Could robots replace psychologists, politicians and poets?

      Someday soon, people will be able to “hack” other human beings and not only their computers, cars or bank accounts, according to Hebrew University Prof. Yuval Noah Harari, author of global bestsellers Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

      “To hack a human being you need a lot of computing power and a lot of data, especially biometric data about what happens inside the human and especially inside the brain of that human. We never had that capability before,” said Harari.

      The Haifa-born historian-philosopher was the final speaker in a three-day international conference, “What Makes Us Human: From Genes to Machine,” held at Hebrew University’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, June 4-6.

      Harari told attendees it will be possible to hack humans through a combination of advances in computing power, such as artificial intelligence (AI), and advances in brain science.

      Some of the potential results he described are pretty scary.

      Harari suggests that hacking humans could lead to the end of democracy as we know it (“Democracy is based on the idea that nobody knows me better than myself”) and to the creation of “a useless class of people from the viewpoint of the economic and political system” when robots outperform people on the job.

      No profession will be absolutely safe from automation, Harari warned.

      Even careers requiring emotional intelligence — such as doctors, lawyers and teachers – could be overtaken by robots, at least in theory. That’s because AI will have the capability to recognize and imitate the biochemical patterns of human emotions.

      Mind science remains a mystery

      But even if AI could make robots intelligent enough to be psychologists, politicians or poets, they’d still be missing something essential: consciousness, a key ingredient that mammals use together with intelligence to solve problems.

      “There has so far been zero development in computer consciousness,” said Harari.

      “Consciousness is not an organ or a metaphysical idea like the soul or the spirit,” he explained. “Consciousness is the direct subjective experience that is the most real thing for any human being – fear or love or pain or pleasure. The stream of such experiences is what we call the mind.”

      Prof. Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Photo: courtesy

      And while brain science has advanced, mind science remains a mystery.

      Current scientific theory holds that the mind emerges from the brain, yet nobody knows “how billions of neurons firing in a particular pattern in the brain get translated into pain or fear or love” in the mind, said Harari.

      “We have no idea how subjective experiences help the brain’s calculations. What is the mathematical contribution of feelings?” he asked. “Some scientists say it’s meaningless to talk about the mind and enough to talk about the brain. But … brain science can’t ignore mind science.”

      Without simultaneously examining both we cannot understand, for example, the connection between the sensation of pain and the mental reaction of suffering. Someone can be in immense physical pain without suffering, or can suffer immensely from a minor pain.

      New tools must be invented to explore the mind’s unknown horizon, Harari stated.

      “You can’t observe the mind with the technology of today. You can only observe your own mind but not in a systematic or objective way,” he explained.

      When people practice the ancient art of meditation with the aim of paying closer attention to the workings of the mind, they quickly discover “how stormy the mind is, how difficult it is to focus attention and control the thoughts that come into the mind,” said Harari, whose next book is entitled 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

      Other topics addressed by international lecturers at the conference included ancient genes and human evolution, brain organization from cells to networks, the coexistence of humans with machine intelligence, computational properties of human neurons and human mental ability, brain bases for language and logic, biological and virtual brains, the human brain and perceptual awareness, and super intelligence.

      For more information on the “What Makes Us Human: From Genes to Machine” conference, click here.

      Read the source article at ISRAEL21c


      The song that gives sight to the blind


      Over 250 million people across the globe are visually impaired.


      Professor Amir Amedi and his team at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem created, EyeMusic, a technology that turns a camera’s visual data into an auditory language that describes the image the camera sees. The musical language a user hears communicates objects in the room, where they are in relation to one another, and their visual characteristics.


      Despite being in its prototype phase, the innovation has already received 4 million Euros in grants from the European Research Council. This technology pushes the boundaries of our understanding of brain sciences and provides the visually impaired a tool to navigate the world.

      This is just one example of the work you fund when you give to American Friends of the Hebrew University.


      Founded in 1925, AFHU is a national, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, headquartered in New York City. We connect the passions of Americans to the talent at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the world’s most distinguished academic and research institutions. Collectively, its students, faculty, and alumni have won eight Nobel Prizes, developed treatments for diseases, and ignited innovation that has led to more than 8,900 patents.

      Discover how you can advance knowledge in humanity, technology, medicine, cybersecurity, and more.


      New Ideas on Neuroscience

      Every day at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the world’s best scientists collaborate to unravel the mysteries of the human mind. Working together to explore the brain’s complexities — how we think, learn, create, and remember — these researchers seek to cure neurological diseases faster and bring life-changing innovations to the world. American Friends of the Hebrew University supports these efforts because we believe science fuels a brighter future.

      Every day, Hebrew University scientists explore the brain’s complexities, to cure neurological diseases faster and bring life-changing innovations to the world. Powerful interdisciplinary teams of top scientists explore the relationships between gene function, brain neuronal circuits, and behavior, which has profound implications for our ability to understand and treat neurological and psychiatric disorders. From computational neuroscience to examining sensation and perception, brain mapping tools to investigate cognition to researching neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and MS, Hebrew University is revolutionizing neuroscience research. American Friends of the Hebrew University (AFHU) supports these efforts because we believe science fuels a brighter future.


      The pomegranate potential

      Pomegranates are known to contain powerful antioxidants that fight the oxygen free radicals that cause inflammation, accelerated aging of the tissues, the activation of harmful genes within DNA and an overloaded immune system. Various herbs, spices such as turmeric and teas, as well as dark chocolate, pecans, fruits like blueberries, goji berries, elderberries, cranberries, blackberries and vegetables and pulses like sweet potatoes, broccoli, artichoke and kidney beans also reduce the effects of oxidative damage in the body.

