi

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Dr. Ofra Benny

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Dale Golden

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Dr. James Brief

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Dr. Daniel-Robert Chebat

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Dr. Laura Lande-Diner

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Dr. Michael London

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Dr. Ami Citri

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Dr. Galia Blum

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A step toward development of drugs for diseases such as...

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New study offers insights on mechanisms behind development...

A new study provides insights on the mechanisms behind the development of kidney damage due to obesity. The findings, which appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), point to a potential target for protecting the kidney health of individuals with obesity. Obesity can cause structural and functional changes in the kidneys, which may help explain why individuals with obesity face an elevated risk of chronic kidney disease and its progression to kidney failure. Although multiple metabolic factors have been proposed to contribute to obesity-induced kidney problems, the underlying mechanisms are not completely understood. To investigate, a team led by Joseph Tam, DMD, PhD and PhD student Shiran Udi, MSc (Institute for Drug Research, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in Israel) examined the kidney cells that are responsible for the reabsorption of nutrients, while allowing other substances of no nutritional value to be excreted in the urine. These renal proximal tubular cells (RPTCs) are especially sensitive to the accumulation of fat, or lipids, an effect called lipotoxicity. The researchers examined the potential role of endocannabinoids, lipid molecules that act on a cellular receptor (CB R), in RPTC lipotoxicity. Mice that lacked expression of the receptor in RPTCs experienced significantly less obesity-induced lipid accumulation in the kidney as well as less kidney dysfunction, injury, inflammation, and scarring. Moreover, the study revealed the molecular signaling pathway involved in mediating the CB R-induced kidney injury and lipotoxicity in RPTCs. Specifically, these deleterious effects associated with decreased activation of liver kinase B1 and the energy sensor AMP-activated protein kinase, as well as reduced fatty acid β-oxidation. "This work provides a novel approach to slow the development of renal injury through chronic blockade of peripheral CB Rs," said Dr. Tam. "And, it also supports strategies aimed at reducing the activity of the endocannabinoid system, specifically in the kidney, to attenuate the development of RPTC dysfunction in obesity."Read the source article at Health News and Information
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Dr. Zvika Granot

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Dr. Nataly Kravchenko-Balasha

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Dr. Sharon Elizur-Schlesinger

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Israel Prize in Medicine awarded to Prof. Marta...

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Israel’s ‘medical weed wonderland’ draws US pot...

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-marijuana version 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."

"The seriousness with which the Israeli scientific community approaches this is incomparable," says Charles Pollack, director of the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "Israel is a hotbed of quality cannabis research, because they have a much more favorable regulatory climate for doing serious scientific research on medical cannabis."
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 came from 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.

While the Israeli government invests millions of dollars in medical cannabis research, the U.S. government makes the same research nearly impossible.

"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 120 clinicaltrials 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 that they 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."Read the source article at Rolling Stone
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Dr. Judah Koller

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Israeli scientist develops early diagnostic test for...

The exciting news coming out of Israel, that a scientist has developed a groundbreaking test to categorically detect Parkinson’s disease, is giving the medical and science worlds hope for the future. Suaad Abd-Elhadi, a PhD student at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Medicine, has developed the lipid ELISA diagnostic tool. She won the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017 for the breakthrough invention of this highly sensitive kit that may lead to earlier detection of Parkinson’s disease, along with better tracking of the disease’s progression and a patient’s response to therapy. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in humans, after Alzheimer’s disease. It is typically characterized by changes in motor control such as tremors and shaking, but can also include non-motor symptoms, from the cognitive to the behavioral. An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, with medication costing approximately $2,500 a year, and therapeutic surgery costing up to $100,000 per patient. Making an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s, particularly in early stages and mild cases, is difficult, and there are currently no standard diagnostic tests other than clinical information provided by the patient and the findings of a neurological exam. Once Parkinson’s is revealed, the disease is usually already progressing. “Earlier diagnosis can help by seeing how a given drug affects the progress of the disease, for example,” Abd-Elhadi told Haaretz. “A big problem is that early PD looks just like other neurodegenerative diseases, which hinders appropriate care,” she explained. “A great deal of effort is presently being put into delaying the progress of PD, for which purpose one needs to know that one has it.” The global medical field has long noted that one of the best hopes for improving diagnosis is to develop a reliable test for identifying a biomarker — a substance whose presence would indicate the presence of the disease. In the case of the lipid ELISA, the cellular secretion of interest is a specific protein called alpha-synuclein. ELISA stands for “enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.” An assay is a procedure used in laboratory settings to assess the presence, amount and activity of a target entity, such as a drug, cell or biochemical substance. ELISA is a common assay technique that involves targeting cellular secretions. The alpha-synuclein protein serves as a convenient biomarker that is closely associated with the tissues where Parkinson’s disease can be detected, along with the neurological pathways the disease travels along, causing its characteristic symptoms. As a simple and highly sensitive diagnostic tool that can detect Parkinson’s biomarkers, the lipid ELISA could lead to a minimally invasive and cost-effective way to improve the lives of Parkinson’s patients, according to a Hebrew University statement. Abd-Elhadi has already demonstrated a proof of concept and is now in the process of analyzing a large cohort of samples, including moderate and severe Parkinson’s and control cases, as part of a clinical study. Through Yissum, its technology transfer company, the Hebrew University holds granted patents on the technology, and has signed an agreement with Integra Holdings for further development and commercialization. Abd-Elhadi is earning her doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology. Under the supervision of Ronit Sharon, she conducts research that has been published in Scientific Reports and Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.

Read the source article at ISRAEL21c
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BioCanCell Announces Appointment of Ms. Ruti Alon to Board...

JERUSALEM, Aug. 14, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- BioCanCell Ltd. (TASE:BICL), a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of novel therapies to treat cancer, announced today the appointment of Ms. Ruti Alon to its Board of Directors. Frank Haluska, M.D, Ph.D., BioCanCell’s President and Chief Executive Officer, commented, “We are extremely pleased to welcome Ruti to BioCanCell’s Board of Directors. Ruti’s background and experience are an excellent fit as we prepare to launch two pivotal clinical trials of our lead investigational agent, BC-819, either of which may lead to registration in early stage bladder cancer. She has a distinguished record of leadership and accomplishment in finance and biotechnology, and she will bring her experience and insight to the strategic guidance of BioCanCell. The Board and the Company very much look forward to her joining us.” Ms. Alon is currently the founder and CEO of Medstrada. From 1997 to 2016, she served as a General Partner at Pitango Venture Capital, one of the most influential venture firms in Israel. Prior to her tenure at Pitango, Ms. Alon held senior positions with Montgomery Securities from 1981 to 1987, Genesis Securities, LLC from 1993 to 1995, and Kidder Peabody & Co. from 1987 to 1993, and managed her own independent consulting business in San Francisco in the medical devices industry from 1995 to 1996. Ms. Alon was the Founder and Chairperson of Israel Life Science Industry, a not-for-profit organization then representing the mutual goals of approximately 700 Israeli life science companies. She is also the Co-Founder of IATI, Israel Advanced Technology Industries, an umbrella organization to all high-tech and Life Sciences companies in Israel. Ms. Alon has a B.A. in Economics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and an M.B.A. from Boston University. Ms. Alon commented, “I am truly excited to have the opportunity to join BioCancell’s Board of Directors. BC-819 has the potential to be the first of its kind DNA-directed cancer therapy. I look forward to being part of BioCanCell as it is targeting this serious unmet medical need.” Larry Howard, M.D., Chairman of the Board of Directors, added that “Ruti is a successful leader in the Israel biotechnology and life science industry. We will value her perspective and experience as she joins the leadership of BioCanCell.“ Ms. Alon’s appointment has been approved by BioCanCell’s Board of Directors. It will be finalized upon its ratification by a general meeting of shareholders in early September. About BioCanCell BioCanCell is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of novel therapies to treat cancer. The Company’s most advanced product candidate, BC-819, is in development as a treatment for early stage, non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC). Two registrational clinical trials of BC-819 are planned to be initiated in 2017: a single arm trial in patients whose disease is unresponsive to standard therapy, and a randomized trial, under a special protocol assessment (SPA) from the FDA, in patients who have failed a first course of treatment. For additional information please go to www.biocancell.com. Forward Looking Statements This press release contains “forward-looking statements” that are subject to risks and uncertainties. These forward-looking statements include information about possible or assumed future results of clinical trials, the anticipated effects of receiving Fast Track designation, the anticipated timeframe for conducting additional clinical trials and making regulatory submissions, and other strategic and business plans and objectives. These forward-looking statements are based on information BioCanCell has when those statements are made or its management’s good faith belief as of that time with respect to future events, and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual performance or results to differ materially from those expressed in or suggested by the forward-looking statements. These risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to: the success of the approach to discover and develop prospective therapeutic products, which is new and may never lead to marketable products; a lack of history of commercial sales; a dependence on the success of BC-819, the development of which will require significant additional clinical testing before regulatory approval can be sought and commercial sales launched; a need to raise substantial additional funds to complete R&D activities; an ability to overcome scientific or technological difficulties that may be encountered and that may impede R&D activities; and an ability to obtain and maintain intellectual property protection for product candidates, including pursuant to licensed patents.Read the source article at Send Press Releases with GlobeNewswire
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Collagen in cartilage tissues behaves like liquid crystals...

