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.



A mathematical wormhole

Animals often rely on their sense of smell to locate food.  It’s a law of nature: the first one to reach a food source has a better chance of surviving than those who do not.  But how exactly do their brains translate scent and then navigate towards it?

In new research published this week in Nature Communications, Hebrew University of Jerusalem neurogeneticist Dr. Alon Zaslaver and his team reveal the complex mathematical calculations that animals—even those as simple as worms—do to find their next meal.

Think of the game “Hot or Cold?”, says Zaslaver. “Imagine you’re in a huge dark house and a chocolate cake has just been taken out of the oven. To find the cake, you’ll probably sniff around to see what direction the cake scent is coming from and begin walking in that direction.”

Turns out, worms employ this “Hot or Cold” computation in their search for food—but with an added twist.  First, a neural cell picks up the scent of food and set the worm on a course.  As long as the scent intensity keeps getting stronger, this neural cell will remain active and direct the worm to keep moving forward.  Otherwise, it will instruct the worm to stop and look for a better path.

But how does it calculate that better path? Enter a second neural cell which acts like Waze’s “recalculating route” function. This second cell senses “derivatives,” meaning it calculates whether the odor intensity is positive, and getting “hotter”, or negative, and getting “colder.” If the cell detects a negative derivative, it understands that it’s getting further from the chocolate cake and needs to recalculate its route. This cell constantly computes new scent data to detect whether the current odor intensity is getting stronger or weaker and charts a path based on these new differential measurements. With a negative reading, the second cell will tell the worm to chart a new path whereas a positive one will tell it to stay the course.

This combination is a winning one, according to Zaslaver and Hebrew University graduate students Eyal Itskovits and Rotem Ruach.  The two-part system of charting a course based on an initial scent measurement and then conducting follow up checks (all the time comparing them to the original measurement) to compute whether scent intensity numbers are going up or down is not only an impressive feat for a worm but a very smart and effective method in the search for food.

“These worms teach us an important lesson”, shares Zaslaver.  When looking to solve a problem, a quick solution is often attractive.  “However, we need a backup system in place that monitors whether we are indeed moving in the ‘right’ direction, even if that new path differs from the one we originally set out on”, concluded Dr. Zaslaver.

“A worm uses only two neural cells to perform this critical calculation.  Imagine what we humans should be able to do with our 100 billion neural cells”.


CITATION: Concerted pulsatile and graded neural dynamics enables efficient chemotaxis in C. elegans Eyal Itskovits, Rotem Ruach, Alon Zaslaver.Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05151.


FUNDING: The work was funded by a grant from the ERC, ISF, and ICORE.


Israeli stem cell startup raises $4 million for chemo effectiveness technology

NewStem Ltd., a Jerusalem-based biotech startup with a precision-medicine technology that it says can increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy, said Monday it has raised $4 million in seed financing from a US-based company.

The US firm is Hollywood Media Corp., a shell company whose shares are traded over the counter. On Monday, Hollywood Media, which previously operated in ad sales, said that it is undergoing a strategic transformation via its investment in NewStem, and refocusing on NewStem’s diagnostic technology. The US company is replacing its officers and directors, and intends to change its name to NovelStem International Corp.

The funding in NewStem will be in two stages, with $2 million in cash upfront and the remaining amount depending on milestones. The US firm will get a 20 percent stake in the firm, rising to 30% once the milestones are met and new funds are injected, NewStem CEO Ayelet Dilion-Mashiah said in a phone interview.


NewStem is a spin-off of Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University.


The Israeli startup’s technology can predict patients’ resistance to chemotherapy, allowing for better, targeted cancer treatments and the potential to reduce such resistance, the company says.

Drug resistance is a major cause of treatment failure in cancer chemotherapy. In present clinical practice, resistance to chemotherapy is only recognized after the first course of treatment has been completed, once no major clinical response is observed. In nearly 50% of all cancer cases, resistance to chemotherapy already exists before initiation of the treatment.

Treatment of patients with ineffective chemotherapy results in major health hazards, unnecessary suffering and increased costs.

The company hopes the funding will enable it to get to market with its technology within three years, Dilion-Mashiah said. Because the technology is used for diagnostics support, it does not need all the regulatory permits that are generally required for medications, she explained.

NewStem CEO Ayelet Dilion-Mashiah (Courtesy)


NewStem’s technology, developed by its chief science officer Professor Nissim Benvenisty, is based on the harvesting of human haploid embryonic stem cells. These cells enable the company to create cell mutations to test chemotherapies on. The mutations that are not killed by the chemotherapy agents are those that are resistant to the treatment.

This data is fed into a library created by the company. Comparing this database with each patient’s tumor genetic profile will allow for the prediction of resistance to chemotherapy prior to the commencement of treatment, the company said.

With the funding, NewStem now has a “solid long-term partner” and “the capital, expertise and strategic counsel to further advance NewStem’s products and solutions for chemotherapy targeting,” Dilion-Mashiah said.

In addition to NewStem’s in-house development relating to diagnosis od chemotherapy resistance, the company is seeking to use its haploid technology to enter into collaborations with “leading pharmaceutical companies or promising startups” to develop medications for genetic disorders and for reproductive purposes, the company said in a statement.

“NewStem is an excellent new addition to the dozens of academic-born startups rooted in the strong life science research at the Hebrew University,” Yaron Daniely, the CEO and president of Yissum, said. “This investment provides strong support for NewStem’s goal of revolutionizing the treatment of cancer through personalized, patient-centered care.”

Benvenisty is a professor of genetics at the Hebrew University, and the Director of the Azrieli Center for Stem Cells and Genetic Research. His research focuses on stem cell biology, tissue engineering, human genetics, and cancer research.

Yissum serves as a bridge between academic research at the university and the community of entrepreneurs, investors, and industry.

Read the source article at The Times of Israel


You’re missing the full story on medical cannabis

We’d all like to think that cannabis is a potential solution for specific, difficult-to-treat medical conditions – such as neuropathic pain or inflammatory disease – for which we lack ideal treatments. After all, it would be poetic if nature’s wisdom provided the ideal medicine we have not yet designed ourselves. That may be why the level of hype, hope, anger and backlash around medical cannabis in popular culture has reached a feverish pitch – but the truth is more prosaic than poetic.

Despite anecdotal reports otherwise, data from a growing number of peer-reviewed studies show that the whole-plant cannabis accessible to researchers does not perform consistently as a viable treatment for specific conditions. Furthermore, mainstream cannabis culture seems to proclaim the notion that cannabis is a panacea, pushing public perception of its efficacy far beyond what science has validated. Sorry to be buzzkills (pun intended), but the term herbal cannabis describes a class of plants, not a tailored therapy for a particular indication or a group of indications. This problem is compounded by the barriers patients and researchers face in accessing tailored cannabis varieties with diverse – and perhaps questionable – chemistry.