      The leading health problems facing us today – including conditions like heart disease, cancer, dementia and other neurological diseases – have been linked to increased levels of oxidative damage.

      But until now, there has been no natural, powerful antioxidant capable of crossing the “blood-brain barrier” (BBB) – the semi-permeable, highly selective membrane of endothelial cells that separates the circulating blood from the brain and extracellular fluid in the central nervous system. While the BBB is a vital mechanism for protecting the brain from fluctuations in plasma composition and from substances that can upset neural function, it also keeps out those that can benefit the brain.

      Punicic acid (Omega 5) found in oil made from pomegranate seeds (not the red fruit but the small, hard seeds inside) is among the most powerful natural antioxidants, but to breach the BBB, it had to be turned into a submicron self-emulsion formulation.

      Researchers headed by experimental neurology Prof. Ruth Gabizon at the neurology department at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, along with Prof. Shlomo Magdassi of the Hebrew University’s Nanotechnology and the Casali Center for Applied Chemistry, have developed a food supplement called GranaGard with high concentrations of punicic acid. This substance converts in the body into conjugated linoleic acid, an established neuroprotector. Hadassit, the Hadassah Medical Organization’s research and development arm, and Yissum, the R&D company of the university, established Granalix. This company markets the supplement (it is made by the SupHerb company in Nazareth), which has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The supplement (NIS 120 for 60 capsules, a month’s supply, and sold via the company’s website and at some stores) is aimed at preventing or slowing the development of neurological disorders from multiple sclerosis to dementia and even reducing symptoms in patients who suffer from them. As GranaGard is a food supplement, it cannot legally make therapeutic claims, but it can provide data on mice studies in which the rodents showed significant improvement in neurological conditions and benefits shown in patients who have taken the supplement over time.

      GABIZON, WHO was born in Argentina and came on aliya with her family at the age of 11, is married to Prof. Alberto Gabizon, chief of the oncology institute at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and they have four grown children.

      “We met at the Weizmann Institute of Science. I am not a physician, but a neurology researcher,” she said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. She did a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California at San Francisco with Prof. Stanley Prusiner, an American neurologist and biochemist who discovered prions – a class of infectious self-reproducing pathogens primarily or solely composed of protein – for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1997.

      “It was very serendipitous, as I had read Prusiner’s articles on prions and then met somebody by chance who was on sabbatical at the university. I sent a letter to Prof. Prusiner, and I was accepted to work at his lab. I was in the right place at the right time, as he was doing totally pioneering work.”

      When she returned to Israel in 1988 and continued her research on prion-caused diseases in the lab she built at Hadassah’s neurology department, she did not work on theoretical research detached from the physical disease. “I was part of the clinical department, exposed to patients and their families.”

      GABIZON HAS devoted most of her career to the study of neurodegenerataive and prion disorders, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a genetic disease among Jews of Libyan and Tunisian origin that was identified in Israel in the 1980s. The incidence of the disease in this ethnic group is about 100 times more than in the worldwide population, and there are some 50,000 carrier families in Israel and 15 actually suffering from the disease. Its effects were similar to the “mad-cow disease” (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) that affected cows whose brain and spinal cord had been contaminated in Britain and killed its first victim there in 1995.

      Genetic CJD is vertically transmitted from parent to child in autosomal dominant inheritance. Gabizon noted that there have also been some sporadic cases among Jewish of Ashkenazi origin.

      “A young man or woman in their 30s, at the beginning of their life, have just finished their studies and started on a career, got married, and are raising kids. In the midst of this intensive endeavor – a mother or father, perhaps an uncle, becomes ill. The patient is not particularly old, in his 50s or 60s, and is still very much active – with future plans and unattained goals. Yet the disease is progressing at an alarming rate. At first, the patient doesn’t remember small details or his speech slurs. He gets lost in a familiar neighborhood, loses balance. Something is happening; something is festering. He visits his family doctor and then a neurologist, undergoing CT or MRI; his condition continues to deteriorate relentlessly. And then the patient is no longer really with us, even if he or she still lives a bit longer. This is of course shocking and very sad. But it is just the beginning of the story.”

      In the midst of all this mayhem, “the specialist asks: ‘Are you from Libya or Tunis?’ Then there are genetic examinations. Thus our man or woman, still in their 30s, and their entire family, find out that their family member is afflicted with a hereditary disease.”

      There is a mutation that causes an important protein in the brain to change its form, so that instead of breaking down when it has completed its role, it oxidizes and is stored in brain cells in clusters called amyloids. As a result of the accumulation of clusters of faulty protein, destructive free radicals are created, damaging the quality of the cells. Ultimately, a process of accelerated destruction of the cells is created by this combined co-dependent process, in which protein does not break down, but rather accumulates in clusters, thus creating free radicals that harm the quality of the brain cells.

      “Most people who are CJD carriers don’t want to know because the symptoms show up after the age of 40, and there is nothing to do for them. They become confused, very nervous and then paralyzed. They usually die within three months of diagnosis. There is no approved blood test for it,” she said. “But if a couple suspected of being carriers plan to have a baby, they usually want to test embryos by in-vitro fertilization and then use preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to find unaffected embryos that could be implanted.”