The collagen changes its crystallinity in response to physical forces, so the ordered arrangement in collagen molecules of the cartilage in our knees may be flipping from one structural state to another with every step we take. The results, published in the journal ACS Nano, cast new light on how cartilage is able to withstand the demanding mechanical environment of the joint and may eventually help to explain why cartilage breaks down with ageing or arthritis. Dr Himadri Gupta, from QMUL's School of Engineering and Materials Science, said: "Pain and reduced mobility due to joint diseases currently affects over 8 million people in the UK, the majority of these aged over 65. With increasing life expectancy, understanding how to ensure healthy ageing is extremely important." Co-author, Professor Martin Knight, added: "The response of collagen to physical forces is critical to the function of cartilage in our joints and therefore understanding this behaviour may help us develop new strategies to prevent cartilage degradation." Articular cartilage lines the end of our bones and helps our joints move with minimal friction. It also protects the bones by cushioning the forces in our joints when we walk, run or jump. But in painful disorders like osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes less resilient and breaks down which leads to joint pain and immobility. Using a special, intense X-ray beam from the Small Angle Scattering and Diffraction beamline (I22) at Diamond Light Source, PhD student Sheetal Inamdar measured how the collagen fibrils, which are more than a hundred times narrower than a human hair, deform and change their crystallinity when cartilage is repeatedly squashed and allowed to recover with forces similar to those produced by walking or running. The fibrils are thought to act as a restraining mesh, holding a jelly-like material composed of proteoglycans which help to make cartilage resilient to repeated compression. The researchers found that the fibrils show a sudden reversible change in their crystalline ordering a short while after the cartilage was compressed and that this change is due to an internal rearrangement of molecules inside the fibril. This previously unseen behaviour of the collagen fibres was completely changed when the tissue is degraded as happens in osteoarthritis. The researchers are now seeking to understand the effect of repetitive activity and injury in ageing cartilage, and the implications for cartilage health, supported by new funding from the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council. Explore further: Artificial cartilage under tension as strong as natural material More information: Sheetal R. Inamdar et al. The Secret Life of Collagen: Temporal Changes in Nanoscale Fibrillar Pre-Strain and Molecular Organization during Physiological Loading of Cartilage, ACS Nano (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b00563Read the source article at Phys.org
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Israeli study says Zika virus alerts spread too much...

Hebrew University study says information on the epidemic was at too high a reading level.Information about the 2015- 2016 Zika virus epidemic that was released by the World Health Organization caused confusion and even panic in the world because it was written for people with graduate-school educations rather than the common man.Also, press releases issued by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were found to be suited for high-school graduates but not people with less education.These are the conclusions reached by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who studied health monitoring and communication during the recent Zika epidemic and have proposed ways for health authorities to better contain future epidemics.The researchers studied online trends, incidence and health risk communication during the spread of Zika in South and Central America and East Asia. The epidemic aroused great concern among the public worldwide, especially due to the fear of possible harm to fetuses whose mothers contracted the virus.The study, just published in BMJ Global Health, was led by international master of public health student Dr. Gbenga Adebayo, under the guidance of Dr. Hagai Levine and Prof. Yehuda Neumark and in cooperation with Wiessam Abu Ahmad, at the Hebrew University- Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and Dr. Anat Gesser-Edelsburg of the University of Haifa’s School of Public Health.Looking at the period between May 1, 2015 and May 30, 2016, the researchers analyzed Google search trends for Zika disease and related concepts, and correlated them with Zika incidence globally, in the US and in the five countries where the epidemic was most severe. They also examined communications from the WHO’s Pan America Health Organization and the CDC, including the contents of press releases, practical recommendations to the public, and how this corresponded to the public’s search for information online.The authors found press releases from the WHO and the CDC were reactive and hard to read; on average, 17 years of education needed in order to understand WHO press releases but only 12.4 years for CDC statements.In four of the five countries with the highest incidence, the researchers found very strong correlations between online search trends and the number of suspected Zika cases.This suggests that monitoring online trends can complement traditional surveillance efforts during Zika and other pandemics.The researchers also found that health authorities’ press releases were reactive in nature: they followed online search trends for Zika-related info, and their timing was delayed. This communication time lag represents missed opportunities for mitigating risk, controlling infection and alleviating anxiety.The content of press releases was not optimally adapted to the public’s needs and ability to understand.Ideally, materials for the public should have a much lower grade-level score; for example, patient education material should be written at a sixth-grade or lower reading level.Compared to WHO press releases, CDC press releases were shorter, with significantly lower word counts. Not only were they more readable, but also more likely to provide advice regarding risks, to provide contact details and links to other resources, and to include figures or graphs.The research has immediate implications for health organizations and reveals gaps in their preparedness for global epidemics. It indicates deficiencies in using the Internet both as a source of information and as a public outreach channel. The consequences can include missed opportunities to better contain the event, improve infection control and reduce public anxiety.The researchers recommend improving the readability of public health messages, by adding a “layman’s summary” and involving public representatives in assessing readability before releasing documents to the public. Press releases should also reiterate specific steps and behaviors people need to take to mitigate risks, and health communication should make their announcements early. The researchers also conclude that in times of public health emergencies, health authorities such as the WHO could work together with companies like Google to promote reliable sources of health information.“In the age of social media, press releases remain an important tool for communicating information to the public in times of health crises such as the ongoing Zika pandemic,” said Adebayo, a distinguished graduate of the Hebrew University- Hadassah International MPH program. “Press releases are the initial, and often the only, source of news for health and medical science journalists, and many news organizations reprint health-related and science-related press releases verbatim,” Adebayo said.“Creating trust between the public and health authorities is a key factor in the public’s perception of risk and the extent to which they are willing to act on official recommendations,” said Levine, the paper’s senior author and head of the environmental health track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine.“Mass media tools are continually evolving and public health crises can move with incredible speed. In this fast-paced environment, health authorities need to effectively leverage modern communications platforms in both directions: to communicate effectively with the public, and to monitor epidemiological trends and assess the public’s needs.Read the source article at Jpost
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Mysterious Pediatric Neurological Disease Traced to a Single...

Scientists find that affected children’s cells are flooded with ribosomal RNA and are poisoned by it; the first time that an excess of ribosomal RNA has been linked to a disease in humansAugust 3, 2017 — In a new study published today in The American Journal of Human Genetics, a multinational team of researchers describes, for the first time, the biological basis of a severe neurological disorder in children.The extremely rare disorder is characterized by developmental regression and neurodegeneration. At first, the children lead normal lives and seem identical to their age-matched peers. However, beginning at around 3 to 6 years of age, the children display neurological deterioration, gradually losing motor, cognitive, and speech functions. Although the condition progresses slowly, most patients are completely dependent on their caretakers by 15-20 years of age.Researchers from the Hadassah Medical Center and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine, working with colleagues from the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and a multinational  research team, have now identified and studied seven children — from Canada, France, Israel, Russia, and the United States — who suffer from the disorder.The researchers found the same spontaneously occurring, non-inherited genetic change in a gene (named “UBTF”) responsible for ribosomal RNA formation in all the patients. Because of this small change, the patients’ cells are flooded with ribosomal RNA and are poisoned by it. Ribosomes are responsible for the translation and production of cell proteins and are made up of ribosomal proteins and of ribosomal RNA in a precise ratio.