As we see it, there are two main paths that should be pursued in parallel by the research community to realize the full potential and promise of cannabinoids as legitimate medicine. Both will be productive as our understanding of the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) continues to grow through dedicated research. One is modifying isolated plant-derived and semi-synthetic cannabinoid compounds that can be developed into medicines to target the ECS. Another, which we’ll explore in more detail here, breeding whole plants for more precisely targeted combinations of compounds to increase their therapeutic utility.

Given the types of whole plant cannabis that are widely available around the world today, writing a prescription that reads “cannabis” is about as specific as writing a prescription for “pills”; yet, it doesn’t need to be this way. It’s possible to breed plants that yield tailored ratios of very diverse compounds and therefore, it’s possible to imagine a time when cannabis plants consistently produce material that synergistically serves as effective and safe medicines.

When it comes to adapting cannabis for medical use, it is important to distinguish the generic term from carefully-tailored and standardized “cultivars” (cultivated-varieties) or “chemovars” (chemical-varieties) with well-characterized and tested phytochemical profiles. Compared to other compounds, individual phytocannabinoids (cannabinoid compounds from plants) tend to act very differently on our bodies’ ECS. Some even cause seemingly opposite effects. Moreover, like many treatments, some phytocannabinoids may have a biphasic dosing effect, meaning their effects at higher doses may be the opposite of their effects at lower doses. This is true, for example, of two of the best-known cannabinoids. At low doses, THC may be a potent anti-depressant known to induce hyperphagia (over-eating or “munchies”), but at higher doses, it can exacerbate depression, may stimulate anxiety, and triggers hypophagia (loss of appetite). Like THC, CBD’s mode of operation is also often biphasic. To make matters even more complex, these compounds have been shown to work differently when combined than when isolated and tested individually.

Scientific inquiry in the cannabinoid field has consistently been motivated by asking “what if,” and we must continue to ask that question.

What if plants were bred such that they contained specific compounds in specific quantities and tailored ratios to hit the right disease targets with minimal adverse effects?

We’re now able to advance such targeting by enhancing our understanding of why our bodies respond to cannabinoids at all. Early studies of whole plant cannabis led to the 1964 discovery of tetrahydrocannabinol. That eventually helped us identify interactions with the ECS, which is present in every organ and affects nearly all physiological processes. These studies during the past 50+ years have laid the foundation for cannabinoid medicine.

Prominent scientists from the US National Institutes of Health focused on ECS function have summed up well what is so exciting about the system: “…modulating the ECS holds therapeutic promise for practically all human diseases.” To fully harness its potential, we must look beyond what we know from cannabis – building upon that foundation and knowledge – and identify the safest and most efficient means to modulate the ECS to achieve optimal therapeutic results.

Efforts to transform herbal cannabis into an effective medicine have taken significant strides in recent years, as evidenced by scientific publications highlighting the pharmacological properties of novel cannabis chemovars. This description of herbal cannabis as particular chemovars is critical if it is to be considered as legitimate therapy by physicians.

A group of Canadian doctors recently warned that there is little to no research supporting the efficacy of cannabis, which is very disturbing for those of us who know there is great value in modulating ECS activity to address specific diseases and other afflictions. Our disappointment is not directed at the physicians; rather, we are frustrated that the herbal cannabis used for almost all published studies has made such conclusions inevitable. We can unlock this potential phytochemical diversity through a directed breeding program. Fortunately, innovative breeding work is now taking place that will increase the likelihood that study results will align with the hopes and expectations of those looking for cannabis-derived treatment options.

However, the possibilities don’t stop with plants. While we breed specific, targeted cannabis chemovars, we should ask what if we also modified cannabis-derived compounds to more accurately and effectively hit challenging disease targets as has been done for centuries with other remarkable plants?

This article was co-authored by Gary Hiller, President and COO of Phytecs, Inc.

Joseph (Yossi) Tam, DMD, PhD is Director of the Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Read the source article at The Blogs


A higher calling: How Israeli marijuana research changed the world

As much of the world debates how to address marijuana use, the vast majority of American states have legalized it or allow it for medical purposes. Global pharmaceutical companies and hospitals seeking effective treatments using cannabis should look to Professor Raphael Mechoulam, a scientist at Hebrew University. Mechoulam, a pioneer in the field, was the first to isolate, analyze and synthesize the major psychoactive and non-psychoactive compounds in cannabis and has developed a number of revolutionary marijuana-related treatments.

Today, roughly 147 million people use medical marijuana for effective relief of various ailments, including AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, cancer treatment side effects and Parkinson’s. Experts believe these numbers will grow exponentially in the coming years, and Mechoulam is now widely recognized as the godfather of medical marijuana, the high priest of his field.

Mechoulam began studying marijuana as a young professor in 1964. He learned that researchers had isolated morphine from opium over 150 years ago and cocaine from coca leaves a century prior, yet no one had tried to understand cannabis and its psychoactive and non-psychoactive ingredients. Mechoulam and his colleagues became their own test subjects and after a few months not only understood marijuana’s ingredients, but found a way to test its medicinal properties.

Not long after Mechoulam’s human experiments with THC, the major psychoactive compound in cannabis, he applied for a grant with the US National Institutes of Health, but the response was not exactly welcoming. “Cannabis is not important to us,” he recalls an NIH official telling him. “When you have something relevant, call us… marijuana is not an American problem.” At the time, not a single US lab was working on it.

In 1965, the NIH changed its tune at the insistence of a member of Congress, who was concerned about his son’s recreational use. Mechoulam had just isolated THC for the first time and discovered its structure. Dan Efron, head of pharmacology at the National Institute of Mental Health, promised Mechoulam financial support for further research. In return, the professor sent the NIH the entire world supply of synthesized THC, about 10 grams, which the NIH used to conduct many of the original cannabis experiments in the United States.

Today, thanks to Mechoulam’s research over the past half century, doctors around the world prescribe marijuana for a variety of disorders. Mechoulam’s work catapulted Israel to the top of the field of medical marijuana testing.

“Israel is the marijuana research capital of the world,” says Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for the Health, Medical & Wellness unit at CNN.

Globally, there is an obstacle to wider acceptance of medical marijuana: doctors themselves. Mechoulam believes that use of the drug is not standard practice because most physicians are not yet familiar with it and because most doctors are uncomfortable with a medicine that can be consumed by inhaling its smoke. But Mechoulam has played a major role in dispelling misconceptions about cannabis.