      “In view of the dead end reached by all researchers in treating the disease, we decided at the lab to tackle the problem from a totally different direction. If we cannot ‘clean’ the brain cells of destructive faulty protein clusters, thereby curing the patients, perhaps we can strengthen their durability, extend the life span of brain cells, and improve their functioning even under dire conditions such as these, with all of the ‘biological garbage’ and the destructive oxidizing free radicals.”

      To this end, “we decided to research the influence of antioxidization on the brain cells, through lab mice in which we planted the Libyan mutation of the PRP protein. The research hypothesis was that if we treat them with sufficiently strong antioxidization that can reach the brain, this may protect the cells and compensate for the damage already incurred. We further stipulated that the treatment should be completely safe of side effects, in order to offer it to young carriers before the disease erupts, as a preventive measure used over many years with no risk involved.”

      Her prion research led Gabizon to look for antioxidants connected to lipids that could cross the BBB and reach the brain. “By chance, I bought face cream from the Israeli cosmetics company Lavido that was made from pomegranate oil. People said how young I looked. The Chinese, by the way, discovered long ago that pomegranate seeds were good to eat.”

      She called the head of the company and asked for a sample of the oil. “We gave it to mice with the Libyan mutation. We saw that it postponed the mice’s death somewhat, but not enough.” So Gabizon went to Magdassi, who prepared a nano formula with tiny particles and two emulsants. When mixed with water, it turns white. The emulsion isn’t destroyed in the stomach and liver; it goes directly to the blood and breaches the BBB. We started to give it to multiple sclerosis patients after it was effective in slowing the animal model of the disease in mice. We also gave it to mice models with Alzheimer’s disease and to healthy mice that we caused to get a stroke.” It is also being tested on Parkinson’s disease.

      “We can’t cure these neurodegenerative diseases, because when neurons die, they can’t be restored. But the supplement can help prevent the disease in people at risk. I have two capsules a day for two years, and so has my husband. I find the supplement improves my sharpness of thinking and gives me much more energy. There are no known side effects or harmful interactions with drugs. The supplement is comprised of 90% pucinic acid in a form that can enter the brain.”

      GRANALIX, JUST at the beginning of its marketing effort, sells some 5,000 containers a month, mostly through the Internet. “It costs NIS 10 to manufacture and sells for NIS 120; most of the income goes towards manufacture, salaries and other expenses. We also redirect profits into expanding our research,” said Gabizon, who does not yet profit from the patent held by Yissum and Hadassit registered three years ago. “We don’t want it to be expensive and prohibitive to most people who can benefit from it.”

      To register GranaGard as a pharmaceutical drug, the company would have to spend a fortune on large, time-consuming clinical trials and fees for applications to the FDA. “We could do this at some point,” but it is very complicated. In the meantime, since GranaGard is a safe food supplement, we ask patients taking it how they feel. Some report improvement in a month or even a week of taking the supplement.”

      The food supplement’s efficacy in the form of nanodrops taken by rodents with a multiple sclerosis model, CJD and metabolic disorders was proven in three articles in scientific journals, the International Journal of Nanomedicine, Nanomedicine and Neurobiology in Disease. GranaGard was shown to delay disease onset in a mouse model of genetic prion disease, which presents neurodegenerative features reminiscent of Alzheimer’s disease. It also was shown to reduce the disease burden in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis. “There are many other studies on the way,” she said.

      “Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease seem to be prion-like diseases with aggregation and oxidation, so punicic acid with this delivery system could be effective, without being destroyed in the stomach and liver,” she added.

      Neuropaths recommend pomegranate oil to people, but they don’t take into account that it can’t help against neurodegenerative diseases because it doesn’t reach the brain in the form or ordinary supplements.”

      IF THE formulation can delay Alzheimer’s disease, it would bring about a revolution, she declared. The International Alzheimer’s Association has reported that by 2030, the number of dementia patients will double, reaching about 70 million worldwide. Global expenditure on treatment has now reached $600 billion, 70% from Western Europe and North America alone.

      In Israel, there are now some 120,000 dementia patients, including 1% of the population in their 60s. This percentage is doubled every five years, reaching 30% for ages 85 to 90 and 66% of those over 90.

      This data is even more alarming in view of solutions offered by medicine (nowadays appearing quite ordinary – such as nutrition, cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure issues and hygiene) that have increased life expectancy and created a new demography, she added. ‘The various degenerative brain diseases harm half of the population over 80 and cause significant mental and physical suffering. A cure has yet to be found for the disease, but our nutritional supplement may prevent it.”

      The common cause of all degenerative brain diseases is pathological oxidization of components in the nerve cells, which is the precise point of departure of GranaGard. “Since there is no reversal for highly faulty nerve cells, the treatment focuses on maintaining the existing ones, that is, maintaining our brain cells for as long as possible,” she concluded.

      Read the source article at Jpost


      Solving the Mysteries of the Human Brain

      Every day at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the world’s best scientists collaborate to unravel the mysteries of the human mind. Working together to explore the brain’s complexities — how we think, learn, create, and remember — these researchers seek to cure neurological diseases faster and bring life-changing innovations to the world. American Friends of the Hebrew University supports these efforts because we believe science fuels a brighter future.

      Because knowledge moves us…to be better, to know more, and to discover.

      Explore what science for the global good looks like.

      One example of how Hebrew University researchers are revolutionizing neuroscience is mapping brains of the blind.

      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.

      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.

      However, 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).

