Counting (on) Sheep: Gene therapy research on visually impaired sheep now safe for human trials

      In 2009, a group of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers led by Ron Ofri, a Professor of Veterinary Ophthalmology, along with teams from Hadassah Medical Center (led by Professor Eyal Banin) and the Volcani Agricultural Research Organization (led by Professor Elisha Gootwine), identified a herd of sheep suffering from day blindness.

      Professor Ofri examining a sheep

      As the name implies, affected lambs are blind at day, and visual at night. The researchers characterized the disease and were able to demonstrate that it is caused by a mutation identical to one causing achromatopsia in humans. Achromatopsia is a similar disease, in which the absence of retinal cone function causes loss of color vision, severely reduced visual resolution, and legal blindness in human patients. More interestingly, the specific form of the disease discovered in sheep is the one that is most common in Israeli patients, and in the Jerusalem-area alone, the prevalence of achromatopsia is as high as 1:5,000 people.

      Because of the similarity between the ovine(sheep) and human diseases, Professor Ron Ofri and his colleagues began gene therapy trials in the affected animals. A virus carrying a copy of the mutated gene was injected beneath the retina and began producing the missing protein.  The treatment resulted in restored vision in treated eyes, while untreated eyes remain blind. Even more remarkable is that the oldest surviving experimental animals are still visual more than six years after a single injection, a significant scientific and medical achievement that did not escape the attention of the prestigious journal Human Gene Therapy which featured Professor Ofri’s accomplishment.


      Professor Ofri and colleague performing procedure

      Based on these results, showing both long-term effectiveness and safety of treatment in the sheep models, the United States FDA last year granted permission to begin clinical trials in human patients (NCT02935517), and several medical centers in the U.S. have already begun treating achromatopsia patients. The Israeli Ministry of Health has just granted similar approval, and clinical trials will begin shortly in Israel. These approvals, coming less than 10 years since the discovery of the original sheep herd, represent a remarkable example of a translational, bench to patient bedside study, where successful scientific results are applied to restore vision in blind human patients.



      Koalas, horses and pygmy goats (oh my!) in Israeli-UC Davis vet team-up

      A list of the collaborative work between the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine — the only veterinary school in Israel — reads something like a “who’s who” of the animal kingdom.

      Nearly 65,000 cats, dogs, horses, cows and goats (including pygmy and Nubian varieties) are cared for annually at the Davis and Rehovot facilities, along with the occasional gorilla, koala and wallaby.

      Though 7,300 miles apart, the universities have been collaborating on research, grants, academic papers and faculty exchanges for more than three decades, thanks to support from an endowment at the S.F.-based Koret Foundation.

      Read the source article at


      Not Just a One Trick Pony

      This is a story about an amazing horse that demonstrates the expertise and dedication of the doctors and staff at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Veterinary Hospital.

      At the beginning of the year,  Keshet, then a three-week-old foal, was brought into the horse department at the Veterinary Hospital because of a sudden paralysis she experienced in all four of her legs. After a comprehensive diagnosis, which included blood tests, spinal cord sampling (CSF), X-rays, and a CT scan, doctors found an infection that pressed her spinal cord. This type of infection is very rare in horses and veterinary literature reports only one case.

      Despite the critical condition of young Keshet, her owner decided to treat her in the hopes the horse could live a happy and healthy life. Keshet had two emergency surgeries and was treated with high doses of medicine and liquids.

      After five days, when Keshet was stronger but could still not stand, she was scheduled for another emergency operation, to clean the infection again. But a few hours before the surgery, she showed repeated attempts to stand up and on the morning of the scheduled operation, she managed to stand on her own and was able to nurse on her own.

      Since then, Keshet continues to show incredible improvement every day. She can get up and lie down on her own, walk, nurse, eat hay and drink water. A later CT scan showed the infection was immensely diminished but still present. Luckily, the infection was not straining her spinal cord, so the doctors decided not to operate but to switch antibiotics. While expensive, the new medicine is essential because it penetrates the bones effectively.

      Keshet was also fitted with a brace to help stabilize her right front leg. After a short amount of time, the brace was removed and Keshet is able to move slowly and carefully.

