While our health care system is struggling to keep up with the pressure, hundreds of graduates from the Department of Nursing at The Stanley Steyer School of Health Professions will soon join the efforts against the pandemic and can become a significant reinforcement for the health system and society in general.
New data from Tel Aviv University shows there has been a 50% increase in nursing students over the last two years, up from 223 students in 2019 to 327 students in 2021.
Moreover, the number of academics who decided to transfer to the nursing profession has tripled from 39 in 2019 to 102 in 2021. According to the Department of Nursing, the boost is mainly a result of the appreciation for the work of nurses during the Corona crisis.
Academics who have chosen to convert to nursing come from a variety of disciplines, including: law, education, psychology and behavioral sciences.
Dr. Michal Itzhaki, Chair of the Department of Nursing, welcomes the increase, describing the incoming academics as “a high-quality workforce, which has recalculated a route following a desire for job security, managerial promotion and professional satisfaction, and which we are happy to welcome.”
“Academic nurses are engaged in a critical and vital profession, which significance has intensified in the past year and a half. Nursing students see their studies as a mission, based on the highest level of professionalism, humanity and concern for others. We’re proud of every graduate who goes on to integrate into the workforce.”
Dr. Anat Amit Aharon, Head of the Academic Transfer Program, adds: “In the retraining studies in the department, we work closely with two leading Israeli hospitals, Sheba and Ichilov. Together, we guide the students to academic excellence. Our graduates all made a brave decision, sometimes after successful careers, to transition to study nursing. They deserve appreciation.”
The lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines results in the deaths of many people and even accelerates the development of new variants. Researchers from Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, have found that a substance called ‘ulvan’ extracted from edible marine algae prevents the infection of cells with the coronavirus.
The researchers believe this affordable and natural material may help solve serious problems, such as the spread of the coronavirus in large populations, especially in developing countries with limited access to vaccines. The study is still in its early stages, but the researchers are hopeful that the discovery will be used in the future to develop an accessible and effective drug to prevent coronavirus infection.
Prof. Golberg explains: “It is already clear today that the coronavirus vaccine alone, despite its effectiveness, will not be able to prevent the global spread of the pandemic. As long as the lack of access to vaccines remains unaddressed for billions of people in underprivileged communities, the virus is expected to develop increasingly more variants, which may be resistant to vaccines – and the war against the virus will continue.”
“It is very important to find affordable and accessible solutions to suit even economically weak populations in developing countries. With this aim, our lab tested a substance that could be extracted from a common seaweed. Ulvan is extracted from marine algae called Ulva, an edible ‘sea lettuce’ common in places like Japan, New Zealand and Hawaii,” he adds.
Golberg explains that his lab’s rational for exploring the potential use of ulvan for coronavirus defenses was motivated by previous discoveries of its effectiveness in preventing plant viruses along with some human viruses.
To test their hypothesis, the TAU researchers grew Ulva algae and extracted the ulvan from it before sending samples to the Southern Research Institute in Alabama, which deals with infectious diseases. The US researchers built a lab model to test the activity of the substance produced by Prof. Golberg’s team. The cells were exposed to both the coronavirus and the ulvan. It was found that, in the presence of ulvan, the coronavirus did not infect the cells. As opposed to extracts from other algae tested, the substance demonstrated success in preventing coronavirus infection.
According to the researchers, “The substance was produced in raw production, meaning it is a mixture of many natural substances, and we must find out which one is responsible for preventing cellular infection. After that, we will have to examine how, if at all, it works in humans.”
The research team consisted of Shai Sheffer, Arthur Rubin and Alexander Chemodanov from Dr. Golberg’s laboratory, Prof. Michael Gozin from the School of Chemistry and the Tel Aviv Universicy Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. They collaborated with researchers from the Hebrew University, the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, and the Southern Research Institute in Alabama, USA. The article was published in the journal PeerJ.
Featured image: Specially designed closed system with photobioreactors for seaweed production at TAU
A new study from the Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine found that during Israel’s first lockdown the general population exhibited a considerable rise in orofacial pain, as well as jaw-clenching in the daytime and teeth-grinding at night – physical symptoms often caused by stress and anxiety. The study was led by Dr. Alona Emodi-Perlman and Prof. Ilana Eli of TAU’s School of Dental Medicine, in collaboration with Dr. Nir Uziel and Dr. Efrat Gilon of TAU, and researchers from the University of Wroclaw in Poland, who examined the Polish population’s reaction to the pandemic. The paper was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in October 2020.
Researchers Dr. Emodi-Perlman and Prof. Eli specialize in facial and jaw pain, with emphasis on TMD (Temporo-Mandibular Disorders) – chronic pain in the facial muscles and jaw joints, as well as Bruxism – excessive teeth-grinding and/or jaw-clenching, which can significantly damage the teeth and jaw joints. These syndromes are known to be greatly impacted by emotional factors such as stress and anxiety.
