Author: Auftau

TAU Researcher Invents Environmentally-Friendly Sanitizer

Innovative method to convert waste into disinfectant is a pandemic game-changer

The fight against coronavirus began with disinfection and hygiene. Prof. Hadas Mamane, head of the Water-Tech Laboratory at TAU’s Iby & Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering is now helping to secure Israel’s sanitizer supply in the ongoing battle against the spread of coronavirus. Her lab is running a pilot program to convert local waste into alcohol that will be used for sanitation and disinfection.

In the COVID-19 era, global demand for alcohol-based sanitizer soared, as proper hygiene and sanitation became mainstays of prevention efforts. Yet at the same time, many countries, including Israel, imposed import restrictions, making the procurement of sanitation and disinfectant materials difficult. To address this shortage, a team led Prof. Mamane adapted an existing waste conversion model to produce alcohol disinfectant locally.

Prof. Mamane’s team began by running an experiment to make ethanol, an alcohol derived from corn and the most common ingredient in hand sanitizers and other disinfectants. As a local alternative to corn, Prof. Mamane checked a variety of waste sources. She experimented with waste from municipal and agricultural pruning, hay, paper and cardboard.

Prof. Mamane is continuing the project by using more types of green waste, testing the process on a larger scale and studying its cost-effectiveness. Because her method relies on locally sourced material, it offers a decentralized model for ethanol production that reduces reliance on imports.

Mamane’s production method not only reuses the almost endless supply of garbage, but also reduces overload on waste management systems. The process does not use hazardous materials or cause pollution, can be applied on a small or large scale, and is applicable to varied types and large amounts of waste.

This initiative has additional widespread benefits: “A decentralized [recycling] process enables farmers to avoid burning their agricultural waste, and instead offers environmental and social benefits to the community and, most importantly, protects public health,” says Prof. Mamane.

This research is a collaboration between Prof. Mamane and the University of Haifa-Oranim College, and is funded by the Ministry of Science.

Featured image: Prof. Hadas Mamane (Credit: Vered Cohen-Yaniv)

Tel Aviv University Scientists Successfully Reduce Metastatic Spread Following Tumor Removal Surgery

A Study Performed in Colorectal Cancer Patients Found that Implementing a Stress-Inflammatory Response Reducing Treatment During Surgery Could Lead to a Decrease in Metastatic Risk

A research group from Tel Aviv University successfully reduced metastatic spread following tumor removal surgery in colorectal cancer patients. Using a short medication treatment around the time of the surgery, the researchers were able to reduce body stress responses and physiological inflammation during this critical period, thus preventing the development of metastases in the years following the surgery. The study, which was recently published in “Cancer”, was led by Prof. Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu from TAU School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience, and Prof. Oded Zmora from Shamir (Assaf Harofeh) Medical Center.

During the study, which lasted 3 years, the researchers have monitored 34 patients, who received treatment surrounding a colorectal tumor removal surgery. During the pre- and post-surgical period, the patients were administered two safe and known drugs: Propranolol (Deralin), an anti-anxiety and blood pressure reducing drug, and Etodolac (Etopan), an anti-inflammatory analgesic. The drugs were only administered to the patients for 20 days – starting from 5 days prior to surgery, and until two weeks after – with half of the patients receiving a placebo treatment, as a control group.

The results are highly promising: while only 12.5% (2 out of 16) of patients receiving the drugs treatment exhibited metastatic disease, in the control group (which did not receive the treatment) the rate of metastases development was found to be 33% (6 out of 18 patients), which is the known rate for colorectal cancer patients. Prof. Ben-Eliyahu says that he is highly satisfied with these data, but also states that “despite the impressive results, this treatment must be examined again, in a much larger number of patients, in order to test whether it is, in fact, life-saving”.

According to Prof. Ben-Eliyahu, the study of molecular markers in the cancerous tissue excised from the patients showed that the treatment with the medications has led to a reduction in the metastatic potential of the tumor and potentially the residual cancer cells. In addition, the drugs triggered some beneficial alterations in infiltrating tumor leukocytes (patients’ white blood cells) number and type – which are also markers indicating a reduced chance of disease recurrence.