“The problem is that for many years, marijuana was put on the [same] scale as cocaine and morphine,” Mechoulam says. “This is not fair. All drugs, starting from aspirin to valium, [have] side effects. One has to know how to use them.”

Until recently, pharmaceutical companies weren’t enthusiastic about applied research on the drug. The legal ambiguity around cannabis and the difficulty of filing patents on a plant that has existed forever limit their ability to make money.

“It is still widely believed that cannabinoids are drugs and they make you crazy, make you mad, that they don’t have therapeutic value and they are addictive,” says Manuel Guzman, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Complutense University in Madrid and one of the world’s leading scientists studying the effects of cannabis on cancer cells. But, according to Guzman, that’s “based on ignorance. Knowledge takes time to get absorbed by society and the clinical community.”

At the federal level, cannabis is still illegal in the United States, which prevents serious and ongoing research on THC and on CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis. But 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for some medical uses, and according to polling data, a majority of Americans now favor legalization for recreational purposes. Elsewhere in the world, there is even more momentum. Israel, Canada and the Netherlands all have medical marijuana programs. Uruguay has legalized pot and Portugal has decriminalized the drug.

All of this gives reason for optimism about the future of medical marijuana research, according to Mechoulam, who is now investigating the drug’s effects on asthma. It is clear that his groundbreaking life’s work and “never, ever give up” attitude are slowly changing the minds of his peers. “If a Nobel Prize was given on cannabis research,” Dr. Guzman says, “Rafi would be the leading candidate.”

The writer is the author of Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World (Gefen Publishing) and a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Read the source article at Jpost


Peering into the human brain with a world-renowned neurobiologist

From emojis to cookie cutters, the heart is emblematic of love and passion.

The perception of the heart as the generator of emotions dates back millennia and is still heard today in the language we use to describe the heartbreak of unrequited love and the heartache of profound misery. Even memory is relegated to our blood-pumping organ, when we remember new information by heart.

At some point, we learn that in fact it is the brain, not the heart, which generates and controls the polyphony of our emotions, the essence of our creativity, the outpouring of our wildest imaginings. Language, thought, movement, behavior and belief all originate in the brain.

However for many of us, there is yet another leap of understanding to be made before we can begin to grasp the triumphs and aspirations of modern day neuroscience.

“The brain is a sophisticated machine – it is built from nerve cells that carry electrical and chemical activity,” explains world-renowned neurobiologist Idan Segev, a professor of computational neuroscience at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “To understand ourselves, we need to understand this amazing machine.”

Segev emphasizes the importance of constructing a mathematical model or a computer simulation of the brain. Based on experimental data, such a model will reveal not only how memories are formed and how emotions are conjured, but also the causes of brain diseases.

“A detailed and accurate computer model of the brain may generate the activity that signifies Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s,” Segev explains, “and when we see the characteristics of the condition in the computer model, we will then be able to find ways to fix the model. This will suggest ways that we can fix the problems in a real brain.”

His vision is to have “simulated-based medication,” or drugs that will be suggested by and tested on the computer model, before entering the pharmacopeia.

It is Segev’s hope that a computational model of the brain, if accurate enough, will ultimately lead to an understanding of human emotions and, most importantly, human creativity. Then we will be able to find ways to release the rich creative potential that, he believes, is hidden within all of our brains.

“Eventually,” he says with a wry smile, “we will understand everything.”

According to Segev, “it is our creativity that is the most prominent capability that sets us apart from other animals.”

For the past 200,000 years, he explains, we have not undergone any significant genetic change. We have the same genome and therefore the same brain as our ancient homo sapiens ancestors. Throughout most of this period, we have focused on the challenges of survival, and it is our creativity (the good, the bad and the ugly) that has made us into the species that dominates the world today.

For the earliest artistic examples of our creative genius, Segev points to the Le Chauvet cave paintings in France, and the Altamira cave paintings in Spain, both dated at around 30,000 to 35,000 years old.

Even older is the Lion Man, an intricate 30-cm sculpture in mammoth bone, dated at around 35,000 to 40,000 years old, which was discovered in a German cave. Recent research has revealed that it would have taken 400 hours of skilled craftsmanship to produce it. And the recent identification of organic matter, perhaps blood, in its mouth hints at primeval religious belief.

So, what is it that enables the human brain to reach such creative heights? And what is it that makes our brains so different from that of other animals? Segev suggests that it is neither size nor the number of brain cells – though the number of these neurons is important, and at 100 billion per human brain, that’s pretty impressive. Gorillas have about a third of this number and elephants have almost three times as many. But in terms of the ratio of brain size to body weight, we trump them all.

What really matters, Segev believes, is the interconnections between all these cells.

There are around 100 trillion synapses, or points of contact between neurons, in the human brain. However, not all of these synapses are always active – they change, both in the strength of existing connections as well as in the forming of new ones.

Everything we do changes the pattern of connections and, consequently, the electrical activity in the brain that codes for new memories.

Remember being told that you only use 10 percent of your brain? Segev was only seven when his teacher shared with him this supposed fact and he found it perplexing. In truth, we use all of our brain cells all of the time.

Segev refers to this realization as one of two “light bulb moments” that set him on the road to becoming a neuroscientist.

The second was at the age of 17, when he read about an experiment that demonstrated that a kitten only learns to see if it is able to move around, otherwise it will grow up blind! Sight and movement, it seems, are intimately connected in the brain; movement is essential for a correct interpretation of the visual signals we experience.

In the human brain we have particularly intense long-range connections between different regions, and an extraordinary complexity of connections locally, with a single neuron in direct communication with about 30,000 other cells in its neighborhood or with cells projecting from further away.

But even this is not enough to explain creativity. Segev suspects that the secret of creativity also has something to do with the fact that our nerve cells have a unique, “spontaneous” background electrical activity, an incessant electrical murmuring.

This background electrical noise means that the brain responds in a slightly different way to identical inputs. Within this variability, Segev sees the possibility of a mechanism of creativity – in other words, you think differently although you receive a repeated input. Such randomized behavior of nerve cells will no doubt make constructing a computer model of the brain even more difficult.

Undaunted, computational neurobiologists are already building a digital simulation of several cubic millimeters of rodent brain, something around the size of a pinhead.

But even these humble beginnings are complex and expensive and require the cooperation of scientists from many fields.

Segev is a member and founder of several interdisciplinary groups. He was the director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation at the Hebrew University, which blossomed into the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC).

Segev is also part of the Human Brain Project, a 10-year initiative with a billion- euro budget and 100 laboratories, most of them in Europe, collaborating. The HBP affords him complete access to the IBM Blue Gene computer, which is capable of around six trillion operations a second. Although the computer actually sits in Lugano, Switzerland, Segev and his students can log on from their ELSC lab.