Prof. Orly Elpeleg

The researchers found an identical error in the same gene in all the patients tested, representing a difference of one letter among the roughly 3 billion letters that make up human DNA. By finding the identical change in children who suffer from the identical clinical disease, the researchers determined that the altered gene is indeed the cause of the disease.Professor Orly Elpeleg, head of the Department of Genetics at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem and a professor of Pediatrics at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, led the multinational research. Professor Elpeleg credits the discovery to deep sequencing technology that Hadassah and the Hebrew University were among the first to introduce into clinical practice in the world and the first in Israel.Professor Elpeleg initially encountered the disease in a young girl who came to Hadassah: “Five years ago, I saw a patient who was healthy until the age of three, and then experienced a disturbance in her walking and motor function, speech, and cognition. Around that time, we had introduced the deep-sequencing technology for clinical use at Hadassah, which enabled us to read all the coding genetic material of a person within a couple of days, in order to identify genetic defects.” Since 2010, Hadassah has assembled the largest genetic mapping database in Israel, of about 2,400 patients.“Searching for similar genetic defects in this database, we found a 9-year-old boy who had been treated at Hadassah and now lives in Russia. The boy had been healthy until the age of five and then displayed neurological deterioration just like the girl I had diagnosed. Dr. Simon Edvardson, a pediatric neurologist at Hadassah, flew to Russia, examined the boy, took genetic samples from him and from his parents and confirmed that his illness was identical to that of the Israeli girl. We then knew we had identified a new disease that was not recognized in the medical literature,” said Professor Elpeleg.Comparing their data in a program called Gene Matcher, the researchers found several more children around the world who shared an identical genetic defect and the same course of disease.In order to understand the mechanism of the newly identified disease, the researchers collaborated with Dr. George-Lucian Moldovan at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, in the United States. Dr. Moldovan confirmed the disease mechanism: in the children’s cells, there is an excess RNA of the ribosome, which probably causes brain cells to be flooded and poisoned.“Our study links neuronal degeneration in childhood with altered rDNA chromatin status and rRNA metabolism. It is the first time that an excess of ribosomal RNA has been linked to a genetic disease in humans,” said Professor Elpeleg.While there is currently no cure for genetic diseases of this kind, the identification of the exact mutation may allow for the planning of therapies designed to silence the mutant gene. “Science may not be able to repair the gene, but now that our findings are published, it may be possible to make early identification of the disease and in the future find ways to prevent such a serious deterioration,” said Professor Elpeleg.# # #The research was supported by the NIH.Citation: Edvardson et al., Heterozygous De Novo UBTF Gain-of-Function Variant Is Associated with Neurodegeneration in Childhood, The American Journal of Human Genetics (2017), August 3, 2017, doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2017.07.002 
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2017.07.002 
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Astounding drug-testing tech simulates liver, heart, brain

After spending an average of $2.5 billion to develop a single new drug, sometimes pharma companies have to pull it from the market due to a bad outcome that was not detected in clinical studies. That’s what happened in 2000, when a promising Type 2 diabetes drug called troglitazone led to idiosyncratic (unexplained) liver damage in one of every 60,000 users. The troglitazone mystery wasn’t solved until March 2016, when a novel “liver-on-a-chip” platform developed by Hebrew University of Jerusalem Prof. Yaakov Nahmias revealed what no animal or human tests could: even low concentrations of this drug caused liver stress before any damage could be seen. “It was the first time an organ-on-chip device could predict information to help pharmaceutical companies define risk for idiosyncratic toxicity,” Nahmias tells ISRAEL21c. Shortly before that study, Nahmias’ liver-on-a-chip had revealed a new mechanism for acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning. Given that about 16 percent of all FDA-approved drugs eventually show unexpected toxicity, Nahmias recognized the potential of his smart human-on-a-chip platform. He licensed the technology from the university and spun off Tissue Dynamics to provide toxicology analysis of drugs and cosmetics. L’Oréal was Tissue Dynamics’ first customer in October 2016. Major brands such as Unilever are expected to follow suit as they seek alternative models to evaluate new products now that European laws prohibit cosmetics makers from animal testing. Tissue Dynamics’ liver-on-a-chip – as well as heart and brain chips coming soon – could greatly reduce the number of animal tests, the amount of time for drug evaluation and the astronomical cost of drug development. Not to mention the billions that pharma companies pay in damages when a drug proves harmful. As a young faculty member at Harvard Medical School in 2009, Nahmias built the technology for one of the first human-on-a-chip companies, HuREL. So he is confident that Tissue Dynamics — the first human-on-a-chip company in Israel and one of few in the world — can do what none of the others can do. “All of the other companies are focused on mimicking animal experiments. They place cells in a device, give it drugs and then open it to look at damage or death, which is what people are used to doing with lab animals,” Nahmias explains. “This is a major disadvantage because those human-on-chip models can only find the type of damage you predict is going to happen. It doesn’t find the unexplained responses, and that’s the biggest problem for the pharmaceutical sector. We are unique in the field because no other model can even start to predict idiosyncratic damage.” He explains that when a drug or protein is introduced to the Tissue Dynamics system, the changes they cause to the simulated cell are monitored in real time. “If the change is fast, we know the drug introduced direct damage. If it happens over several hours we know the damage accumulates like in fatty liver disease,” says Nahmias. Nahmias won a $2.3 million European Research Council grant last September to develop the next generation of his liver-on-chip system, which mimics circadian rhythms –the daily ebb and flow of human metabolism. “If we could generate a model for human metabolism that mimics complex physiology, we could develop drugs for obesity, diabetes or fatty liver disease that are impossible to develop today,” he says. Tracking circadian dynamics will allow Tissue Dynamics to predict time-dependent toxicity — the best and worst times to give a drug based on the fluctuation of the enzymes that break down the drug in the body. Pharma companies currently do not have this information. In 2018, the company expects to offer chips simulating a pumping human heart and a human brain that has functional neurons embedded with vasculature. “Our goal is to have these three major organs, which are the target of a lot of drugs. In 2019 we will complete a large facility for manufacturing the chips,” Nahmias tells ISRAEL21c. “There is a lot of interest.” Since that initial liver-on-a-chip was built in 2015, his lab has increased capacity and added more sensors and optimized controls. A complete metabolic analysis of a drug molecule that used to take about three months now takes about a week. Although human-on-a-chip offers many advantages over animal models, Nahmias does not believe this novel screening technology will replace lab animals completely. “In animals we can look at specific neuronal damage and behavioral changes that we can’t really mimic on a chip. A chip can’t feel pain or behave erratically,” he says. “However, we can probably drastically reduce the number of animal experiments. We could screen half a million different drug molecules through our system, and only those that work at the least concentration and cause the least damage could be taken to animal testing.” Nahmias is chief scientific officer of Tissue Dynamics, whose six-person staff includes CEO Ayelet Dilion Mashiah. He also directs the Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering at the Hebrew University and won several prizes for his internationally recognized work in tissue engineering and nanotechnology. For more information, click hereRead the source article at ISRAEL21c
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Western men have suffered a 50% decline in sperm count over...

Sperm counts — measured by sperm concentration or total sperm count — declined by 1.4% per year on average among men from North America, Europe and Australia between 1973 and 2011, a new study published in the journal Human Reproductive Health found. Overall, sperm counts fell between 50% and 60% over those 38 years, with no evidence of a leveling off in recent years. This significant decline in male reproductive health “has serious implications beyond fertility concerns,” it concluded. The researchers analyzed samples from nearly 43,000 men from 185 studies. “This is a wake-up call to study the causes of this decline, aiming to prevent further deterioration,” says Hagai Levine, the lead researcher and faculty member of the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at Hebrew University-Hadassah in Jerusalem. Previous studies have linked a lower sperm count with pesticides, heat, diet, stress, smoking and body mass index. “Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impacts of the modern environment on male health,” the study found. The high proportion of men with concentration below 40 million per milliliter is “particularly concerning” given that sperm count below this threshold is associated with a lower monthly probability of conception. The results suggest an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for “sub-fertility or infertility.” Private companies are increasingly filling the void of infertility coverage because the U.S. health care system doesn’t deem treating infertility — a condition affecting 1 in 8 U.S. couples — under health insurance policies a medical necessity, Sarah Elizabeth Richards reported on MarketWatch in February. There has been a 65% increase in IVF treatments since 2003, according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults conducted by “Infertility in America 2015” by the Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, partly due to couples having babies later in life. “Only 15 states require that policies cover any kind of infertility benefits, and only eight mandates include IVF, which fertility doctors regard as the gold standard of treatment,” Richards wrote. Male infertility treatment can range from $1,565 to $4,500. Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system, according to Resolve, the McLean, Va.-based national infertility association. Almost one-third (30%) can be attributed to male factors and the same percentage can also be attributed to female factors, the association says. In about 20% of cases infertility is unexplained, while the remaining 10% is caused by a combination of problems in both partners. “A man often associates his sense of masculinity with the ability to conceive a child,” it says. “Men may experience profound feelings of guilt, anger, and low self-esteem.”Read the source article at MarketWatch
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From ‘Startup Nation’ to ‘Cannabis Nation’