Prof. Ben-Eliyahu explains: “When the body is in a state of stress, whether physiological (from surgery) or psychological, this causes a release of high amounts of two types of hormones, prostaglandins and catecholamines. These hormones suppress the activity of the immune cells, thus indirectly promoting the development of cancer metastases. In addition, these hormones also directly promote the acquisition of metastatic traits in cancer tissue. Our study shows that inexpensive, accessible medication treatment could be used in order to reduce body stress responses and inflammation associated with surgery, which affects the tumor, significantly reducing the risk of metastases that might be detected months or years after surgery.”

Following the success of the initial research, Prof. Ben-Eliyahu and Prof. Zmora encourage Israeli colorectal and pancreatic cancer patients, intended for surgery, to apply for participation in a large-scale clinical study which is now starting across the State in eight different Medical Centers – in order to save lives.

What Disrupted A Giant Black Hole’s Feast?

Tel Aviv University investigators identified a giant black hole being interrupted in the process of swallowing material. A star that got too close to the “dining table” might have caused the disruption, and gotten swallowed too.

Featured image: In the left panel: a streak of debris from a disrupted star is falling toward the disk, while the hot “corona” is still emitting X-rays (the ball of white light above the black hole). In the right panel: the debris has dispersed some of the gas, causing the corona to disappear. Credit: Robert Hurt, NASA / JPL.

At the center of a far-off galaxy, a giant, or “super-massive”, black hole is slowly consuming a disk of gas that swirls around it like water circling a drain. As the gas is pulled into the black hole, it heats up and emits radiation ranging from the visible to the X-rays – radiation that is clearly seen 300 million light years away on Earth.

In most such systems, it’s not unusual to see the radiation change in luminosity, getting 10 times brighter or fainter as the rate at which the black hole accretes material fluctuates. But two years ago, a team of researchers led by Dr. Benny Trakhtenbrot and Dr. Iair Arcavi, both from the Department of Astrophysics at Tel Aviv University, identified strange variations in the behavior of a black hole known as 1ES 1927+654. The ASAS-SN sky survey measured a 50-fold increase in the visible radiation emitted around the black hole, and observations taken by the researchers using the Las Cumbres network of robotic telescopes showed rapid changes in the form and source of the radiation.

A few weeks later, the team pointed NASA’s Swift, NuSTAR and NICER space telescopes, as well as the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope at the black hole, and noticed a 10,000-fold decrease in the X-ray radiation coming from the black hole’s vicinity. “We’ve never seen a black hole behave this way”, says Dr. Trakhtenbrot. “Usually, the amount of radiation from the vicinity of a black hole is directly linked to the rate at which it accretes material. So the sharp rise in the visible radiation was telling us that the accretion rate is increasing, while the decrease in X-ray radiation was telling us that the accretion rate is actually decreasing”.

“It was so strange that, at first, we thought maybe there was something wrong with the data”, said Claudio Ricci, an assistant professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, Chile. Dr. Ricci is leading a new study of the black hole. In this new study, the investigators suggest that a rogue star got too close to the black hole and was torn apart by the strong gravitational forces there. In such a scenario, the remnants of the disrupted star could crash onto the disk of gas that was there earlier, heat it up (creating more visible radiation), and cause some of it to disperse (thus reducing the X-ray emission). “We’ve seen several cases of black holes tear apart stars that got too close, but until now we’ve never seen it happen around a black hole with a pre-existing disk of material, nor the collision that ensues”, says Dr. Arcavi.

Almost every galaxy contains a super-massive black hole in its center, which can have a mass of a million or even a billion times the mass of the sun, but it’s still not clear how such high masses are reached. One possibility is that black holes grow by steadily accreting gas that’s around them. Recently, the possibility that an accelerated ingestion of stars could provide enough material for the black hole is also being investigated. The recent event in 1ES 1927+654 provides a glimpse into the combination of both processes.