On the day I meet Segev, he has just heard that a proposal to the US National Institutes for Health for a collaborative venture focused on human neurons had received a grant of $19.4 million for a five-year project.

This project will bring together a group from the prestigious Allen Institute in Seattle, Washington, with four other groups – from Sweden, Hungary, Amsterdam and Segev’s, at the Hebrew University.

“You have really come at a special time,” he says.

The important thing now, he insists, is to shift from working with rodents to working with human cells and neuronal circuits.

“The human brain is so much more sophisticated.”

Using fresh, living human brain cells for research may sound like a good idea, but getting a hold of them is another story.

Segev recently received a phone call from Prof. Natan Bornstein, an old army buddy of his. Bornstein, a neurologist, had moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to become director and coordinator of the neurological- neurosurgical-neuroradiological service at the new neurology department at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Just a few minutes’ drive from the Edmond J. Safra campus on Givat Ram at the Hebrew University, this hospital is now a major center for brain surgery.

It turns out that perfectly good, healthy brain cells are thrown away every day at the department. When deep brain tumors are removed, small pieces of normal tissue are cut out to provide access to the tumor, and the healthy cells are tossed.

In October, Segev received ethical permission to use this healthy tissue in research at the Hebrew University. The first batch will soon arrive from Shaare Zedek and will be shared among the five groups at the Hebrew University. The prospect marks the beginning of a new era as research shifts from rodent brain cells to human ones.

Segev’s enthusiasm for his research is palpable. Speaking to him, you feel as if every sinew of his lean frame is focused on furthering our understanding of ourselves.

And then he says, “But there is something I am really, really interested in!” And the conversation turns in a completely different direction.

He proceeds to tell me about a new online, open access, science magazine for kids, “Frontiers for Young Minds.” The magazine is actually an offshoot of another project that has essentially changed the culture of science.

Currently, the process for getting a paper published in a scientific journal begins by it being sent to a publication’s editors, many of whom are not scientists, who reject 50-60 percent of submissions before sending them to a peer reviewer. The reviewers then reject a further 90 percent.

Segev’s main criticism is that “the culture is to find faults in a paper and reject rather than to help the authors improve their work.”

The idea of changing this approach came to Segev about 10 years ago while at a conference in Brazil with fellow researcher Henry Markram.

The two went on to set up “Frontiers,” an open access series of journals, where scientists post their papers online and reviewers, out of a pool of over 50,000 scientists, choose to review them. The reviewer then becomes a partner with the researchers and can suggest improvements and extensions to the research. When the paper is finally published online, the reviewers are named as part of the paper because they are seen as active participants in the research process.

An outgrowth of this initiative was a science magazine for kids. Its format was inspired by Bob Knight, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley. He insisted that, for a scientific journal for kids, the reviewers should be kids. The articles are written by leading scientists worldwide who are then grilled and challenged by kids, until the article is deemed to have sufficient clarity to be published online. Segev is currently setting it up in Hebrew for Israeli children.

The hub of Segev’s multitude of projects is a modest office on the ground floor of the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at Givat Ram. With no pretensions of architectural distinction, its long windowless corridors with exposed pipework recall a passageway to a ship’s boiler room. But take a deep breath before you open the door to Segev’s office and prepare for a visual experience that feels like stepping into a futuristic movie.

It is neither the dusty shelves laden with books nor the mounds of papers that cover the desk that will claim your attention. Nor is it the bare walls apart from a small picture of a neural network or the whiteboard scrawled with snatches of things mathematical and neurological that will hold you in awe.

On the far side of the room, wall-to-wall windows look out onto a rocky plateau below where the shimmering façade of the new Suzanne and Charles Goodman Brain Sciences Building stands. Designed by eminent British architect Lord Norman Foster, the four-story structure will soon become the new home of Segev’s lab and the pioneering, interdisciplinary ELSC.

Overlaid with gleaming 21st-century filigree, this esthetic delight hints at pattern and order, embedded in randomness. “They are Henry Markram’s neurons – or rather, from his rat brains,” explains Segev, “and we at ELSC had the idea of this neuron trellis wrapping round the building.”

Looking at this innovative building, one can’t help but wonder about the potential output of the creative power of Segev and his team working within.

Read the source article at Jpost


Scientists go to zoo, find that cell size, not body size, affects lifespan

Researchers in Israel, Canada, and Germany have found that animals with larger pancreatic cells tend to age faster, while those with smaller such cells seem to live longer.

They came to this “shockingly beautiful and unexpected” correlation, said Yuval Dor, who studies developmental biology at The Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem, after studying the pancreases of 24 mammalian species, from the smallest, a shrew, to the tallest, a giraffe.

The findings were published on Monday in the journal Developmental Cell.

Previously, scientists had thought that after birth, most mammals’ organs, including the pancreas, grow by cell proliferation — meaning the number of cells grows. However, Dor and his colleagues made a chance observation while at work: they needed a higher magnification to look at pancreatic cells of newborn mice through a microscope than they did to look at those of adults. This suggested that the volume of each cell had substantially grown from infant to adult life.

Illustrative photo of mice (Pixabay)

“This was surprising because the assumption was that post-natally, the pancreas grows by increasing the number of cells, just as most organs do,” said Dor. This was not the case in mice, where the cells grew both in number and in size.

So, the researchers then looked at the same cell type in humans. There, they found cell replication — i.e., the number of cells were higher as the individual grew older, but the cells were not larger in size. Thus, humans belong to the group of mammals that have small cells.

This got them curious, so they ventured to neighboring labs, at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and Kimron Veterinary Institute. There, they examined pancreases from a variety of mammals, from tiny Etruscan shrews to tigers.

By analyzing the data, the scientists found a strong negative correlation between the size of individual pancreatic cells and lifespan. Mammalian species that aged faster had larger cells, whereas species that lived longer had smaller pancreatic cells.

In humans, the cells do not expand in size but in number, and as expected, humans live for a very long time, said Dor. When comparing the pancreas cells of mice and the naked mole rat — two mammals that are more or less of the same physical size — they found that mice, which live just some three years, had large pancreatic cells, whereas the mole rat had small cells. Mole rats live some 30 years, by the way.

Similarly, rats, with large cells, live for around three years, whereas fruit bats, which are also similar in physical size to rats, but have smaller cells, live for some 25 years, he said.

“We don’t understand why this is,” he said. But the finding was “interesting and fun.”

The researchers believe that a protein that functions at the junction between cell size and lifespan, called mTOR, may be the molecular mechanism that is responsible for the correlation they found.