Hebrew University and City of Jerusalem to Host International Conference on the Cannabinoids in 2021July 26, 2017 — The 
International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) has chosen the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to host the International Symposium on the Cannabinoids in 2021 in Jerusalem.The ICRS is the oldest scientific society dedicated to the research in the cannabis plant, cannabinoids, and their physiological and biochemical targets.  The ICRS has nearly 400 members from all over the world. The members and guests of the ICRS gather yearly to present the ICRS Symposium.Hundreds of participants from Israel and around the world will participate in the conference, at the International Convention Center (ICC) in Jerusalem, in cooperation with the Jerusalem Conventions & Visitors Bureau (JCVB), which operates under the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA).The event will be hosted by the Hebrew University’s Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research (MCCR), which is the leading center in Israel for conducting and coordinating research on cannabinoids, endocannabinoids and medical Cannabis.Over the last 50 years, Hebrew University research has spearheaded a new scientific era of Cannabis research. Professor Raphael Mechoulam, a Hebrew University researcher widely regarded as “the father of cannabinoid research,” and his colleagues isolated the active constituent of the Cannabis plant, tetrahydrocannabinol, elucidated its structure, and synthesized it. Later Professor Mechoulam identified the endogenous cannabinoids (formed in the mammalian body) and thus pioneered the field of cannabinoid research.

Professor Raphael Mechoulam

The International Symposium will mark Professor Mechoulam’s 90th birthday.The Symposium will feature oral and poster presentations covering a wide range of topics germane to cannabinoid science and medicine. Past conferences have covered such topics as autoimmunity, epilepsy, pain, PTSD, drug development and medicinal chemistry, neuroprotection, metabolism, endocrine and obesity, cancer, and much more.Professor Cecilia Hillard, Executive Director of the ICRS, said: “The board of directors of the International Cannabinoid Research Society is very pleased that our 31st annual meeting will be held in Jerusalem in 2021. Jerusalem holds a special place in the history of the science of cannabis and the endocannabinoids. Professor Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University was the first to publish the structure of the active principal of cannabis, THC, and was also the first to identify an endogenous cannabinoid, anandamide.  Just as impressive is the current state of cannabinoid research in Jerusalem and Israel at large, including the Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research led by Dr. Tam.  We are looking forward to visiting Jerusalem and to an exciting and informative conference.”Dr. Joseph (Yossi) Tam, Director of the Hebrew University’s Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research, said: “I’m excited that the International Cannabinoid Research Society has decided to hold its 31st conference in Jerusalem under the auspices of the Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research. One of our first goals after establishing the Center was to host the ICRS conference in Jerusalem so that the international community of researchers can learn about the highly advanced work in the field of cannabinoids carried out in the Center and in Israel. I am certain that hosting this high-level conference will constitute another turning point in Israel’s position as a global leader in cannabinoid research and development.”“Modulating endocannabinoid activity has therapeutic potential in a large number of human diseases, and research on cannabinoids may lead to very significant advances in basic science and therapeutics. We look forward to hosting the world’s top scientists working to discover new therapies based on cannabinoids,” said Professor Raphael Mechoulam, Head of the Academic Committee of the Multidisciplinary Center, and the Lionel Jacobson Professor Emeritus of Medicinal Chemistry in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine.“Bringing this global symposium to Jerusalem emphasizes the ongoing collaboration between multiple institutions including the JCVB, ICC, and MCCR. This partnership was only possible with the shared vision in highlighting the city’s potential as a leading scientific conference destination. Jerusalem offers an ideal setting to host the over 400 global researchers to learn and promote the exchange of scientific information and gain new perspectives about Cannabis,” said Ilanit Melchior, Director of Tourism in Jerusalem.“As the largest and leading conference center in Israel, the Jerusalem ICC looks forward to hosting this important conference aimed at bringing international researchers together to improve human health and well-being,” said Mira Altman, CEO of the International Convention Center (ICC) in Jerusalem.The ICRS is a scientific association with hundreds of international members, all active researchers in the field of endogenous, plant-derived and synthetic cannabinoids and related bioactive lipids. The ICRS Symposium is considered the most important conference in the field of cannabinoids research. The conference brings together the leading researchers from the international scientific community and presents the latest and most up-to-date research in the field.The Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research, staffed by leading scientists and medical doctors from the Hebrew University and its affiliated Hadassah Medical Center, conducts and coordinates exciting new research about cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and medical Cannabis, while promoting collaboration and disseminating information. More info at http://cannabinoids.huji.ac.il/.
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Sperm Counts Are Declining Among Western Men

Comprehensive study shows a significant ongoing decline in sperm counts of Western men, pointing to impaired male health and decreasing fertilitySUMMARY: A rigorous and comprehensive meta-analysis of data collected between 1973 and 2011 finds that among men from Western countries who were not selected on the basis of their fertility status, sperm concentration declined by more than 50%, with no evidence of a “leveling off” in recent years. These findings strongly suggest a significant decline in male reproductive health that has serious implications beyond fertility and reproduction, given recent evidence linking poor semen quality with a higher risk of hospitalization and death. Research on causes of this ongoing decline and their prevention is urgently needed.Jerusalem, July 25, 2017 — In the first systematic review and meta-analysis of trends in sperm count, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai report a significant decline in sperm concentration and total sperm count among men from Western countries. The study is published in Human Reproduction Update, the leading journal in the fields of Reproductive Biology and Obstetrics & Gynecology.By screening 7,500 studies and conducting a meta-regression analysis on 185 studies between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand who were not selected based on their fertility status. In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia, and Africa, where far fewer studies have been conducted.The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when the analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011.The research was led by Dr. Hagai Levine, Head of the Environmental Health Track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Jerusalemwith Dr. Shanna H. Swan, Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and an international team of researchers from Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Spain, and the United States.While declines in sperm count have been reported since 1992, the question has remained controversial because of limitations in past studies. However, the current study uses a broader scope and rigorous meta-regression methods, conservatively addresses the reliability of study estimates, and controls for factors that might help explain the decline such as age, abstinence time, and selection of the study population.“Given the importance of sperm counts for male fertility and human health, this study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count, with the goal of prevention,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, also an adjunct assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.The findings have important public health implications. First, these data demonstrate that the proportion of men with sperm counts below the threshold for subfertility or infertility is increasing. Moreover, given the findings from recent studies that reduced sperm count is related to increased morbidity and mortality, the ongoing decline points to serious risks to male fertility and health.“Decreasing sperm count has been of great concern since it was first reported 25 years ago. This definitive study shows, for the first time, that this decline is strong and continuing. The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend,” Dr. Shanna H. Swan.While the current study did not examine causes of the observed declines, sperm count has previously been plausibly associated with environmental and lifestyle influences, including prenatal chemical exposure, adult pesticide exposure, smoking, stress, and obesity.  Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impact of the modern environment on male health across the lifespan and serve as a “canary in the coal mine” signaling broader risks to male health.The Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine is the first school of public health in Israel and one of five schools within the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine. Since 1961, both in Israel and internationally, the Braun School, which is APHEA accredited, has improved the physical, mental and social well-being of populations, trained a public health workforce for the challenges of today and the future, conducted public health research, and made an impact on health services and policy. The School’s renowned International Master’s in Public Health (IMPH) program prepares graduates to take up key positions as leaders and teachers of public health in their home countries.# # #Researchers who participated in this study are affiliated with Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and the Hebrew University Center of Excellence in Agriculture and Environmental Health, Jerusalem, Israel; Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, and Gustave L. and Janet W. Levy Library, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, USA; University Department of Growth and Reproduction,  University of Copenhagen, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark; Department of Physiology, Federal University of Parana, Curitiba, Brazil; Division of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, University of Murcia School of Medicine and Biomedical Research Institute of Murcia, Murcia, Spain; Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel. CITATION: Temporal trends in sperm count: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Hagai Levine, Niels Jørgensen, Anderson Martino‐Andrade, Jaime Mendiola, Dan Weksler-Derri, Irina Mindlis, Rachel Pinotti, Shanna H Swan. Human Reproduction Update, July 25, 2017, doi:10.1093/humupd/dmx022. Link: 
https://academic.oup.com/humupd/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/humupd/dmx022.FUNDING: Researchers received support from the Environment and Health Fund (EHF), Jerusalem, Israel; American Healthcare Professionals and Friends for Medicine in Israel (APF); Israel Medical Association (IMA) [Levine]; Research Fund of Rigshospitalet (grant no. R42-A1326) [Jørgensen); The Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development [Martino-Andrade]; The Mount Sinai Transdisciplinary Center on Early Environmental Exposures (NIH P30ES023515) [Swan].
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New Tool Could Lead to Earlier Diagnosis, Better Treatment...