Although a drifting star seems the most likely culprit, the authors note that there could be other explanations for the unprecedented event. One remarkable feature of the observations is the fact that the overall drop in X-ray brightness wasn’t a smooth transition: Day to day, the NICER telescope, installed on the International Space Station, detected dramatic variation, sometimes changing in brightness by a factor of 100 in a few hours. such rapid changes occurring continuously for months, have never been seen before. “This data set has a lot of puzzles in it,” said Dr. Ricci. “But that’s exciting, because it means we’re learning something new about the universe”.

An Experimental Drug for Alzheimer’s May Help Children with Autism

Tel Aviv University Researchers Discover Alzheimer’s-Like Traits in Autistic Child’s Brain

An extensive international study led by Tel Aviv University, headed by Prof. Illana Gozes of the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, found deposits of the tau protein typically found in Alzheimer’s patients in tissues taken from the postmortem brain of a 7-year-old autistic child. The child suffered from the ADNP syndrome, an ADNP mutation that causes a deficiency/malfunctioning of the ADNP protein which is essential for brain development. The ADNP syndrome child was characterized by severe developmental delay, intellectual disability, and autism. In light of these findings, the researchers tested an experimental drug called NAP – originally developed for Alzheimer’s disease – on nerve cells in a model of ADNP syndrome with the mutation inducing Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. The experiment was a success, with the damaged nerve – like cells returning to normal function.

The study was conducted in close collaboration with researchers from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at Tel Aviv University, Sheba Medical Center, and a variety of research institutions across Europe, including the biotechnology institute BIOCEV in the Czech Republic, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, the University of Antwerp in Belgium, and the University Hospital Centre in Zagreb, Croatia. The article was published in July 2020 in the journal Translational Psychiatry printed by the Nature Publishing Group.

Prof. Gozes explains that the current study is based on tissues taken from the brain of a 7-year-old boy with ADNP syndrome who died in Croatia. “When we compared the postmortem ADNP syndrome brain tissues to tissue from the brain of a young person without ADNP syndrome, we found deposits of the tau protein in the ADNP child, a pathology that characterizes Alzheimer’s disease.”

The researchers then “treated” damaged nerve-like cells carrying an ADNP mutation, similar to the deceased child mutation with a drug candidate called NAP, which is developed in Prof. Gozes’s laboratory and originally intended to be used to help treat Alzheimer’s disease. “NAP is actually a short active fragment of the normal ADNP protein,” says Prof. Gozes. “When we added NAP to the nerve cells carrying an ADNP mutation, the tau protein bound to the nerve cell skeleton properly, and the cells returned to normal function.”

Prof. Gozes: “The fact that NAP treatment has been successful in restoring the normal function of neuronal-like cell models with impaired ADNP raises hopes that it may be used as a remedy for ADNP syndrome and its severe implications, including autism. Moreover, because other genetic disorders related to autism are characterized by tau pathologies in the brain, we hope that those suffering from these syndromes will also be able to benefit from NAP treatment in the future.” It is important to note that NAP (also called CP201) has been classified as an “orphan drug” by the US Food and Drug Administration, and is currently in the preparatory stages of a clinical trial in children with ADNP syndrome through the company Coronis Neurosciences.

In another phase of the study, the researchers sought to broaden their understanding of the effects of the mutation that causes ADNP syndrome. To do this, they extracted the genetic material mRNA (messenger RNA) from the tissues of the deceased child, and performed an expression analysis of about 40 proteins in the same child, encoded by the mRNA. Full genetic sequencing was also performed to determine protein expression in white blood cells taken from three other children with ADNP syndrome. An in-depth study was carried out on all of the data obtained in the genetic sequencing using advanced bioinformatics computational tools. The data were compared to online databases of protein expression data from healthy individuals, revealing a variety of characteristics that were common to the children with the syndrome, but very different from the normal appearance of these proteins.

Prof. Gozes concludes that “the significance of these findings is that the mutation that causes ADNP syndrome damages a wide range of essential proteins, some of which bind to, among other things, the tau protein, and impair its function as well. This creates various pathological effects in the brains (and other tissues) of children with ADNP syndrome, one of which is the formation of tau deposits, known to be a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. The vast and in-depth knowledge we have accumulated through the present study opens the door to further extensive and diverse research. We hope and believe that we will ultimately reach the goal of developing a drug or drugs that will help children with autism resulting from genetic mutations.”