      This spirited and persistent little horse is an inspiration to her main caregiver, Dr, Anat Schneiderman and to many who hear her story. While she still has a long way to go in her recovery,  Keshet continues to fight and get better day by day.


      Koret School of Veterinary Medicine

      Hebrew University’s Koret School of Veterinary MedicineIsrael’s only veterinary school, was founded in 1985. Professor Kalman Perk established the school, which is part of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. Since its foundation, it has become a renowned and dynamic school, offering a four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. The Koret School is located both on the campus of the Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot and at the Veterinary Teaching University Hospital campus in Rishon Le Zion.

      Each year, the veterinary hospital treats over 10,000 cases, with a variety of patients from dogs and cats to rabbits, lions, birds, not to mention koala bears, horses and more.

      The Hebrew University Veterinary Hospital is the only teaching hospital in Israel and offers the highest level of veterinary care to small and large pets, including an emergency and intensive care unit, veterinary specialists in all fields of veterinary medicine, hospitalization, a laboratory and advanced equipment.

      With modern facilities and equipment, the hospital is staffed by more than 45 veterinarians and a comprehensive range of internationally and nationally recognized specialists.

      To learn more, please visit the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine here.


      American Friends of the Hebrew University Opens Philadelphia Office

      Seth M. Bloom, experienced Jewish communal leader, to spearhead Philadelphia outreach in support of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

      PHILADELPHIA—July 24, 2017 American Friends of the Hebrew University (AFHU), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to raising support for, and awareness of, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, announced the launch of a new Center City Philadelphia office to serve the greater Philadelphia community. This office will complement AFHU’s six current offices in regions throughout the United States, as well as the operations of its national headquarters in New York. AFHU’s Philadelphia office will be headed by Mr. Seth M. Bloom, an experienced development professional with close ties to Israel and the American Jewish community.

      Herb Sachs, AFHU national board member, remarked: “We respect and appreciate the steadfast commitment of Philadelphians, including philanthropic leaders and the academic community, to Israel and the nation’s foundational institutions. In opening the Philadelphia office, AFHU is signaling its intention of making our community pivotal to the university’s future growth. Hebrew University is an outstanding research university. By extending our roots and relationships, we will improve lives the world over.”

      The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in independent surveys of the top institutions in academia, ranks first in Israel and among the top 100 universities worldwide. Founded in 1918 by visionaries such as Albert Einstein and Chaim Weizmann, the Hebrew University is a multicultural and pluralistic institution devoted to innovation and achievement across seven academic Faculties. Among its many accomplishments, Hebrew University faculty and alumni received eight Nobel Prizes.

      Over the years, Hebrew University has developed productive collaborations and partnerships with leading U.S. universities, including the University of Pennsylvania. The Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine was founded by the Alpha Omega Fraternity, with support from U. Penn alumni and faculty. The D. Walter Cohen Middle East Center for Dental Education at Hebrew University was established in tribute to Dr. D. Walter Cohen, former Dean of the U. Penn School of Dental Medicine.  The Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at Hebrew University has maintained an ongoing relationship with U. Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and other exchanges exist between these two leading universities. The Hebrew University and Thomas Jefferson University also initiate academic partnerships.

      Seth Bloom began his career as Assistant Director of the Jewish Federation of Delaware in 1989, subsequently becoming a Planned Giving and Major Gifts Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. In 2000, he expanded his professional portfolio as Vice President of WPO & Associates Consulting and later as the Founder and President of Bloom Metz Consulting. He has spent the past several years with the American Associates of Ben-Gurion of the Negev. As a professional consultant, he has provided hands-on service and supplementary leadership to more than 150 non-profit organizations.

      “Seth Bloom will play an important role in our efforts to advance higher education and research in Israel. AFHU will ensure that our already strong community of supporters in the greater Philadelphia area can become actively engaged in the transformative work of the university,” stated Beth Asnien McCoy, National Executive Director of AFHU.

      “Recognizing the special relationship that people who live in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region have with Israel, I’m thrilled to be representing Hebrew University in this new position,” said Bloom.

      Seth Bloom can be reached at the AFHU office located at 2100 Arch Street, Suite 455, Philadelphia, PA 19103; telephone 215.330.6722 or email [email protected].


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