Suaad Abd-Elhadi wins a Kaye Innovation Award for a new diagnostic tool that could pave the way for early diagnosis and improved treatment of one of the most common and debilitating neurodegenerative disordersJuly 5, 2017 — Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in humans, after Alzheimer’s disease. It is typically characterized by changes in motor control such as tremors and shaking, but can also include non-motor symptoms, from the cognitive to the behavioral. An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, with medication costing approximately $2,500 a year, and therapeutic surgery costing up to $100,000 dollars, per patient.Making an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s, particularly in early stages and mild cases, is difficult, and there are currently no standard diagnostic tests other than clinical information provided by the patient and the findings of a neurological exam. One of the best hopes for improving diagnosis is to develop a reliable test for identifying a biomarker, i.e. a substance whose presence would indicate the presence of the disease.Now, Suaad Abd-Elhadi, a Ph.D. student in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine, developed the lipid ELISA. This unique diagnostic tool could lead to earlier detection of Parkinson’s, along with better tracking of the disease’s progression and a patient’s response to therapy.How the diagnostic ELISA works ELISA stands for “enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.” An assay is a procedure used in laboratory settings to assess the presence, amount, and activity of a target entity, such as a drug, cell or biochemical substance. ELISA is a common assay technique that involves targeting cellular secretions.In the case of the lipid ELISA, the cellular secretion of interest is a specific protein called the alpha-Synuclin protein. This protein serves as a convenient biomarker that is closely associated with the tissues where Parkinson’s disease can be detected, along with the neurological pathways the disease travels along, causing its characteristic symptoms.As a simple and highly sensitive diagnostic tool that can detect Parkinson’s biomarkers, the lipid ELISA could lead to a minimally invasive and cost-effective way to improve the lives of Parkinson’s patients. Recently, Abd-Elhadi has demonstrated a proof of concept to the high potential of this lipid-ELISA assay in differentiating healthy and Parkinson’s affected subjects. She is now in the process of analyzing a large cohort of samples, including moderate and severe Parkinson’s, and control cases, as part of a clinical study.Through Yissum, its technology transfer company, the Hebrew University holds granted patents on the technology and signed an agreement with Integra Holdings for further development and commercialization.2017 Kaye Innovation Award In recognition of her work, Suaad Abd-Elhadi was awarded the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017.The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential, which will benefit the university and society. For more information about the 2017 Kaye Innovations Awards, visit http://bit.ly/kaye2017.Suaad Abd-Elhadi is a direct-track Ph.D. student at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine. She completed her B.S. in medical laboratory science at Hadassah Academic College. She was awarded a scholarship from the Liba and Manek Teich Endowment Fund for Doctoral Students and an Adrian Sucari Scholarship for Academic Excellence. She conducts her research under the supervision of Dr. Ronit Sharon and has published papers in Science Reports and Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry describing her research.
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Mrs. Lily Safra Dedicates New Home of Hebrew University’s...

Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, British Architect Lord Norman Foster, and more than 400 friends and supporters joined the gala celebration and naming ceremony of Israel’s largest neuroscience centerJuly 2, 2017— More than 400 friends and supporters joined Mrs. Lily Safra as she dedicated the new home of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Edmond J. Safra Campus.

(L-R) ELSC scientist Prof. Idan Segev, Member of the Council for Higher Education and Chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, Hebrew University Rector and President-elect Prof. Asher Cohen, and ELSC researcher Prof. Eilon Vaadia. (Credit: Bruno Charbit)

The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, and Lord Norman Foster, Founder and Executive Chairman of the British architectural firm Foster + Partners, which designed the new Center, were among the dignitaries attending the gala event.“I am thrilled to join in celebrating this defining moment for ELSC when such an extraordinary new building becomes home to a remarkable community of researchers and students,” said Mrs. Lily Safra. “Their multi-disciplinary study of the brain’s secrets will surely make a profound impact on how we treat disease and care for patients. I know that my husband Edmond would share my deep sense of pride that our names are associated with such pioneering work, and with such dedicated and inspiring people.”Mrs. Safra is a leading supporter of neuroscience research projects around the world, and Chairwoman of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, which pledged a lead donation of $50 Million of the Center’s $150 Million initial budget.

(Credit: Michael Zekri)

“The Hebrew University is grateful to Mrs. Lily Safra and the Edmond J. Safra Foundation for their leadership in this historic initiative to unlock the mysteries of the brain,” said Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, President of the Hebrew University.  “ELSC is unique in the way it brings together theoretical and experimental researchers to develop pioneering approaches to brain science.”The 14,500 square meter Center is a premier setting that will encourage effective collaboration through interdisciplinary collaboration and interaction. Specialists in disciplines such as physics, computer science, psychology, neurobiology, and medicine will all work under one roof to achieve breakthroughs that improve the lives of patients suffering from illnesses of the brain.Directed by Professor Israel Nelken and Professor Adi Mizrahi, the Center will include state-of-the-art labs, classrooms, an innovative imaging center, and areas for biological and pre-clinical research. Significant emphasis was placed on constructing an environmentally friendly building with a focus on conserving energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
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First ‘Haploid’ Human Stem Cells Could Revolutionize...

Potential for regenerative medicine and cancer research earns doctoral student Ido Sagi a Kaye Innovation AwardJune 28, 2017 — Stem cell research holds huge potential for medicine and human health. In particular, human embryonic stem cells (ESCs), with their ability to turn into any cell in the human body, are essential to the future prevention and treatment of disease.One set or two? Diploid versus haploid cells Most of the cells in our body are diploid, which means they carry two sets of chromosomes — one from each parent. Until now, scientists have only succeeded in creating haploid embryonic stem cells — which contain a single set of chromosomes. However, scientists have long sought to isolate and replicate these haploid ESCs in humans, which would allow them to work with one set of human chromosomes as opposed to a mixture from both parents.

Ido Sagi

This milestone was finally reached when Ido Sagi, working as a Ph.D. student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s 
Azrieli Center for Stem Cells and Genetic Research, led research that yielded the first successful isolation and maintenance of haploid embryonic stem cells in humans. Unlike in mice, these haploid stem cells were able to differentiate into many other cell types, such as brain, heart, and pancreas cells, while retaining a single set of chromosomes.With Professor Nissim Benvenisty, Director of the Azrieli Center, Sagi showed that this new human stem cell type will play an important role in human genetic and medical research. It will aid our understanding of human development – for example, why we reproduce sexually instead of from a single parent. It will make genetic screening easier and more precise, by allowing the examination of single sets of chromosomes. Additionally, it is already enabling the study of resistance to chemotherapy drugs, with implications for cancer therapy.Diagnostic kits for personalized medicine

Detailed image of stem cell

Based on this research, Yissum, the Technology Transfer arm of the Hebrew University, launched the company New Stem, which is developing a diagnostic kit for predicting resistance to chemotherapy treatments. By amassing a broad library of human pluripotent stem cells with different mutations and genetic makeups, NewStem plans to develop diagnostic kits for personalized medication and future therapeutic and reproductive products.2017 Kaye Innovation Award In recognition of his work, Ido Sagi was awarded the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017.The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential, which will benefit the university and society.Ido Sagi received B.S summa cum laude in Life Sciences from the Hebrew University and currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the laboratory of Professor Nissim Benvenisty at the university’s Department of Genetics in the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. He is a fellow of the Adams Fellowship of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and has recently received the Rappaport Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Research. Sagi’s research focuses on studying genetic and epigenetic phenomena in human pluripotent stem cells, and his work has been published in leading scientific journals, including NatureNature Genetics, and Cell Stem Cell.
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HU Scientists Develop Potentially Life-Saving Test to Detect...