Featured image: Prof. Illana Gozes

Dan David Prize to Focus on Medicine, Public Health in 2021

In wake of COVID-19, laureates will be chosen in fields relating to pandemic and beyond

The 2021 Dan David Prize will focus on three fields with special resonance in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and the efforts to combat the disease.

The international prize, headquartered at Tel Aviv University, awards three $1 million prizes for outstanding achievements and extraordinary discoveries in fields representing the past, present and future, with different fields selected each year.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected nearly all aspects of life in recent months, is reflected in this year’s selection, as the prize seeks to reward major contributions in the fields of History of Health and Medicine, Public Health and Molecular Medicine.

“Considering fields for the 2021 Dan David Prize in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenging task,” said Prof. Ariel Porat, the president of Tel Aviv University and chairperson of the Dan David Prize Board. “We were seeking topics that would relate to the pandemic but not be limited to the quest for a vaccine or cure. We believe the fields we have chosen are newly resonant in light of our experiences these past months.”

The prize in the “Past” category will be awarded to an outstanding individual or organization making an ongoing, groundbreaking contribution to the field of History of Health and Medicine. The “Present” category will focus on an individual or organization making pioneering and prominent advances in the field of Public Health – a sphere often overlooked in the world of prizes. The “Future” award will honor an individual or organization making an outstanding and ongoing contribution to the rapidly evolving field of Molecular Medicine, which, by deciphering the molecular mechanisms of disease, can accelerate the development of new preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

The pandemic also impacted last year’s Prize, which was awarded in the fields of Cultural Preservation and Revival, Gender Equality and Artificial Intelligence. For the first time since the Prize was launched in 2001 by the late businessman and philanthropist Dan David, the traditional award ceremony was cancelled as the laureates, hailing from around the globe, were unable to travel to Tel Aviv to receive their prizes in person.

Previous laureates of the prize include authors Margaret Atwood and Amos Oz, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, cellist Yoyo Ma, maestro Zubin Mehta, economist and subsequent Noble Prize winner Esther Duflo, geneticist Mary-Claire King and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.

Anyone can nominate candidates for the prize via the website  before the November 30 deadline. More details of this year’s fields and the nomination can be found there too. Alternatively, contact the Dan David Prize office on ddprize@tauex.tau.ac.il or +972-3-640-6614/5.

The window of opportunity for preventing metastases

Immune System Stimulating Treatment to Reduce Psychological and Physiological Stress Prevents Metastases and Can Save Cancer Patients’ Lives

In a breakthrough research published recently in Nature magazine, Tel Aviv University researchers found that the short time period around the tumor removal surgery (the weeks before and after surgery), is critical for prevention of metastases development, which develop when the body is under stress.

According to the researchers, to prevent development of metastases after the surgery, patients need immunotherapeutic treatment along with treatment to reduce inflammation, and physical and psychological stress. The research was conducted by Prof. Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu from the School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University and Prof. Oded Zmora from Assaf Harofe Medical Center.

Immunotherapeutic treatment is a medical treatment activating the immune system. One such treatment, for example, is injecting substances with similar receptors to those of viruses and bacteria into the patient’s body. The immune system recognizes them as a threat and activates itself, thus it can prevent a metastatic disease.

Prof. Ben-Eliyahu explains: Surgery for the removal of the primary tumor is a mainstay in cancer treatment, however the risk of developing metastases after surgery is estimated at 10% among breast cancer patients, at 20%-40% among colorectal cancer patients, and at 80% among pancreas cancer patients.

According to Prof. Ben-Eliyahu, when the body is under physiological or psychological stress, such as a surgery, groups of hormones called prostaglandin and catecholamine are being produced in large quantities. These hormones suppress the immune system cells’ activity, and thus indirectly increase the development of metastases. Additionally, these hormones help tumor cells left after the surgery to develop into life threatening metastases. Thus, exposure to those hormones cause tumor tissues to become more aggressive and metastatic.

“Medical and immunotherapeutic intervention to reduce psychological and physiological stress, and activate the immune system in the critical period before and after the surgery, can prevent development of metastases, which will be discovered months of years later,” stresses Prof. Ben-Eliyahu.