The researchers have some theories as to why this correlation may exist, Dor said. It could be that this study gives a molecular “face,” or backing, to an evolutionary theory of aging, which suggests that aging is the unintended consequence of mechanisms that are advantageous during reproduction age.

Bigger cells in mice, for example, allowed them to grow faster in a shorter time span, leading to a shorter time to sexual maturity and reproduction. But this comes at a cost of faster aging and earlier death.

“This might explain why some mammal species sacrifice longevity for the rapid early organ growth associated with cell growth instead of replication: you get the selective advantage in early life but you pay the price later on,” Dor said. More research needs to be done, however, he added.

But why did the researchers study the pancreatic cells? “Because that is what we study,” Dor said. Cells of other organs in these animals should also be researched, he said, to find if patterns are similar, or if this phenomenon is specific to pancreatic cells alone.

It would be also helpful, he said, “to understand the molecular basis” of the finding. “Why do we grow older with bigger cells?” Also, is this phenomenon typical of just mammals or of other animals as well, such as reptiles and frogs and birds?

The study, “Postnatal exocrine pancreas growth by cellular hypertrophy correlates with a shorter lifespan in mammals,” was published by Shira Anzi and Miri Stolovich-Rain, with senior investigators including Dor, Muli Ben Sasson and Ran Kafri, of Toronto University.

Read the source article at The Times of Israel


Israel study paves way for women to skip difficulties of first pregnancies

A woman’s body learns from difficulties in a first pregnancy and adapts to try to avert such difficulties in subsequent pregnancies, Israeli researchers said.

The researchers, at Hadassah Medical Center and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, say their six-year study on the role of certain cells during a women’s pregnancy period may pave the way to develop new drugs to decrease complications in childbirth.

Their research on the “trained memory” of the “natural killer” cells that fight viruses and tumors, they said, found that the cells in charge of helping fetuses implant in the womb and avoid diseases such as preeclampsia or intrauterine growth retardation are more active during a second pregnancy, because they remember the first and are thus better trained to do their job the second time round.

“It is a known clinical fact that second pregnancies are more efficient than first,” Prof. Simcha Yagel, the head of the division of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Hadassah Medical Center, who was on the research team, said in a phone interview with The Times of Israel. Fetuses generally implant better in a second pregnancy; the babies are born bigger and the pregnancy is less prone to diseases such as preeclampsia, a complication that raises blood pressure and causes other damage in the mother.

He said that the new study, published in the journal Immunity, provides a cellular and molecular explanation for this phenomenon.

“If we know why the second pregnancy is better than the first, then maybe we can do something to help women with high risk first pregnancies — like after in vitro fertilization or who are older,” based on this molecular research, he said.

Illustrative image of a baby holding hands (boonchai wedmakawand; iStock by Getty Images)

The study, which lasted more than six years and was based on hundreds of samples of mucous membranes, was led by Moriya Gamliel and conducted with Dr. Debra Goldman-Wohl, together with Prof. Ofer Mandelboim of the immunology and cancer research department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Yagel.

For their work, the researchers studied Natural Killer (NK) cells — these are cells that are present in the immune system of all of us, men and women, and that are in charge of fighting viruses and tumors.

However, there are also NK cells that are found in the lining of the uterus at the beginning of a pregnancy. These cells are not belligerent, said Gamliel. Rather, they have turned their “swords” into “shovels” and have become “shields,” whose role is to help with the development of the fetus, she said in a statement.

In a pregnancy, these NK cells have two missions, explained Yagel. Their primary role is to help build a successful implantation of the fetus, he said, with the secondary role being that of stopping viruses and other illnesses. Some 70 percent of the cells in the lining of the uterus are NK cells.

Illustrative image of an embryo (Zffoto; iStock by Getty Images)

Their role in the pregnancy is “very important,” he said. They likely originate from the bone marrow of the mother or are present in the endometrium of the uterus – and are triggered into operation at the start of a pregnancy, helping the fetus to survive.

The researchers set out to study if there are differences in the NK cells of first pregnancies versus second ones, and looks like they hit the jackpot. They found a “unique population” of NK cells that is unique to second and repeated pregnancies — which were characterized by a higher number of the receptors — NKG2C and LILRB1– they expressed. They called these cells the “Pregnancy Trained” NK cells.

“For many years researchers thought that NK cells didn’t have a memory,” said Yagel. “But our research found that they do have memory.” During the study, the researchers found that in each recurrent pregnancy — that is, not the first pregnancy but in subsequent ones — the NK cells remember the first pregnancy experience and improve their function the next time. There was no difference however between the performance of these cells between the second and subsequent pregnancies, Yagel said.

The NK cells in a second or third pregnancy remember the first pregnancy and are “better prepared” for the job, he said. They act faster and more effectively. They wait for the trigger “to produce the goodies needed for a successful pregnancy.” This memory remains both between pregnancies and during pregnancies, he said.

The first pregnancy “paves the way for the second one,” Yagel said. The findings are somewhat counterintuitive, he said, as one would expect the first pregnancy to get the best shot, paving the way for the others. It is still not clear “why nature, or God, built us in this way,” he wondered.

The key then, is to get through the first pregnancy, and others will be better.

This insight may help researchers find a way to “skip” the difficulties of the first pregnancy and help train the NK cells from the start, he said, paving the way for the development of new drugs to treat diseases of poor implantation.

Read the source article at The Times of Israel


Hebrew University Researchers to Collaborate with GRAIL

June 12, 2018-Yissum, the Technology Transfer Company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, announced a strategic collaboration with GRAIL, Inc., a healthcare company whose mission is to detect cancer early, when it can be cured. Under the agreement, GRAIL will sponsor a research program led by Professor Yuval Dor of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Professor Dor, working with Dr. Ruth Shemer, Dr. Tommy Kaplan, and Professor Benjamin Glaser from Hadassah Medical Center, is creating a method to determine the tissue origins of circulating DNA, using epigenetic “identity marks” from the DNA that are typical to each cell type, termed DNA methylation.

In the new partnership, GRAIL and the Hebrew University team will collaborate to generate methylation data from multiple cell types to understand how to interpret the source of blood-based signals.

Dr. Yaron Daniely, CEO and President of Yissum, welcomed the agreement. “We are excited to enter this collaboration with GRAIL, which underscores the promise of Professor Dor’s research at Hebrew University and supports our vision of bettering the lives of people around the world through collaborations between industry and academic organizations.”


Prolonged acetaminophen use during pregnancy linked to increased ASD and ADHD risk

April 24, 2018 – A study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem sheds new light on the possible relationship between prolonged use of acetaminophen (paracetamol) during pregnancy and the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood.