      SSDs take information from one sense and present it to 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, blind users can even “read” letters by identifying their distinct soundscape.

      “These devices can help the blind in their everyday life,” explains Professor 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.”



      13 of the biggest health breakthroughs in Israel in 2017

      Compound kills energy generating system of cancer

      An Israeli researcher devised a synthetic compound to disable the enzymes that allow cancer cells to metastasize. When cancer cells leave the primary tumor and spread to other organs, they reprogram their energy-generating system in order to survive in harsh conditions with a shortage of nutrients like glucose. Prof. Uri Nir of Bar-Ilan University identified an enzyme called FerT in the energy-generating mitochondria of metastatic cancer cells – an enzyme normally only found in sperm cells (which need to function outside the body they came from). When he targeted FerT in lab mice, the malignant cells soon died. Using advanced chemical and robotic approaches, Nir’s lab team developed a synthetic compound, E260, which can be administered orally or by injection, causing a complete collapse of the entire mitochondria “power station.” “We have treated mice with metastatic cancer and this compound completely cured them with no adverse or toxic affect that we can see,” reported Nir, adding that normal cells were not affected. Phase 1 clinical trials are planned over the next 18 months. 

      Personal menu to help avoid diabetes

      In 2015, two researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel released a groundbreaking study showing that specific foods and food combinations affect each individual’s blood-sugar level differently.

      That discovery was incorporated into a made-in-Israel app, DayTwo, which helps pre-diabetics and diabetics who are not insulin dependent choose dishes that can best balance their individual blood-sugar levels. The algorithm predicts blood-glucose response to thousands of foods based on gut microbiome information and other personal parameters.

      High blood sugar is linked to energy dips, excessive hunger and weight gain as well as increased risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

      To use the app, which went on sale in the US in 2017, users need to answer a questionnaire about their medical history, physical characteristics, lifestyle and diet. A stool-sample kit is then FedExed to the user, who sends it on to DayTwo’s lab. There the microbiome DNA is sequenced and the data is plugged into an advanced machine-learning algorithm.

      In about six to eight weeks, users receive a microbiome report and a six-month plan of personalized meal recommendations to help balance blood sugar.

      World’s first bone implants

      In August and December, doctors at Emek Medical Center in Afula performed rare bone implants – one on a man missing part of his arm bone and the second on a man missing five centimeters of his shinbone, both as the result of car accidents. Normally, the human body cannot restore bone segments, but revolutionary tissue-engineering technology developed by Haifa-based Bonus BioGroup enables growing semi-solid live bone tissue from the patient’s own fat cells. The tissue is then injected back into the patient’s body in the expectation that the missing bone fragment will be regenerated in around six weeks without any danger of implant rejection or the complications of traditional bone transplants. “This surgery is truly science fiction; it changes the entire game in orthopedics,” said Dr. Nimrod Rozen, head of orthopedics at Emek, who carried out the experimental procedure. In the future, the Bonus BioGroup regeneration technology could be used for a variety of bone-loss conditions, including bone cancer, for which there is currently no solution.

      Artificial cornea

      An early-stage Israeli ophthalmic medical devices startup developed a revolutionary artificial cornea implant that holds out hope to millions of blind and visually impaired people. The nanotech-based synthetic cornea by CorNeat Vision of Ra’anana proved successful in initial tests on animals. The company plans human implantations in Israel in mid-2018, and a larger clinical trial in the United States. According to the World Health Organization, diseases of the cornea are the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, affecting as many as 30 million people. “Unlike previous devices, which attempt to integrate optics into the native cornea, CorNeat’s implant leverages a virtual space under the conjunctiva that is rich with fibroblast cells, heals quickly and provides robust long-term integration,” said CorNeat Vision’s Almog Aley-Raz. The surgical procedure takes just 30 minutes. 

      Hernia surgery just got simpler

      In June, ISRAEL21c reported on a new tool developed by Via Surgical for attaching mesh to tissue, allowing surgeons to treat hernias with fewer complications, less pain and faster recovery. In the US alone, some five million people have a hernia – a protrusion of an organ or tissue through a weak spot in the abdomen or groin — according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Traditionally, open hernia-repair surgery involved stitching a mesh patch, or surrounding tissue, over the weak tissue. Today, many hernias are repaired laparoscopically, but because suturing through tiny laparoscopic incisions is difficult, most surgeons use a less ideal solution — screw-like tacks to secure the mesh to the abdominal wall or bone. Via Surgical’s unique FasTouch cartridge system, which received FDA approval in 2016, affixes prosthetic material to soft tissue. It is designed like sutures and delivered like tacks, with the goal of providing the best of both worlds for laparoscopic hernia repair. “Surgeons are very excited about it,” says Lena Levin, cofounder and CFO of Via Surgical. “Hernia repair is one of the most common surgeries.

      Screening newborns for autism

      Israeli engineer Raphael Rembrand developed a simple noninvasive way to screen newborns for signs of autism using the same instrument currently used to test infants’ hearing. The SensPD diagnostic test, now ready for clinical trials, uses optoacoustic emissions as an indicator of the baby’s overall sensory perception. It can be administered hours after birth, and because the inner-ear mechanism develops in the third trimester of pregnancy, one day it may even be possible to screen for autism spectrum disorders prenatally. Some three million children are diagnosed with autism every year. The earlier the condition is detected the better the possible outcome. Thirty years ago, Rembrand’s four-year-old son was diagnosed as autistic, but it was too late at this point for critical early-intervention therapies. “Applying interventions before the age of two results in better than 90% success rate in ingraining social skills for social integration,” says Rembrand.