Prof. Ben-Eliyahu adds that anti-metastatic treatment today skips the critical period around the surgery, thus leaves the medical staff to face the consequences of treating progressive and resistant metastatic processes, which are much harder to stop. Prof. Ben-Eliyahu’s research contradicts the assumption, widespread in the medical community, according to which, just like in chemo and radiotherapy, it is not recommended to give cancer patients immunotherapeutic treatment in the month before and after the surgery.

Walter Kastelan

Walter Kastelan

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear friend and colleague

Walter Kastelan

Governor, board member and former Treasurer of AFTAU (Victoria ) Inc.
Admired, respected and a true gentleman
Walter will always be remembered for the contribution he made to our organisation
and for that we are truly grateful.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife Veronica and his children.

He will be sadly missed.

President Rosie Potaznik, the Executive committee and staff at
Australian Friends of Tel Aviv University (Victoria) Inc.

TAU Researcher Fights Epidemics Both Viral and Virtual

Dan Yamin can detect any kind of contagious outbreak

TAU’s Dr. Dan Yamin has developed a data tracking system applicable both to infectious diseases like coronavirus and to anti-Israel bias on social media. He cites human behavior as a key factor in the transmission of both. Yamin, who heads the Lab for Epidemic Modeling and Analysis at TAU’s Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, says that his approach is based on what traditional epidemiology lacks – data on human behavior.

“At the core of any transmission process lies contact mixing patterns,” explains Yamin. “These patterns represent the social interactions of individuals,” adding that, when it comes to the spread of diseases, “whoever doesn’t consider these elements misses the point completely”. Together with Prof. Irad Ben-Gal, head of TAU’s Laboratory of AI, Machine Learning, Business & Data Analytics (LAMBDA), Yamin developed a tool for predicting transmission dynamics based on people’s movements tracked on their mobile phones. When COVID-19 broke out in Israel, Yamin consulted for Israel’s Health Ministry, predicting local outbreaks with this phone data system.

“The tool is not only helpful for local detection of the virus but also for creating simulations of the virus’ spread, telling us what will happen if one policy is replaced with another,” he says. For example, Yamin’s team recommended to the Health Ministry that daycare centers should re-open, based on data they collected.

Additionally, Yamin found that targeted lockdowns for high-risk groups and localized infection clusters are up to 5 times more efficient in reducing mortality as opposed to a nationwide lockdown strategy. This finding led the Israeli government to adopt its current targeted lockdown approaches. Now, months later, Yamin and his team are developing a tool for early detection of COVID-19 infection based on mobile phone sensors which measure step counts, sleeping habits and other parameters.

Think viral, tweet viral

Before joining TAU, Yamin completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University’s School of Public Health. While there, he was disturbed by the level of anti-Israel sentiment on American social networks and its ability to go viral. He immediately made the connection. No paragraph breakBased on the same patterns he studied in disease transmission, Yamin began creating a system that uses artificial intelligence to identify how certain groups use viral marketing tactics to spread anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages.

The system, known as Iron Dome for Social Media, aims to track and identify malicious content with potential to go viral in social media terms. Yamin explains that people who retweet posts casually are much like asymptomatic disease carriers. Many Twitter users will pass on information with covert or explicit anti-Semitic messages unintentionally.

Choosing when to respond on social media is a delicate matter. Hence, Yamin suggests using AI, such as in his Iron Dome system, to assist with the decision-making process. “Being proactively pro-Israel on social media is not always the best approach,” says Dr. Yamin. “Most anti-Israel tweets are not viral, so why waste time on tweets that won’t go anywhere?”

The next generation of disease control

As Israel and the world face the second wave of COVID-19, Yamin says, “for the time being, we need to live with this virus. If we act responsibly and maintain the daily routine for the vast majority of the population, we will not reach catastrophe”. Looking ahead, Yamin believes data-based methodologies like his are crucial in managing future viral diseases. As such, Yamin will be a key member of TAU’s multidisciplinary Center for Combating Pandemics, the first center of its kind in the world. “Data systems such as this one can substantially improve the accuracy of medical diagnosis in the future,” he says.