Professor Yuval Dor and Dr. Ruth Shemer received Kaye Innovation Award for developing a way to detect specific tissue damage from a blood sampleJune 25, 2017 — One of the holy grails of medical research is the development of a simple non-invasive test that can detect a variety of diseases with high accuracy. However, to date, there is no single diagnostic test that fulfills this function.To solve this problem, Professor Yuval Dor and Dr. Ruth Shemer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (together with Professor Ben Glaser, Head of the Endocrinology Department at the Hadassah Medical Center) developed a new blood test that looks for the remnants of dying cells cast off by specific tissue types throughout the body.

Professor Yuval Dor

When cells die, they release DNA fragments into the circulatory system. The DNA of each type of dying cell carries a unique chemical modification called methylation. By detecting the unique methylation signatures of DNA from the fragments of dying cells, Professor Dor and Dr. Shemer established a way to detect multiple disease processes —including diabetes, cancer, traumatic injury, and neurodegeneration — in a highly sensitive and specific manner.Professor Dor and Dr. Shemer are researchers in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine. Both earned their Ph.D.s at the Hebrew University.Goal: a rapid blood test to assess multiple diseases simultaneouslyA test that accurately pinpoints tissue damage from dying cells’ DNA fragments could hold the key to a variety of medical advances — from a deeper understanding of human tissue dynamics to earlier detection of life-threatening illnesses, to more efficient monitoring of responses to medical therapies.Professor Dor and Dr. Shemer envision a future where the continued research and refinement of their new technology will lead to a universal, rapid, sensitive and quantitative blood test for tissue-specific cell death. This blood test could be used to assess multiple pathologic conditions simultaneously, equivalent to standard blood chemistry panels in use today.

Dr. Ruth Shemer

Their paper describing the method and its applications was published the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in 2016, drawing considerable interest from the scientific and popular media.Aurum Ventures MKI Ltd., the technology investment arm of Morris Kahn, provided 
Yissum, the Technology Transfer arm of the Hebrew University, with $1.2 million of funding for research and development of this new diagnostic approach. Earlier this year, OnTimeBio was founded to make Professor Dor’s and Dr. Shemer’s vision become a reality.2017 Kaye Innovation Award In recognition of their work, Prof. Dor and Dr. Shemer were awarded the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017.The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential, which will benefit the university and society. For more information about the 2017 Kaye Innovations Awards, visit http://bit.ly/kaye2017.
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Algorithm Leads to Dramatic Improvement in Drug Discovery...

An algorithm developed at the Hebrew University cuts through the immense number of possible solutions to shorten drug discovery times from years to monthsDiscovery earns Prof. Amiram Goldblum a 2017 Kaye Innovation AwardJune 22, 2017 — Antibiotics for treating particularly resistant diseases, molecules that block immune system overreactions, molecules that inhibit the growth of cancer cells by removing excess iron, molecules that may increase the digestion of fats: all these and more have been discovered in recent years using a unique computerized approach to solving particularly complex problems.Over the past five years, an Iterative Stochastic Elimination (ISE) algorithm developed in the laboratory of Professor Amiram Goldblum, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Drug Research, has been applied to the discovery of potential drugs. The Institute is part of the School of Pharmacy in the Faculty Of Medicine. First tested to solve problems in the structure and function of proteins, the algorithm has since been used to reduce drug discovery times — from years to months and even to weeks.Goldblum’s solution is different from other algorithms called “heuristics,” which are based on deriving solutions using logic and intuition, and suggests better solutions. In this instance, the algorithm produces a model for the activity of small molecules on one or more proteins known to cause the disease. A model is a set of filters of physico-chemical properties that distinguish between active and non-active molecules, or between more and less active ones. Millions of molecules can then be screened by the model, which enables the scoring of each molecule by a number that reflects its ability to pass through the filters based on its own physico-chemical properties.A model of this type is usually built in a few hours and is capable of screening millions of molecules in less than a day. Therefore, within a few days or more, it is possible to make initial predictions about the candidate molecules for a specific activity to combat a disease. Most of those candidates have never been known before to have any biological activity.

Professor Amiram Goldblum

For the development of this algorithm, Professor Goldblum won an American Chemical Society Prize in 2000. Since then, the algorithm has solved many problems related to understanding various biological systems such as protein flexibility, proteins-small molecules interactions, and more. These and other discoveries stem from collaborations between Goldblum’s laboratory, where his students employ the algorithm to solve various problems and laboratories and pharmaceutical companies in the world that test Goldblum’s predictions in Germany, Japan, the United States, and Israel.On the strength of Goldblum’s technology, the company 
Pepticom was founded in 2011 by Yissum, the Technology Transfer arm of the Hebrew University, to revolutionize the discovery of novel peptide drug candidates. Pepticom’s key asset is an exceptional artificial intelligence platform aimed at designing peptide ligands based upon solved crystal structures of proteins.Wide ApplicationsThe algorithm can be applied to other types of problems, in which the number of possibilities is immense and are not solvable even if the world’s most powerful computers would work on it together. These include problems in which the number of possible outcomes are 10 to the power of 100 (10100) and more, such as problems of land transport, aviation, communications and biological systems.In the field of transportation, this could involve finding alternative ways to get from one point to another using traffic data on each of the alternative roads leading between the two points. In aviation, an optimal arrangement of landings and takeoffs at busy airports. In telecommunications, finding the least expensive routes within a complex array of communication cables. And in biology, a model that is constructed on the basis of a few dozen or hundreds of molecules serves to screen millions of molecules and to discover new drug candidates. These are then sent to experimental labs to be developed further, and in some cases have been crucial in furthering the development of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and different forms of cancer.Kaye Innovation AwardIn recognition of his work, Professor Amiram Goldblum was awarded the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017.The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential, which will benefit the university and society. For more information about the 2017 Kaye Innovations Awards, visit http://bit.ly/kaye2017
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Simple Method Measures How Long Bacteria Can Wait Out...

The efficient classification of bacterial strains as tolerant, resistant, or persistent could help to guide treatment decisions, and could ultimately reduce the ever-growing risk of resistanceJune 21, 2017 — A growing number of pathogens are developing resistance to one or more antibiotics, threatening our ability to treat infectious diseases. Now, according to a study published in Biophysical Journal, a simple new method for measuring the time it takes to kill a bacterial population could improve the ability of clinicians to effectively treat antimicrobial-tolerant strains that are on the path to becoming resistant.“These findings allow measurement of tolerance, which has previously been largely overlooked in the clinical setting,” says senior study author Professor Nathalie Balaban, the Joseph and Sadie Danciger Professor of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Routinely measuring tolerance could supply valuable information about the duration of antibiotic treatments, reducing the chance of both under- and over-treatment. Furthermore, data compiled from such measurements could give an estimate of how widespread the phenomenon of tolerance really is, which is currently a complete unknown.”According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health and is putting the achievements of modern medicine at risk. Due to selective pressure, pathogens acquire resistance through mutations that make the antibiotic less effective, for example, by interfering with the ability of a drug to bind to its target. Currently, clinicians determine which antibiotic and dose to prescribe by assessing resistance levels using a routine metric called minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC)—the minimal drug concentration required to prevent bacterial growth.Although resistant strains continue to grow despite exposure to high drug concentrations, tolerant strains can survive lethal concentrations of an antibiotic for a long period of time before succumbing to its effects. Tolerance is often associated with treatment failure and relapse, and it is considered a stepping stone toward the evolution of antibiotic resistance. But unlike resistance, tolerance is poorly understood and is currently not evaluated in healthcare settings.“The lack of a quantitative measure means that this aspect of the treatment relies largely on the experience of the individual physician or the community,” says first author Asher Brauner, a Ph.D. student in Balaban’s lab at the Hebrew University’s Racah Institute of Physics. “This can lead to treatment being either too short, increasing the risk of relapse and evolution of resistance, or much too long, unnecessarily causing side effects, a release of antibiotic waste into the environment, and additional costs.”To address this problem, Balaban and her team developed a tolerance metric called the minimum duration for killing 99% of the population (MDK99). The protocol, which can be performed manually or using an automated robotic system, involves exposing populations of approximately 100 bacteria in separate microwell plates to different concentrations of antibiotics for varied time periods while determining the presence or lack of survivors.