      Reversing cognitive decline with cannabis

      In May, scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and from the University of Bonn in Germany announced that they had restored the memory performance of lab mice to a juvenile stage by administering a small quantity of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. The report in Nature Medicine showed that after giving low doses of THC to mice over a four-week period, the cognitive functions of 12- to 18-month-old mice treated with cannabis were just as good as the functions of two-month-old mice in the control group. Clinical trials on humans are to follow. A study by Therapix Biosciences presented in September to the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines’ Conference on Cannabinoids in Cologne, Germany, similarly suggested that THC can significantly reverse age-related cognitive impairment in old mice.

      Early diagnostic test for Parkinson’s

      This year, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Ph.D. student Suaad Abd-Elhadi won the Kaye Innovation Award for her diagnostic tool, ELISA, which detects Parkinson’s disease at a much earlier stage than existing tools, and better tracks progression of the disease and response to therapy. Parkinson’s disease, affecting seven to 10 million people worldwide, is characterized by stiffness, tremors and shaking. Medication to control symptoms is costly. Currently there are no standard diagnostic tests for Parkinson’s other than clinical information provided by the patient and the findings of a neurological exam. Once Parkinson’s is revealed, the neurodegenerative disease is usually already progressing. Abd-Elahdi’s diagnostic tool detects the alpha-synuclein protein closely associated with Parkinson’s disease, and could lead to a minimally invasive and cost-effective way to diagnose the disorder in time to improve the lives of patients. Abd-Elhadi has demonstrated a proof of concept and is analyzing a large cohort of samples as part of a clinical study. Through its Yissum technology transfer company, Hebrew University has signed an agreement with Integra Holdings for further development and commercialization.

      Hip-Hope cushions falls in elderly

      Each year, nearly 3 million seniors worldwide are hospitalized due to hip fractures – many experiencing a drastic deterioration in quality of life. The direct annual cost of treating hip fractures exceeds $15 billion in the US alone. Rather than focus on better ways to treat the broken bone, Israeli engineer Amatsia Raanan decided to use cutting-edge technology to avoid injury in the first place. He and three cofounders developed Hip-Hope, a smart wearable device designed as a belt. Once Hip-Hope’s multi-sensor detection system senses an impending collision with a ground surface, two large airbags are deployed instantly from each side of the belt to cushion the hips, and a connected smartphone app sends an automatic alert message to predetermined recipients. The 1-kilo (2.2-pound) device, due to go on sale shortly, even has a built-in emergency call button that the user can activate in any situation of distress. Hip-Hope is certified by the CE (Europe), FDA (United States), Health-Canada and AMAR (Israel). In studies carried out at a major Canadian lab, the Israeli device was proven to reduce impact by 90%.

      An injection that melts fat

      Jerusalem-based Raziel Therapeutics has developed an injection that melts fat cells and postpones the proliferation of new fat cells. The medication generates heat to use up some of the free fatty acid that’s produced by fat cells in the body, which in turn reduces fat tissue. Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic, and the World Obesity Federation predicts that by 2025, a third of the world’s population will be overweight or obese. Raziel’s technology, which targets specific areas in the body, is now in clinical trials in the US. Preliminary results show a 30 to 50 percent reduction in subcutaneous fat at the treated site after a single injection. Each treatment lasts between six and nine months, but treatment could be more effective in those who change their lifestyle in parallel. An audio-analysis technology developed at Ben-Gurion University can assess sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) while the user is awake, at home and not hooked up to machines or sensors. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 22 million Americans suffer from the malady and that as many as 80% of moderate to severe OSA cases go undiagnosed. Currently, patients are diagnosed using overnight polysomnography (PSG) to record brain waves, blood oxygen level, heart rate, breathing, and eye and leg movements via electrodes and sensors. The new system, which does not require contact sensors, could be installed onto a smartphone or other device that utilizes ambient microphones. It analyzes speech during waking hours and records and evaluates overnight breathing sounds using new technology that is simpler and significantly less expensive than PSG. The researchers have tested the system on more than 350 subjects and are working toward commercialization. 

      First implant for heart failure

      In July, a 72-year old Canadian man became the world’s first recipient of an Israeli-developed implant to treat diastolic heart failure – a fairly common condition for which there is no effective long-term treatment. The minimally invasive surgery was performed at Rambam Health Care Campus, a medical center in Haifa. The CORolla implant was developed by cardiologists at Israeli startup CorAssist Cardiovascular of Haifa. The elastic device is implanted inside the left ventricle and applies direct expansion force on the ventricle wall to help the heart fill with blood. The patient, Robert MacLachlan, had run out of treatment options in Canada for his diastolic heart failure. His wife read about CORolla on the Internet and contacted Rambam. 

      Renewing damaged cells

      Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science discovered a molecule in newborn hearts that appears to control the process of renewing heart muscle. The findings, published in June in Nature, point to new directions for research on restoring the function of damaged cardiac cells. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. The Agrin molecule seems to “unlock” the renewal process and enable heart-muscle repair – never seen before outside the womb. Normally, after a heart attack the damaged muscle cells called cardiomyocytes are replaced by scar tissue, which cannot pump blood and therefore place a burden on the remaining cardiomyocytes. Following a single injection of Agrin, damaged mouse hearts were almost completely healed and fully functional. Scar tissue was dramatically reduced, and replaced by living heart tissue that restored the heart’s pumping function. The research team has begun pre-clinical studies in larger animals.