Dr. Dan Yamin (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)

Global first at TAU: MRI scan of the brains of 130 species of mammals, including humans, indicates equal connectivity in all of them

The research reveales a universal Law: Conservation of Brain Connectivity

Researchers at Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Yaniv Assaf of the School of Neurobiology, Biochemistry and Biophysics and the Sagol School of Neuroscience and Prof. Yossi Yovel of the School of Zoology, the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, conducted a pioneering study – first of its kind in the world: advanced diffusion MRI scans of the brains of mammals representing about 130 species, designed to investigate brain connectivity. The intriguing results, contradicting widespread conjectures, revealed that brain connectivity levels are equal in all mammals, including humans.

Prof. Assaf: “We discovered that brain connectivity (namely the efficiency of information transfer through the neural network) does not depend on either the size or structure of any specific brain. In other words, the brains of all mammals – from tiny mice through humans to large bulls and dolphins – exhibit equal connectivity, and information travels with the same efficiency within them. We also found that the brain preserves this balance via a special compensation mechanism: when connectivity between the hemispheres is high, connectivity within each hemisphere is relatively low, and vice versa.”

Participants included researchers from the Kimron Veterinary Institute in Beit Dagan, the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at TAU and the Technion’s Faculty of Medicine. The paper was published in Nature Neuroscience in June 2020.

Prof. Assaf explains: “Brain connectivity is a central feature, critical to the functioning of the brain. Many scientists have assumed that connectivity in the human brain is significantly higher compared to other animals, as a possible explanation for the superior functioning of the ‘human animal’.” On the other hand, according to Prof. Yovel, “We know that key features are conserved throughout the evolutionary process. Thus, for example, all mammals gave four limbs. In this project we wished to explore the possibility that brain connectivity may be a key feature of this kind – maintained in all mammals regardless of their size or brain structure. To this end we used advanced research tools.”

 

Intelligent mammals

Size doesn’t count

The project began with advanced diffusion MRI scans of the brains of about 130 mammals – each representing a different species (It must be noted that all brains were removed from dead animals, and no animals were put down for the purposes of this study). The brains, obtained from the Kimron Veterinary Institute, represented a very wide range of mammals – from tiny bats weighing 10 grams to dolphins whose weight can reach hundreds of kilograms. Since the brains of about 100 of these mammals had never been MRI-scanned before, the project generated a novel and globally unique database. The brains of 32 living humans were also scanned in the same way. The unique technology, which detects the white matter in the brain, enabled the researchers to reconstruct the neural network: the neurons and their axons (nerve fibers) through which information is transferred, and the synapses (junctions) where they meet.

The next challenge was comparing the scans of different types of animals, whose brains vary greatly in size and/or structure.  For this purpose the researchers employed tools from Network Theory, a branch of mathematics that allowed them to create and apply a uniform gage of brain conductivity: the number of synopses a message must cross to get from one location to another in the neural network.

Prof. Assaf explains: “A mammal’s brain consists of two hemispheres connected to each other by a set of neural fibers (axons) that transfer information. For every brain we scanned we measured four connectivity gages: connectivity in each hemisphere (intrahemispheric connections), connectivity between the two hemispheres (interhemispheric) and overall connectivity. We discovered that overall brain connectivity remains the same for all mammals, large or small, including humans. In other words: information travels from one location to another through the same number of synopses. It must be clarified, however, that different brains use different strategies to preserve this equal measure of overall connectivity: some exhibit strong interhemispheric connectivity and weaker connectivity within the hemispheres, while others display the opposite.”

Prof. Yovel describes another interesting discovery: “We found that variations in connectivity compensation characterize not only different species but also different individuals within the same species. In other words, the brains of some rats, bats or humans exhibit higher interhemispheric connectivity at the expense of connectivity within the hemispheres, and the other way around – compared to others of the same species. It would be fascinating to hypothesize how different types of brain connectivity may affect various cognitive functions or human capabilities such as sports, music or math. Such questions will be addressed in our future research.”