View inside biofilm of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The researchers applied MDK99 to six Escherichia coli strains, which showed tolerance levels ranging from 2 to 23 hr under ampicillin treatment. MDK99 also facilitates measurements of a special case of tolerance known as time-dependent persistence—the presence of transiently dormant subpopulations of bacteria that are killed more slowly than the majority of the fast-growing population. Like other forms of tolerance, time-dependent persistence can lead to recurrent infections because the few surviving bacteria can quickly grow to replenish the entire population once antibiotic treatment stops. “A take-home message from this is that it is important to complete a course of antibiotic treatment as prescribed, even after the disappearance of the symptoms,” Balaban says. “Partial treatment gives tolerance and persistence mutations a selective advantage, and these, in turn, hasten the development of resistance.”In future studies, Balaban and her team will use MDK99 to study the evolution of tolerance in patients. Moreover, the ability to systematically determine the tolerance level of strains in the lab could facilitate research in the field. “If implemented in hospital clinical microbiology labs, MDK99 could enable the efficient classification of bacterial strains as tolerant, resistant, or persistent, helping to guide treatment decisions,” Balaban says. “In the end, understanding tolerance and finding a way to combat it could significantly reduce the ever-growing risk of resistance.”###Scientists involved with this research are affiliated with The Racah Institute of Physics and The Center for NanoScience and NanoTechnology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and The Broad Institute of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).FUNDING: This work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) (grant 681819) and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) (grant 492/15).CITATION: Biophysical Journal, Brauner et al.: “An Experimental Framework for Quantifying Bacterial Tolerance” 
http://www.cell.com/biophysj/fulltext/S0006-3495(17)30551-9 / doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2017.05.014 
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Hebrew University to Dedicate New Home of the Edmond and...

Philanthropist Mrs. Lily Safra, Architect Lord Norman Foster, and more than 400 people from Israel and abroad to attend the gala celebration and naming ceremony of Israel’s largest neuroscience centerJune 6, 2017 — The Hebrew University of Jerusalem will dedicate the new home of The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) in Jerusalem on June 13, 2017. More than 400 people from Israel and abroad will attend the gala celebration and naming ceremony of the largest neuroscience center in Israel and one of the most ambitious in the world.Participating in the event will be Mrs. Lily Safra, a leading supporter of neuroscience research projects around the world, and Chairwoman of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, which pledged a lead donation of $50 million of the Center’s $150 million initial budget.“I am truly thrilled to join in celebrating this defining moment for ELSC when such an extraordinary new building becomes home to a remarkable community of researchers and students,” said Mrs. Lily Safra. “Their multi-disciplinary study of the brain’s secrets will surely make a profound impact on how we treat disease and care for patients. I know that my husband Edmond would share my deep sense of pride that our names are associated with such pioneering work, and with such dedicated and inspiring people.”The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences is at the forefront of the revolution in neuroscience research. Harnessing the extraordinary opportunities created by advances in technology and medicine, ELSC is shaping the next generation of researchers to advance the brain sciences and transform the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders.“ELSC is unique in the way it brings together theoretical and experimental researchers to develop pioneering approaches to brain science,” said Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, President of the Hebrew University. “The Hebrew University is grateful to Mrs. Lily Safra and the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation for their leadership in this historic initiative to unlock the mysteries of the brain.”Lord Norman Foster, the award-winning Founder and Executive Chairman of the British architectural firm Foster + Partners, which designed the new center, will participate in the gala event.“The project for the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences is much like a city in microcosm, with some of the same challenges: how do we best create a sense of community, share knowledge, bring people together, and support collective endeavors towards common goals? The building works flexibly, accommodating a diverse range of requirements from customizable, individual workstations to a central courtyard that is the social heart, breaking the traditional mold of learning and making the process more collaborative. It is a celebration of the brain, and of the vital work that is carried out by the researchers here,” said Lord Foster.The 14,500 square meter center will include state-of-the-art labs, classrooms, an innovative imaging center, and areas for biological and pre-clinical research. Significant emphasis was placed on constructing an environmentally-friendly building with a focus on conserving energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.Professor Israel Nelken, Co-Director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, and the Milton z”l and Brindell Gottlieb Professor of Brain Science, said: “At the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, scientists follow an interdisciplinary agenda to uncover the causal links between genes, neurons, and circuits from which cognition and behavior emerge, paving the way to a wide spectrum of future applications, from clever gadgets that improve quality of life to better health care.”ELSC scientists have already paved a way towards a fundamental understanding of brain processes in health and disease. At the Lab for Understanding Neurons, Professor Idan Segev, the David & Inez Myers Professor in Computational Neuroscience, uses mathematical tools to digitally reconstruct a whole piece of cortical circuits using powerful computers. Using these models his team recently discovered rich structures or connectivity previously unknown. These “hidden” circuit structures pose constraints on how sensory information is processed in the neocortex. Professor Merav Ahissar, the Joseph H. and Belle Braun Professor of Psychology, with a longstanding interest in studying dyslexia, recently found that a central problem for dyslexics is forming prediction, a fundamental aspect of brain computing that governs our behaviors.ELSC’s young generation of researchers is also studying the brain at unprecedented resolutions. Dr. Ami Citri, for example, received the prestigious $100,000 Adelis Brain Research Award for his outstanding work in the field of experience-dependent plasticity and its impact on diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders. Most projects are led by ELSC’s Ph.D. students, an elite group of young scholars.About the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences  ELSC’s mission is to achieve a comprehensive understanding of brain mechanisms by developing a thriving interface between theoretical and experimental neuroscience. By building bridges across disciplines—combining high-resolution studies of local neuronal circuits (from genes to neurons and synapses) with a global theory of the brain’s computational principles—ELSC aims to be at the forefront of neuroscience research worldwide. ELSC was founded with the generous support of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, which supports hundreds of organizations in more than 40 countries around the world. For more information, please visit http://elsc.huji.ac.il.
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Researchers Get Head Start on Gene That Protects the Brain...

Increased levels of a micro-RNA could have a protective effect explaining why identical stressors trigger seizures in some people but not in others.June 5, 2017 — On December 16, 1997, hundreds of Japanese children were brought to a hospital suffering from epilepsy-like seizures. They all had one thing in common: they had been watching an episode of the Pokémon TV show when their symptoms began. Doctors determined that their symptoms were triggered by five seconds of intensely bright flashing lights on the popular TV program. But why did the lights affect a few hundred children while thousands of other viewers were unharmed?In new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers headed by Professor Hermona Soreq at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem sought to answer this question. Drawing on her previous research, Professor Soreq, the Charlotte Slesinger Professor of Molecular Neuroscience at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, hypothesized that healthy brains may be protected from epileptic seizures by rapidly produced molecules called short RNAs, or microRNAs (miRs). MicroRNAs are a recently discovered class of non-coding RNAs that can prevent genes from expressing particular proteins.To test this idea, Soreq and her colleagues at the Hebrew University developed a transgenic model producing unusually high amounts of one micro-RNA called miR-211, which the researchers predicted was involved. The levels of this molecule could be gradually lowered by administering the antibiotic Doxycycline, enabling tests of its potency to avoid epilepsy.Working with colleagues at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Dalhousie University in Canada, they suppressed excess miR-211 production in the engineered models to the levels found in normal brains. Within four days, this caused the models to display electrically-recorded epilepsy and hypersensitivity to epilepsy-inducing compounds. “Dynamic changes in the amount of miR-211 in the forebrains of these models shifted the threshold for spontaneous and pharmacologically induced seizures, alongside changes in the cholinergic pathway genes,” said Professor Soreq.These findings indicated that mir-211 plays a beneficial role in protecting the brain from epileptic seizures in the engineered models.Noting that miR-211 is known to be elevated in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients who are at high risk for epilepsy, the researchers suspect that in human brains as well, elevated miR-211 may act as a protective mechanism to reduce the risk of epileptic seizures.“It is important to discover how only some people’s brains present a susceptibility to seizures, while others do not, even when subjected to these same stressors,” said Professor Soreq. In searching for the physiological mechanisms that allow some people’s brains to avoid epilepsy, we found that increased levels of micro-RNA 211 could have a protective effect.”According to the researchers, recognizing the importance of miR-211 could open new avenues for diagnosing and interfering with epilepsy. By understanding how miR-211 affects seizure thresholds, scientists could potentially develop therapeutics that lead to greater miR-211–production.Participating researchers are affiliated with the following institutions: The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences and The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; Department of Physiology and Cell Biology and Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; and Department of Medical Neuroscience, Dalhousie University, Canada. The authors thank the Netherlands Brain Bank for human-derived samples.
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Hebrew University Looks for High Impact with New Cannabinoid...