Acetaminophen is one of the most common medications used for the treatment of pain and fever reduction during pregnancy and is considered safe in humans. However, evidence of neuro-disruptive properties is accumulating: past studies have shown that long-term administration of low doses of acetaminophen may affect the development of the fetal nervous system and that this effect is often seen years after exposure during childhood.

Now, researchers led by Dr. Ilan Matok at the Institute for Drug Research in the School of Pharmacy at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, together with doctoral student Reem Masarwa, conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the possible association between prolonged exposure to acetaminophen during pregnancy and the risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

The analysis, which appears in the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows that prolonged exposure to acetaminophen during pregnancy is associated with a 30% increase in relative risk for ADHD (compared to those who did not take acetaminophen during pregnancy) and a 20% increase in relative risk for ASD.

This is the first meta-analysis and the most comprehensive study ever conducted on the possible association between prolonged use of acetaminophen during pregnancy and risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The research data covered 132,738 mother and child pairs with a follow-up period of 3-11 years.

Given the significant limitations of existing studies, the researchers believe the results should be interpreted with caution, as they may cause unnecessary anxiety among pregnant women. It is important to understand that pain and fever during pregnancy can have a detrimental effect on the developing fetus and that acetaminophen is still considered a safe drug for use during pregnancy. Therefore, if a pregnant woman has fever and/or pain, acetaminophen can be taken for a short period, and if the fever or pain continue beyond that, she should consult her physician regarding further treatment

Dr. Amichai Perlman and Dr. Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical Center participated in the research.

“Our study provides the first comprehensive overview of developmental outcomes following prolonged acetaminophen use during pregnancy,” said Dr. Ilan Matok, Head of the Pharmacoepidemiology Research Lab, Institute for Drug Research, School of Pharmacy, Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine. “Our findings suggest an association between prolonged acetaminophen use and an increase in the risk of autism and ADHD. However, the observed increase in risk was small, and the existing studies have significant limitations. While the unnecessary use of any medication should be avoided in pregnancy, we believe our findings should not alter current practice and women should not avoid use of short-term acetaminophen when clinically needed.”

CITATION: Prenatal Exposure to Acetaminophen and Risk for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autistic Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Meta-Regression Analysis of Cohort Studies. Reem Masarwa, Hagai Levine, Einat Gorelik; Shimon Reif, Amichai Perlman, Ilan Matok. American Journal of Epidemiology, DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwy086.


Scientists chart a new map of human genome using stem cells

April 22, 2018 – Scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem generated an atlas of the human genome using a state-of-the-art gene editing technology and human embryonic stem cells, illuminating the roles that our genes play in health and disease. The scientists reported their findings in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

Embryonic stem cells are a unique resource as they can turn into any adult cell in our bodies. Their versatile nature puts them at the center of attention in the fields of regenerative medicine, disease modeling, and drug discovery. In parallel to the discovery of human embryonic stem cells, another milestone in biology was completed with the sequencing of the human genome, and the identification of the entire set of genes responsible for our genetic identity. This finding has led to a new challenge of understanding the function of the genes in the human genome. Now, the new study by scientists at the Hebrew University provides a novel tool to map the function of all human genes using human embryonic stem cells.

The researchers analyzed virtually all human genes in the human genome by generating more than 180,000 distinct mutations. To produce such a vast array of mutations, they combined a sophisticated gene-editing technology (CRISPR–Cas9 screening) with a new type of embryonic stem cells that were recently isolated by the same research group. This new type of stem cells harbors only a single copy of the human genome, instead of two copies from the mother and father, making gene editing easier thanks to the need of mutating only one copy for each gene (see: Scientists generate a new type of human stem cell that has half a genome, March 17, 2016).

A colony of haploid human embryonic stem cells

The researchers show that a mere 9% of all the genes in the human genome are essential for the growth and survival of human embryonic stem cells, whereas 5% of them actually limit the growth of these cells. They could also analyze the role of genes responsible for all hereditary disorders in early human development and growth. Furthermore, they showed how cancer-causing genes could affect the growth of the human embryo.


“This gene atlas enables a new functional view on how we study the human genome and provides a tool that will change the fashion by which we analyze and treat cancer and genetic disorders,” said Professor Nissim Benvenisty, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Azrieli Center for Stem Cells and Genetic Research and the Herbert Cohn Chair in Cancer Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the senior author of the study.

Another key finding of the study was the identification of a small group of genes that are uniquely essential for the survival of human embryonic stem cells but not to other cell types. These genes are thought to maintain the identity of embryonic stem cells and prevent them from becoming cancerous or turning into adult cell types.

“This study creates a new framework for the understanding of what it means to be an embryonic stem cell at the genetic level,” said Dr. Atilgan Yilmaz, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow and a lead author on the paper. “The more complete a picture we have of the nature of these cells, the better chances we have for successful therapies in the clinic.”

The paper is titled Defining essential genes for human pluripotent stem cells by CRISPR-Cas9 screening in haploid cells and published in Nature Cell Biology. The research was led by Nissim Benvenisty, MD, Ph.D., Atilgan Yilmaz, Ph.D. and Motti Peretz, the Azrieli Center for Stem Cells and Genetic Research, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Additional authors include Aviram Aharony and Ido Sagi also of the Hebrew University. The research was supported by Israel Science Foundation, US-Israel Binational Science Foundation and most generously by the Azrieli Foundation.

CITATION: Defining essential genes for human pluripotent stem cells by CRISPR–Cas9 screening in haploid cells. Atilgan Yilmaz, Mordecai Peretz, Aviram Aharony, Ido Sagi, and Nissim Benvenisty. Nature Cell Biology (2018), doi:10.1038/s41556-018-0088-1.


Your memories could be read and replayed after you die

Our memories leave a clear and unique genetic mark on our brains, according to researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. These can be decoded after we die.

That’s the remarkable discovery of scientists in Israel who say these genetic markers could be used to unlock memories after people die.

The technology opens the door to strange scenarios, similar to those portrayed in the series ‘Black Mirror’, where investigators can record and playback the memories of suspected criminals.

It could even lead to a future in which police are able to read and replay memories of murder victims to help them piece together the events leading up to their death.

‘It’s a fascinating proposal,’ said Clea Warburton at the University of Bristol told New Scientist. 

‘You would have to get in there extremely quickly, as proteins start to degrade within minutes of death,’ says Dr Warburton.

‘It probably wouldn’t give you more information than a good forensic scientist could, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with a film about this.’

The discovery was made by researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Read the source article at Home | Daily Mail Online


Hebrew U. researchers show which foods prevent, promote dementia

Foods can determine whether someone will suffer from dementia in later years, according to researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment in Rehovot.