      Read the source article at ISRAEL21c


      At Stanford, Israeli brain scientist thinks thoughts about thinking

      Ask Adi Mizrahi if he loves his work and his answer is a no-brainer.

      “I’m absolutely convinced I have the best job in the world,” said Mizrahi, a neurobiologist, award-winning scientist and the director of the Hebrew University’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences.

      Mizrahi, 47, now on sabbatical at Stanford University, is taking a year to talk to other scientists and learn about cutting-edge research techniques he can bring back to Israel. It’s part of his philosophy of interdisciplinary science, which he believes is crucial for understanding the brain.

      “I think it is a multidisciplinary problem,” he said. “You cannot neglect one side and expect to solve the problem.”

      It’s an approach he uses at the Center for Brain Sciences, which brings together physicists, neurobiologists, psychologists, computer scientists and engineers to collaborate on research. The cross-discipline point of view is essential because the brain is just too complicated to be understood by one approach. “If you only look at behavior, you’ll never know what the cells are doing,” Mizrahi said.

      Mizrahi, the author or co-author of more than 25 papers, with titles such as “Distinct Spatiotemporal Response Properties of Excitatory Versus Inhibitory Neurons in the Mouse Auditory Cortex,” does what he calls “basic research.” That means that it’s not dedicated to finding practical solutions for immediate problems. “We do it for the sake of knowledge,” he said.

      “We do it for the sake of knowledge.”

      But sometimes results come anyway. For example, the center — not Mizrahi personally — has made splashy headlines for therapies such as deep brain stimulation, a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

      In 2009, Mizrahi won the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research, which goes to a scientist under 45 at Hebrew University or the University of Sydney, in alternate years. The award honored Mizrahi for his work on new approaches that are “essential steps towards therapies which will allow the regeneration of brain structures from stem cell technology,” according to the prize website.

      Hebrew University’s brain sciences center was founded in 2009 with $20 million in funding from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation. In 2015 this was increased by another $30 million, a hefty chunk of the center’s $150 million initial budget. Next year, the center will move into a new 156,000-square-foot home, the Goodman Brain Sciences building. (The new building will be the largest neuroscience center in Israel and one of the most ambitious in the world, according to Hebrew University.)

      Until then, Mizrahi says his time as a visiting professor at Stanford, where he can focus on studying and learning about techniques like revolutions in RNA sequencing, is a gift and a privilege. But he is also looking to the future, including to students he and others are training back at the Center for Brain Sciences.

      He said it’s those “the scientists of tomorrow” who are growing up within the interdisciplinary approach, who will be able to take research even further with their intuitive understanding of how to approach the brain from many points of view. But once they become scientists, they’ll find it’s a hard but rewarding road, where being ready to fail again and again is a prerequisite for the job.

      “Science is not for everyone,” Mizrahi said, even if he’s sure that it’s definitely for him.

      Read the source article at


      Dr. Merav Stern

      Dr. Merav Stern, a Hebrew University alumna (B.S., M.S., Ph.D.) is the recipient of a highly competitive postdoctoral study abroad grant through the Mortimer Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program. The STEM Leadership Program, which advances research excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, provides select opportunities for top Israeli researchers to conduct their postdoctoral work in the United States. Dr. Stern, who is developing her expertise in the field of applied mathematics in relation to brain sciences, is currently pursuing her postdoctoral research at the University of Washington in Seattle.

      She received her Ph.D. from Hebrew University’s award-winning Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation, in collaboration with Columbia University’s Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. Her Ph.D. dissertation won the Wiener prize for excellence in research.

      Dr. Stern is striving for a deeper understanding of how our brains process information. Her work seeks to identify brain areas that alter their activity during the course of learning a visually-guided behavioral task. She further characterizes these changes and provides assessments for each area of the brain, observing the intrinsic changes in comparison to alterations produced by external influences from other cortical areas.

      Her unique scientific approach incorporates a theoretical aspect to the study of neural network activity. These pioneering investigations are taking place within the framework of the Sackler Scholars Program in Integrative Biophysics. Under the auspices of this program, Dr. Stern launched a new collaboration between researchers at the University of Washington and experimental laboratory scientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.


      Professor Adi Mizrahi

      Professor Adi Mizrahi is the co-Director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC), and is a professor with the Department of Neurobiology at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. He is the recipient of multiple awards and fellowships, including The Yigal Alon Fellowship of the Israeli Council of Higher education and the Bernard Cwikel award for Life Sciences and Health Sciences. In 2009, Professor Mizrahi received the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research; this prestigious award is reserved for outstanding scientists under 40 years of age. The Cowen Prize recognized his contributions to understanding the formation of nerve connections in the central nervous system. These findings are relevant to the development of advanced new techniques for repairing the central nervous system. In 2017, Professor Mizrahi was named The Eric Roland Chair in Brain Sciences.

      Professor Mizrahi heads the Laboratory of Neuronal and Circuit Plasticity at ELSC where he and his team developed models that facilitate and track the process of new neuron formation in the brain. His laboratory studies both the structure and the function of neurons in two main sensory modalities: olfaction and audition. Through this pioneering work, they are identifying and exploring the key steps by which new neurons become connected to pre-existing neurons. These studies are essential to create effective therapies capable of regenerating brain structures based on stem cell technology, thus restoring function in brains that have been damaged by disease or injury.