A New universal law

Prof. Assaf concludes: “Our study revealed a universal Law: Conservation of Brain Connectivity. This Law denotes that the efficiency of information transfer in the brain’s neural network is equal in all mammals, including humans. We also discovered a compensation mechanism which balances the connectivity in every mammalian brain. This mechanism ensures that high connectivity in a specific area of the brain, possibly manifested through some special talent (e.g. sports or music) is always countered by relatively low connectivity in another part of the brain. In future projects we will investigate how the brain compensates for the enhanced connectivity associated with specific capabilities and learning processes.”

TAU study: Oxygen therapy improves cognitive function in seniors

Research Published in Aging first to Show Enhanced Brain Function and Cognitive Capabilities Resulting from Novel Therapy

The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at Shamir Medical Center, together with Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University announced that, for the first time, in humans, a peer-reviewed study has demonstrated that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can significantly enhance the cognitive performance of healthy older adults.

The main areas of improvement were attention, information processing speed, executive function, in addition to the global cognitive function, all of which typically decline with age. Moreover, there was a significant correlation between the cognitive changes and improved cerebral blood flow in specific brain locations.

The study was published on July 15th, 2020 in the peer reviewed journal Aging, entitled: Cognitive enhancement of healthy older adults using hyperbaric oxygen: a randomized controlled trial.

Professor Shai Efrati, Head of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research, and Head of Research & Development at Shamir Medical Center, and an Associate Professor at Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Amir Hadanny, the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research, designed the study based on a unique HBOT protocol developed at the Sagol Center over the past 10 years. The randomized controlled clinical trial included 63 healthy adults (>64) who underwent either HBOT (n=33) or a control period (n=30) for three months. The study’s primary endpoint included a change in general cognitive function measured by a standardized comprehensive battery of computerized cognitive assessments before and after the intervention or control. Cerebral blood flow (CBF) was evaluated by a novel magnetic resonance imaging technique for brain perfusion.

“Age-related cognitive and functional decline has become a significant concern in the Western world. Major research efforts around the world are focused on improving the cognitive performance of the so-called ‘normal’ aging population,” said Prof. Efrati. “In our study, for the first time in humans, we have found an effective and safe medical intervention that can address this unwanted consequence of our age-related deterioration.”

“Over years of research, we have developed an advanced understanding of HBOT’s ability to restore brain function. In the past, we have demonstrated HBOT’s potential to improve/treat brain injuries such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and anoxic brain injury (due to sustained lack of oxygen supply) by increasing brain blood flow and metabolism,” explained Dr. Amir Hadanny. “This landmark research could have a far-reaching impact on the way we view the aging process and the ability to treat its symptoms.”

During HBOT, the patient breaths in pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber where the air pressure is increased to twice that of normal air. This process increases oxygen solubility in the blood that travels throughout the body. The added oxygen stimulates the release of growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing. HBOT has been applied worldwide mostly to treat chronic non-healing wounds.

There is a growing body of evidence on the regenerative effects of HBOT. The researchers have demonstrated that the combined action of delivering high levels of oxygen (hyperoxia) and pressure (hyperbaric environment), leads to significant improvement in tissue oxygenation while targeting both oxygen and pressure sensitive genes, resulting in restored and enhanced tissue metabolism. Moreover, these targeted genes induce stem cell proliferation, reduce inflammation and induce generation of new blood vessels and tissue repair mechanisms.

“The occlusion of small blood vessels, similar to the occlusions which may develop in the pipes of an ‘aging’ home, is a dominant element in the human aging process. This led us to speculate that HBOT may affect brain performance of the aging population,” Prof. Efrati explained. “We found that HBOT induced a significant increase in brain blood flow, which correlated with cognitive improvement, confirming our theory. One can conjecture that similar beneficial effect of HBOT can be induced in other organs of the aging body. These will be investigated in our upcoming research.”

The research group leader, Professor Shai Efrati, who serves as director of The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research, and is an Associate Professor at Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, also disclosed his role with Aviv Scientific LTD, which has developed a comprehensive program that includes HBOT treatment, cognitive and physical training and nutritional coaching, to enhance brain and body performance of aging adults based on the Sagol HBOT protocol at Aviv Clinics. Prof. Efrati serves as Chair of Aviv Scientific’s Medical Advisory Board

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