A large-scale international study that included the university recently examined how food affects brain health for people aged 50 and older. The researchers were able to show that diet affects the risk of dementia.

This conclusion, although logical, is not self-evident, said Prof. Aron Troen, an expert in nutritional neuroscience and the prevention of cerebrovascular disease and dementia, and the principal investigator of Hebrew University’s Nutrition and Brain Health Laboratory in Rehovot.

Among the foods proven to prevent dementia are: blueberries (not just the juice), healthful fats (as in olive oil), nuts (in small amounts to avoid excess calories) and fish. Other beneficial foods include: beans and legumes, fruits, low-calorie dairy products like yogurt, chicken and whole-grain cereals.

Among the foods that have been shown to promote dementia are: fried foods, sugary foods, processed foods, red meat, fat, cheese and salt.

The report was published in the journal of the American Association of Retired Persons, the most widely circulated journal in the US.

The study was conducted in collaboration with dozens of countries, including the US, China, Switzerland and Australia. It examined the scientific basis of preserving brain health and preventing dementia in old age.

The team produced a consensus report with convincing evidence that diet affects the risk of dementia.

Read the source article at Jpost


Guide In Medical of the NGT3 VC Fund Received FDA Approval

Guide In Medical, a medical device startup, which operates as part of the NGT3 Technological Incubator based in Nazareth Israel, has announced receiving FDA market approval for its innovative IRRIS device. The device facilitates performing intubation, an essential and routine medical procedure in which a tube is inserted into the trachea to help open the patient’s airway.

Guide In Medical is currently in a second financing round to raise $2 million. The Company is poised for setting up distribution systems in Europe, having received CE Marking approval in 2017, and now in the U.S. upon receiving FDA approval. Guide In Medical has so far raised NIS 5 million from CTS, the pharmaceutical, medical equipment and veterinary company, which has joined the Company as a strategic partner, as well as from NGT3 and private investors.

The IRRIS was also approved by the Israel Ministry of Health (MOH) and is currently being tested by the intensive care unit of Hadassah Hospital, Mount Scopus. The target audience of the device is physicians in medical centers, paramedics in mobile intensive care units, the army, the police, and other organizations that manage intensive care units.

Intubation is a vital and common medical procedure performed under general anesthesia in operating rooms and sometimes also in field conditions.  This is the third most common medical procedure in the U.S., and more than 100 million intubation procedures are performed each year worldwide. The procedure of inserting a tube into the trachea to ventilate the patient requires a high level of skill, maximum precision and speed for quick insertion, as the patient cannot breathe while the procedure is performed. Damage caused by faulty intubation, due to lack of experience of the doctor or paramedic, environmental conditions and/or secretions in the pharynx that obstruct the lungs, and sometimes a different anatomical structure of the patient, may be critical and cost the patient’s life.

The solution is a non-invasive device, which is attached as a patch to the patient’s neck and transmits light of a specific wavelength into the tissues, lighting the inside of the throat. The special light, which blinks clearly, makes it easier for the medical staff to locate the trachea using a video laryngoscope (a device with a video camera) and can more easily guide the insertion of the ventilation tube during intubation.

Ariel Shrem, Co-Founder and CEO, Guide In Medical: “The advantages of the device lie in the simplicity of its operation and the ability to quickly and safely identify the trachea even in complicated situations. This is demonstrated by the results of the clinical trials and the positive feedback we received from physicians who have already tried the device. I believe that in the next few years the product will be used in every ambulance, operating room and battalion aid station. FDA approval is an important step in reaching the global market and in recruiting partners for distribution and of course additional investors as part of our growth plan.”

Zohar Gendler, CEO of NGT3: “Guide In Medical has succeeded in a short time and with maximum efficiency to complete development, conduct three clinical trials, publish two scientific articles, obtain regulatory approvals for marketing in the US, Europe and Canada, and bring on a strategic partner. The company is now turning to its next task of organizing for marketing and going to market.”

Guide In Medical, a medical device startup, was founded in 2015 based on a collaboration between the entrepreneurs, Itai Hayut, director and technological consultant, Ariel Shrem, CEO of the Company, and Dr. Elchanan Fried, head of the Intensive Care Unit at Hadassah Medical Center on Mt. Scopus and medical consultant of the Company.

Guide In Medical has developed an Infrared Red Intubation System (IRRIS) device that facilitates intubation, a vital and common medical procedure in which a tube is inserted into the trachea to ventilate the patient.

The technology was created as part of the Hebrew University’s Biomedical Entrepreneurship Program in collaboration with Hadassah Medical Center. The Company received an exclusive license to develop the technology from Yissum Research Development Company, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Hadasit Medical Research Services & Development Ltd.,  the company for commercialization of technologies of Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem.

Read the source article at


One drug could treat Alzheimer’s, MS, Crohn’s and more

Could one drug effectively treat incurable inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis as well as neurodegenerative maladies such as Alzheimer’s disease?

Yes, says Prof. David Naor, speaking with ISRAEL21c at the Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology in Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem.

All these diseases, he explains, are associated with pathological amyloid proteins that could be neutralized by the 5-mer peptide Naor has spent the last 10 years researching and developing with the support of the university’s Yissum technology-transfer company, the Israeli government and Spherium Biomed of Spain.

It will take several million dollars to start clinical trials of Naor’s novel, IP-protected peptide — a synthetic protein snippet that significantly reverses the damaging effects of inflammatory diseases and Alzheimer’s disease in mouse models, and restores the learning capacity of Alzheimer’s mice.

“I believe that within two years we would know for certain if our academic product can translate into a therapeutic drug to combat inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases,” Naor says.

“Once you control the inflammation, you can control the disease, so our target is to reduce as much as possible the inflammatory activity.”

Prof. David Naor at Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

Rheumatoid arthritis

Naor began by studying 5-mer’s effectiveness in rheumatoid arthritis, which affects about one percent of the world population. Currently, about $30 billion worth of biologic drugs are sold each year that effectively control, but cannot cure, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Furthermore, these drugs don’t work in one-third of patients.

The results of Naor’s experiments were astounding. When mice with collagen-induced arthritis were treated with 5-mer peptide, the severely inflamed tissues in their joints reverted to nearly normal. No harmful side effects were observed.

Multiple sclerosis and IBD

“Once the rheumatoid arthritis experiment was repeated successfully several times, we looked at a different chronic inflammatory disease – multiple sclerosis, where the inflammation is not in the joints but in the brain,” says Naor.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most widespread disabling neurological condition of young adults around the world, usually striking between the ages of 20 and 50. There is no cure, but the Israeli-developed blockbuster drug Copaxone reduces the frequency of relapses.