      Professor Mizrahi earned his Ph.D. summa cum laude in Neuroscience from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and he completed his Postdoctoral studies at Duke University Medical Center where he had the distinction of being a Howard Hughes postdoctoral fellow and also received a Human Frontier Science Program Fellowship. Professor Mizrahi’s findings have been published in many highly ranked international scientific journals. He frequently speaks at professional conferences worldwide.


      Aviv Mezer

      Dr. Aviv Mezer joined the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC), at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the fall of 2014.

      Dr. Mezer’s lab, the Belgian Friends Laboratory for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases, studies the relationship between brain anatomy, function, and behavior in the normal population and in neurological disorders. The lab’s work is focused on detecting differences between individual brains using quantitative MRI methods.

      Dr. Mezer did his graduate and undergraduate studies in biochemistry at Tel-Aviv University. He then worked with Professor Yaniv Assaf, researching diffusion and resting state MRI at Tel Aviv University. Before starting the faculty position at the Hebrew University, Dr. Mezer was a postdoc and a research associate in Professor Brian Wandell’s lab at Stanford University.


      Dr. Amir Amedi

      Turning Sound and Touch into Sight

      Dr. Amir Amedi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) is vigorously pursuing a two-pronged mission: to help the world’s 45 million blind people and over 100 million people with impaired vision function better in daily life by creating innovative sensory substitution technologies for them; and to elucidate the extent of the adult brain’s flexibility.

      Most recently, Dr. Amedi worked to map brains of the blind to solve mysteries of human brain specialization. By studying the brain activity of blind people, Dr. Amedi and other 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.



      Dr. Daniel-Robert Chebat

      Dr. Daniel-Robert Chebat is a post-doctoral fellow at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC), working in the Department of Medical Neurobiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  His research focuses on neural correlates of real and virtual navigation in people who are blind, using auditory and tactile sensory substitution devices.  Dr. Chebat works in Dr. Amir Amedi’s Laboratory of Multisensory Research, where the “virtual cane” device, dubbed “EyeCane,” was developed.  The hand-held virtual cane conveys information to the user through a series of vibrations allowing for the reconstruction of an accurate image of the surroundings, giving blind individuals the ability to safely navigate their environment.

      A frequent guest-lecturer in Israel and Canada, Dr. Chebat’s research has been published in a variety of journals.  He has been interviewed by Israeli and international television and radio news outlets and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards.  Dr. Chebat is a native of Canada and holds an M.A. degree in neuroanatomy and a Ph.D. in experimental neuropsychology from the Université de Montréal.




      Dr. Michael London

      Transforming our understanding of brain activity

      The brain is constantly abuzz with electrical signals transferring information between brain cells. The results of this intense electrical activity are the perceptions, thoughts, ideas, decisions, emotions, and movements that constitute human life. Deciphering the code that these cells use is one of the dominant challenges facing neuroscientists. Cracking the brain’s code—and discovering how neurons compute and transmit information–is the focus of the Neural Code Laboratory at ELSC.

      The Neural Code Laboratory is being directed by Dr. Michael (Mickey) London, who joined ELSC as a Senior Lecturer. The remarkable young Hebrew University alumnus earned his B.S. and Ph.D. at the university, completing his doctorate under the supervision of Professor Idan Segev at the Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation, which has become a vital part of ELSC. Dr. London conducted his post-doctoral work at University College, London (2002-2010), first as a Human Frontiers post doctoral fellow, and subsequently as an MRC senior research fellow and a Wellcome Trust research fellow. Working in the laboratory of Professor Michael Hausser, Dr. London refined his multi-disciplinary approach, focusing on the neural code and single neuron computation.

      Professor Eilon Vaadia, director of the ELSC stated: “Cracking the brain’s code—discovering how neurons compute and transmit information—is one of the most exciting areas of scientific research today. We were very pleased when Michael London, who has already established a reputation for himself in this area, joined ELSC.”

      Combining expertise in theory with cutting-edge practical skills, Dr. London has developed methodologies helpful to investigating how single neurons process information and communicate. His research, published in Nature (July 2010), is transforming scientific understanding of the impact of the activity of individual neurons on the larger neuron population. Dr. London has demonstrated that even the addition of a single electrical spike to one neuron can produce a significant effect on brain activity. This original and unexpected finding has led scientists to reexamine long-held assumptions about how information is coded and translated into behavior.

      Dr. London plans to study the effects of modifying signals while observing their behavior. This type of research was unimaginable before recent technological advances in optogenetics and two-photon imaging. A $ 400,000 two-photon microscope at Hebrew University is advancing these efforts: this microscope enables scientists to examine a live specimen and image living tissue up to a very high depth of about one millimeter. Thus scientists can image brain activity as it taking place—and without hurting laboratory animals. Dr. London’s goal is to image activity in a local neural network, identify and record the activity of an individual neuron that is participating in a specific computation, and manipulate activity in that single neuron, assessing its impact on coding and behavior.

      During 2011, Dr. London, along with his wife Niva, decided the time was right to move from London to Israel with their three children: Roni, Gilad, and Noga. A sought-after scientist, he considered offers from several universities and chose Hebrew University and ELSC as “the natural place for me.” As a Hebrew University alumnus, he appreciated the excellence of Hebrew University neuroscience. “I’ve always felt like I’ve shared a common language with the scientists here,” says Dr. London. “Hebrew University has always given me a feeling of inspiration.”