The Hebrew University announced the launch of a Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research. The new Center will serve as one of the world’s leading institutes for conducting and coordinating research about cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and medical Cannabis. In addition, it will promote collaboration and disseminate information. Staffed by some of the world’s leading scientists and medical doctors from the Hebrew University and its affiliated Hadassah Medical Center, the Multidisciplinary Center is already supporting exciting new research. In February 2017, the Center awarded funding to three research projects:—The effects of CBD on traumatic brain injury (Professor Rami Yaka & Professor Oren Ostresetzer)—The anti-angiogenic and anti-cancer activity of cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) agonists (Dr. Ofra Benny)—Effect of a Cannabis extract on acute radicular pain and on analgesics (Professor Elyad Davidson)“The establishment in Israel of the Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research is of great relevance at this time since both academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies worldwide are channeling enormous efforts to basic and clinical research in this field,” said Dr. Joseph (Yossi) Tam, Director of the Hebrew University’s Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research, and Head of the Obesity and Metabolism Laboratory at the Hebrew University’s Institute for Drug Research in the Faculty of Medicine.The Center’s research will focus on the following areas: CancerPainInflammation & Stress ManagementImmunityMetabolismDrug Delivery & NanotechnologyPharmaceutical ChemistryNeuroscience; and Plant Science & Genetics.

Dr. Yossi Tam

Along with integrating the research activities of multiple Hebrew University research laboratories into interdisciplinary networks, the Center, which relies on the infrastructure of the Institute for Drug Research at the School of Pharmacy in the Faculty of Medicine, will also foster collaborations between its participating laboratories and other well-established research groups around the globe.“We feel incredibly fortunate to team up with a vast number of scientists working together on this expanding field of medicine with the significant potential to discover new therapies based on cannabinoids,” said Dr. Tam.Until very recently, the Cannabis plant and its extracts (popularly called marijuana, hashish, weed, and grass) were mostly frowned upon as purely recreational drugs. However, over the last 50 years, Professor Raphael Mechoulam at the Hebrew University has spearheaded a new scientific era of Cannabis research. Professor Mechoulam, along with his colleagues, isolated the active constituent of the Cannabis plant, tetrahydrocannabinol, elucidated its structure and synthesized it. Later he identified the endogenous cannabinoids (formed in the mammalian body) and thus pioneered the field of cannabinoid research.“It has been shown that modulating endocannabinoid activity has therapeutic potential in a large number of human diseases, hence research on cannabinoids may lead to very significant advances, not only in basic science but also in therapeutics. Our Multidisciplinary Center addresses many aspects in this promising area, such as cancer, head injury, addiction, bone formation, obesity and others,” said Professor Raphael Mechoulam, Head of the Academic Committee of the Multidisciplinary Center, and the Lionel Jacobson Professor Emeritus of Medicinal Chemistry in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine.The Center’s teams of highly qualified researchers comprise Heads of Labs and Research Groups ranging through Nano-Medicine & Nano Delivery Systems, Tumor Micro-environment, Neurobiology, Pain Relief & Plasticity, Molecular Modeling & Drug Design, Immuno-pharmacology, Free Radicals, Stress, and Plant Pathogen Interactions.The Center’s informational resources include a World Calendar of Cannabinoids, featuring information about major upcoming events in the field of cannabinoid research.
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ACHIEVEMENTS

Hebrew University’s Dr. Ami Citri Wins Adelis Brain...

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Scientists Map Brains of the Blind to Solve Mysteries of...

Studying the brain activity of blind people, scientists at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem are challenging the standard view of how the human brain specializes to perform different kinds of tasks and shedding new light on how our brains can adapt to the rapid cultural and technological changes of the 21st century.Research Highlights:(1) Understanding the brain activity of the blind can help solve one of the oddest phenomena in the human brain: how can tasks such as reading and recognizing numerical symbols have their own brain regions if these concepts were only developed several thousand years ago (which is negligible on an evolutionary timescale)? What was the job of these regions before their invention?(2) New research published in Nature Communications demonstrates that vision is not a prerequisite for “visual” cortical regions to develop these preferences.(3) This stands in contrast to the current main theory explaining this specialization, which suggests these regions were adapted from other visual tasks such as the angles of lines and their intersections.(4) These results show that the required condition is not sensory-based (vision) but rather connectivity- and processing-based. For example, blind people reading Braille using their fingers will still use the “visual” areas.(5) This research uses shows unique connectivity patterns between the visual-number-form-area (VNFA) to quantity-processing areas in the right hemisphere, and between the visual-word-form-area (VWFA) to language-processing areas in the left hemisphere.amira(6) This type of mechanism can help explain how our brain adapts quickly to the changes of our era of constant cultural and technological innovations.The accepted view in previous decades was that the brain is divided into distinct regions mainly by the sensory input that activates them, such as the visual cortex for sight and the auditory cortex for sound. Within these large regions, sub-regions have been defined which are specialized for specific tasks such as the “visual word form area,” a functional brain region believed to identify words and letters from shape images even before they are associated with sounds or meanings. Similarly there is another area that specializes in number symbols.The Amedi Lab is headed by Prof. Amir Amedi in the Department of Medical Neurobiology at The Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine. The Lab is also a founding member of The Hebrew University’s Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Science.) Now, a series of studies at Hebrew University’s Amedi Lab for Brain and Multisensory Research challenges this view using unique tools known as Sensory Substitution Devices (SSDs).Sensory Substitution Devices take information from one sense and present it in another, for example enabling blind people to “see” by using other senses such as touching or hearing. By using a smartphone or webcam to translate a visual image into a distinct soundscape, SSDs enable blind users to create a mental image of objects, such as their physical dimensions and color. With intense training (now available online at www.amedilab.com), blind users can even “read” letters by identifying their distinct soundscape.“These devices can help the blind in their everyday life,” explains Prof. Amir Amedi, “but they also open unique research opportunities by letting us see what happens in brain regions normally associated with one sense, when the relevant information comes from another.”Amedi’s team was interested in whether blind subjects using sensory substitution would, like sighted people, use the visual-word-form-area sub-region of the brain to identify shape images, or whether this area is specialized exclusively to visual reading with the eyes.As “A number-form area in the blind,” Sami Abboud and colleagues in the Amedi Lab show that these same “visual” brain regions are used by blind subjects who are actually “seeing” through sound. According to lead researcher Sami Abboud, “These regions are preserved and functional even among the congenitally blind who have never experienced vision.”The researchers used functional MRI imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of blind subjects in real-time while they used an SSD to identify objects by their sound. They found that when it comes to recognizing letters, body postures and more, specialized brain areas are activated by the task at hand, rather than by the sense (vision or hearing) being used.The Amedi team examined a recently-identified area in the brain’s right hemisphere known as the ‘Visual Number Form Area.’ The very existence of such an area, as distinct from the visual-word-form-area, is surprising since symbols such as ‘O’ can be used either as the letter O or as the number Zero, despite being visually identical.Previous attempts to explain why both the word and number areas exist, such as the ‘Neural recycling theory’ by Dehaene and Cohen (2007), suggest that in the far distant past these areas were specialized for other visual tasks such as recognizing small lines, their angles and intersections, and thus were best suited for them. However, this new work shows that congenitally blind users using the sensory substitution devices still have these exact same areas, suggesting that vision is not the key to their development.
Photo by Chen Galili

Photo by Chen Galili

“Beyond the implications for neuroscience theory, these results also offer us hope for visual rehabilitation,” says Amedi. “They suggest that by using the right technology, even non-invasively, we can re-awaken the visually deprived brain to process tasks considered visual, even after many years of blindness.”But if the specific sensory input channel is not the key to developing these brain regions, why do these functions develop in their specific anatomical locations? The new research points to unique connectivity patterns between the visual-word-form-area and language-processing areas, and between the visual-number-form-area and quantity-processing areas.Amedi suggests, “This means that the main criteria for a reading area to develop is not the letters’ visual symbols, but rather the area’s connectivity to the brain’s language-processing centers. Similarly a number area will develop in a region which already has connections to quantity-processing regions.”“If we take this one step further,” adds Amedi, “this connectivity-based mechanism might explain how brain areas could have developed so quickly on an evolutionary timescale. We’ve only been reading and writing for several thousand years, but the connectivity between relevant areas allowed us to create unique new centers for these specialized tasks. This same ‘cultural recycling’ of brain circuits could also be true for how we will adapt to new technological and cultural innovations in the current era of rapid innovation, even approaching the potential of the Singularity.”The research was supported by a European Research Council grant; the Charitable Gatsby Foundation; the James S. McDonnell Foundation scholar award; the Israel Science Foundation; and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) Vision center grant. Featured image by Eyal Toueg.