Here, too, Naor’s results were noteworthy. Five days after MS-like disease was induced in mice, 5-mer peptide injections caused a significant decrease in accumulation of inflammatory cells in the central nervous system and significant reduction in limb paralysis. The effects were weaker when the disease was more progressed, but theoretically the peptide could be introduced during a remission phase of MS.

Recently, in collaboration with Prof. Haim Ovadia from Hadassah University Medical Center, Naor’s lab achieved another breakthrough by delivering 5-mer peptide via mouth rather than by injections, with the same therapeutic effect.

“That means that we may be able to produce pills for oral delivery rather than to provide the drug by injection,” Naor says.

Spherium Biomed tests of 5-mer peptide in mouse models of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) showed it can reduce the gut inflammation in IBD better than the currently prescribed biological medication, which is effective only in half of IBD patients.

Alzheimer’s disease 

After a quarter-century of failed efforts to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, investment money is dwindling. Yet the number of cases is climbing rapidly along with related costs. About one in nine Americans over 65 has this fatal degenerative neurological disorder affecting 44 million people worldwide.

In collaboration with Prof. Hanna Rosenmann from Hadassah, Naor’s lab studied the effect of mer-5 peptide in mice with induced Alzheimer’s disease.

Cognitively normal mice placed inside a watery maze learned quickly how to swim to a safe platform and were able to find it faster with every subsequent attempt. But the Alzheimer’s mice took longer finding the platform every time, due to memory difficulties.

After treatment with 5-mer peptide, the Alzheimer’s mice regained their ability to learn the location of the platform as quickly as cognitively normal mice.

“We can restore the memory of the animal. This doesn’t mean we’re going to cure Alzheimer’s but it does mean we have to do everything possible to see if our peptide could be successful where so many other potential anti-Alzheimer drugs have failed,” says Naor.

The 5-mer peptide appears to prevent the accumulation of amyloid–beta in the brain. Amyloid–beta clumps are believed to attract harmful inflammatory cells from the immune system, thus enhancing Alzheimer’s disease.

The mechanism of action of the 5-mer peptide was proven on various harmful amyloid proteins, using sophisticated imaging tools in the lab of Prof. Mary Cowman at New York University.

“We can inject 5-mer peptide even after the disease has started, and it will work,” says Naor. “We don’t yet know if there is a point of no return when it would no longer work.”

Spherium Biomed now seeks funding for the next step, human clinical trials.

“Because the peptide was derived from human material, it makes sense that it is going to work in humans at least as well as in mice,” concludes Naor.

Read the source article at ISRAEL21c


Bill Nye Says Israel Leading on Medical Marijuana

Bill Nye’s new Netflix show explores Israel’s advances in medical marijuana, which are much more advanced than the United States.

People are getting high in the Holy Land for a good cause.

In a recent episode of “Bill Nye Saves the World” in which Nye explore medical marijuana, he sends a correspondent to Israel for a segment called “How is Israel healing the world with marijuana.”

The episode highlights the progress Israel has made in medical marijuana research, noting that there are significantly fewer regulatory hurdles than in the United States.

The company Tikun Olam operates the largest cannabis farm in Israel, and it’s licensed by the Israeli government. Tikkun Olam CEO Aharon Lutzky explains that the cooperation between the Israeli government and private industry fosters success in finding ways cannabis can help patients struggling with conditions such as cancer, Crohn’s and colitis, PTSD, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

Nye notes that the situation is very different in the U.S. because the Drug Enforcement Agency doesn’t believe cannabis has medical value, and therefore classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal to grow it for the purpose of medical studies.

“It is literally easier to study meth,” Nye claimed.

Israeli organic chemist Raphael Mechoulam was the first to isolate marijuana’s THC compound for scientific study more than 50 years ago. In 1996, Israel began its national medical marijuana program, the first one in the world.


Read the source article at The Forward


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


Meet Hebrew University’s top cannabis researcher

Attorney General Jeff Sessions unwittingly has become a key supporter of Israel’s thriving medical marijuana industry. Just ask cannabis researcher Yossi Tam.

Speaking in Palo Alto this week, the Israeli expert on cannabinoids — chemicals that give the cannabis plant its medical and recreational properties — said anti-pot politics in the United States have allowed Israel’s medical marijuana industry to thrive. Israel even has attracted some of the top American researchers, he said.

Israel even has attracted some of the top American researchers, he said. After all, in the U.S., marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin and ecstasy, meaning that research is stunted because such substances have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

However, in Israel, which is preparing to start issuing export licenses for cannabinoid-based products, cannabis research is flourishing. Tam is focused on how cannabinoids can help patients battle obesity, and he’s also part of a team seeking medicinal uses of cannabis in fighting everything from epilepsy to traumatic brain injury to cancer.

“Israel has become a leader because it was allowed to conduct research, whereas here [in the U.S.] it was stopped,” Tam told J. after his talk, which focused on the science of cannabinoids and how to use them to fight obesity. “Once it will be legal here, then the U.S. will take over like with every other thing.”

Tam is the managing director of the Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and he also heads the Obesity and Metabolism Laboratory there.

He spoke Jan. 16 in Palo Alto at the Morgan, Lewis and Bockius law firm, telling an audience of about 50 that medical marijuana was first used in China nearly 5,000 years ago and that synthetic cannabinoids could have an even wider range of curative powers. The talk was presented by the California Israel Chamber of Commerce, American Friends of the Hebrew University and WGD Partners, a Palo Alto-based financial advisory firm.

Recreational use of marijuana is banned in Israel, but medical marijuana is legal there — and Israeli researchers have been focused on the efficacy of cannabinoids in fighting pain and disease for more than 50 years. Meanwhile in the U.S., Sessions has spearheaded a federal drive to keep pot illegal, even as California this year became the eighth state to legalize recreational use of marijuana and more than half the states allow the use of medical marijuana.

Tam works at Hebrew University with Raphael Mechoulam, who in the 1960s first isolated CBD and THC, the two most prominent of the many cannabinoids found in marijuana.

A brochure available at his talk proclaimed: “Join the cannabis revolution: Cannabis is no longer just associated with getting high, but is now tantamount to getting healthy.”

Michael Mitgang, WGD’s managing director, gave a short presentation on the cannabis industry and its growth potential before Tam’s talk, predicting the $8.1 billion U.S. cannabis market in 2017 will balloon to more than $100 billion annually in a few years.

Tam, a former dentist who did postdoctoral work in the U.S. at the National Institutes of Health, said Israeli researchers know their place at the forefront of cannabinoid investigation will be threatened if the U.S. reclassifies marijuana.

“We have a window of opportunity now,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”

Read the source article at


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

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