      Dr. London’s laboratory will continue to study how neurons communicate, transfer information and compute. “The results of breaking the genetic code have revolutionized the fields of biology and medicine,” said Dr. London, “and we’re only just starting to explore these consequences. We still have a way to go, of course, but I’m excited to be part of this.”

      Dr. London’s work is partially funded by a generous gift from AFHU board member Brindell Gottleib of Los Angeles. For further information about how you can help to support pioneering brain science research at ELSC, please contact AFHU’s national office or an office in your region


      Dr. Ami Citri

      Studying the genetic networks that underlie addiction

      Dr. Ami Citri was born and raised in Jerusalem to a family of biological scientists. Ami’s mother, Dr. Naomi Zyk, and father, Professor Nathan Citri, worked together at the Hebrew University’s medical school, studying the enzymes responsible for bacterial resistance to antibiotics. His brother, Dr. Yoav Citri, completed Ph.D. studies at the Life Sciences Institute of the Hebrew University and was later a senior scientist at The Weizmann Institute, studying the genes enabling brain plasticity.

      Following his military service as an intelligence officer, Ami studied biology at the Hebrew University in the “Etgar” program for exceptional students, finishing his degree requirements summa cum laude. He continued his M.S. and Ph.D. studies under the supervision of Professor Yosef Yarden at the Weizmann Institute, studying the molecular mechanisms leading to the rapid division of cancer cells. During these studies, Ami identified novel approaches to therapeutically target cancer cells and developed new methodologies to study genetic networks important for the function of all human cells. For his postdoctoral training, Ami moved to Stanford University, to work with Professor Robert Malenka, a world-renowned leader in the study of brain plasticity in the context of drug addiction. In the Malenka lab, Ami acquired experience in molecular and cellular neurophysiology relevant to biological models of drug addiction, and developed new molecular approaches to study genetic and neuronal networks important for the formation of addiction.

      In August 2012, Ami established his independent research group at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Alexander Silberman Institute for Life Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he focuses on studying the genetic networks that underlie addiction.


      Mysterious Pediatric Neurological Disease Traced to a Single Gene Error

      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 humans

      August 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



      Mrs. Lily Safra Dedicates New Home of Hebrew University’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences

      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 center

      July 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.


      Researchers Get Head Start on Gene That Protects the Brain from Epilepsy

      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.


      Research Breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and other Neurodegenerative Diseases

      Every day at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), researchers are working to address the causes of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Signs and symptoms can include memory loss, disorientation, and mental confusion; however, HU researchers have discovered ways to reduce the potential risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by studying the way in which food affects brain health.

      Hebrew University scientists are collaborating every day to explore the brain’s complexities, cure neurological diseases faster, and bring life-changing innovations to the world. American Friends of the Hebrew University (AFHU) supports these efforts because we believe science fuels a brighter future.

      Knowledge moves us…to discover, to grow, and to advance humanity.

      Explore what science for the global good looks like.

      One example of how Hebrew University researchers are revolutionizing neuroscience is mapping brains of the blind.

      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.

      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.

      However, 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).

      SSDs take information from one sense and present it to 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, blind users can even “read” letters by identifying their distinct soundscape.

      “These devices can help the blind in their everyday life,” explains Professor 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.”


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

      Dr. Ami Citri of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences received the $100,000 Adelis Brain Research Award for outstanding work in the field of experience-dependent plasticity in the brain and its impact on diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders and addiction. òîé öéúøéThe Citri lab develops unique multi-disciplinary approaches to studying the encoding of experiences in the brain, and has developed a special system to study the basis of selective attention, which was recognized by the Adelis Award.

      The Adelis Award is aimed at recognizing and supporting research in Israel which will significantly advance the knowledge and understanding of the brain in health and pathologies. Candidates were reviewed and the winners were selected by a committee of distinguished experts in brain research together with prominent representatives of the public.

      The Adelis Brain Research Award is one of two major neuroscience prizes were awarded during the BrainTech 2015 Conference in Tel Aviv to promising researchers from Israel and the U.S., marking IBT’s commitment to excellence in neuroscience research. The prizes acknowledge the work of neuroscientists and mathematicians whose research advance our understanding of the human brain as well as solutions, treatments, and cures for various brain-related ailments.

      The conference was organized by Israel’s brain initiative, Israel Brain Technologies, a non-profit organization whose mission is to advance Israel’s neurotechnology industry by accelerating neuro-innovation and fostering international collaboration. BrainTech 2015 is a global conference to explore ways in which brain technology will change the human landscape. The conference brings together thought-leaders from around the world to advance neuroscience and neurotechnology – entrepreneurs, neuroscientists, clinicians, investors, startups, multinationals and policymakers and joins stakeholders from around the world to support the entire lifecycle of innovation in brain technologies.

      “Brain-related illness such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, brain trauma and others know no borders, and neither can their cures,” added Dr. Rafi Gidron, Chairman of Israel Brain Technologies. “By the same token, creativity, invention, innovation, and imagination also know no borders and therefore, initiatives seeking the next big thing in brain technology should by definition be global endeavors.”

      President Shimon Peres, whose vision of turning Israel into a worldwide braintech hub – from “Startup Nation” to “Brain Nation” – inspired the creation of IBT, laid out his vision for the future of brain technology during a “fireside chat” at the conference. “We have in Israel right now over a hundred companies that are dealing with the brain, we have brain faculties in every university,” said President Peres. “This is only the beginning. We are a startup in the brain.”

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