Accordingly, the researchers decided to conduct a study examining the presence and possible worsening of these symptoms in the general population during the first COVID-19 lockdown, due to the national emergency and rise in anxiety levels. The questionnaire was answered by a total of 1,800 respondents in Israel and Poland.
In Israel, a significant rise was found in all symptoms, compared to data from studies conducted before the pandemic:
In addition, comparing findings in Israel to results in Poland, the researchers found that probability of TMD and Bruxism was much higher among respondents in Poland.
Dr. Emodi-Perlman and Prof. Eli conclude: “Our study, conducted during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, found a significant rise in the symptoms of jaw and facial pain, jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding – well-known manifestations of anxiety and emotional distress. We found that women are more likely than men to suffer from these symptoms, and that the 35-55 age group suffered more than the younger (18-34) and older (56 and over) groups. We believe that our findings reflect the distress felt by the middle generation, who were cooped up at home with young children, without the usual help from grandparents, while also worrying about their elderly parents, facing financial problems and often required to work from home under trying conditions.”
Google.org, a Google fund aimed at supporting data based solutions for some of humanity’s greatest challenges, chose to award a competitive grant to Tel Aviv University for high-impact research employing Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to combat COVID-19. This step is one of many taken by Google in its ongoing effort to contribute to the global battle against the pandemic while also promoting its “AI for Social Good” research program – headed by, among others, Prof. Yossi Matias, Vice President at Google and CEO of the Research and Development Center at Google Israel. The Israeli center is a key player in Google’s endeavors to combat COVID-19, and also to help protect populations faced with natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and wildfires.
The grant is being awarded to TAU’s AI and Data Science Center for research employing AI techniques and advanced statistical methods to improve COVID-19 public health measures. Using data from government ministries (Health, Transport, etc.) and the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the researchers intend to build an accurate high-resolution model of the spread of the pandemic and then use it to plan and test various methods for stopping infection. This interdisciplinary research brings together TAU scientists from the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, the School of Public Health, the Department of Statistics and Operations Research, the Blavatnik School of Computer Science, the School of Electrical Engineering, and the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy Research.
Prof. Meir Feder, Head of the AI and Data Science Center at Tel Aviv University: “We’re proud that Google has chosen to award this significant grant to our center in order to expand COVID-19 research in Israel. This grant will support the development of AI and Reinforcement Learning based tools for planning and examining the effects of different steps on the spread of the pandemic. The research findings will be used by decision-makers in their efforts to establish policies for stopping the pandemic.”
Featured image: Prof. Meir Feder, Head of the AI and Data Science Center at Tel Aviv University
As scientists race to understand the newest Omicron variant of COVID-19, Tel Aviv University experts share insights—largely reassuring—on the situation. The latest coronavirus strain dominating headlines was first discovered in South Africa in November. Cases have since emerged around the globe, including in Israel. Under the auspices of TAU’s Center for Combating Pandemics, dozens of teams across campus are contributing to global efforts to understand and combat the pandemic. Here is what they are saying about Omicron:
Amid the media maelstrom and uncertainty surrounding Omicron, Dr. Oren Kobiler of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine proscribes the popular adage “keep calm and carry on.”
“It is best not to panic over Omicron,” he says. “This new variant will not change the entire dynamic of the disease. Vaccine efficacy against severe illness was maintained against all variants so far, and it is unlikely that their efficacy will decrease against this variant.”
From a biological and virological perspective, he notes that the Omicron variant is unique and needs further examination. However, the best thing for the general public to do is get fully vaccinated and wear masks.
“The worst-case scenario is that we will face another wave of infection, but that should not lead to higher rates of mortality due to current vaccination rates,” he says.
Kobiler, a virology expert, says that Israel is among countries with the highest rates of COVID-19 booster vaccination among its population. “Several immunological studies indicated that this gives us an edge for fighting new variants.”
“Until everyone is vaccinated, though, we will keep seeing more mutations and variants,” he stresses, adding that widespread inoculation is particularly critical in developing countries where infection and mortality rates are significantly higher than in wealthier nations.
Prof. Eran Bacharach
The emergence of the Omicron variant has raised questions about the efficacy of booster shots in their current form as opposed to revamped inoculations that may emerge in the future.
Prof. Eran Bacharach, of the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and a member of the Israeli Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Team, implores the public to get third injections as soon as possible of COVID-19 vaccines rather than waiting for new versions that may be better formulated to target Omicron.
“It will still take at least several months before new versions of COVID-19 vaccines are available on the market,” says Bacharach, the head of the molecular virology lab at the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research.
Prof. Adi Stern, also of the Shmunis School, echoes Kobiler and Bacharach’s calls, adding that until there are updated vaccines, additional new variants will likely emerge. She explains that the spread of infection within a population—or “chain of infection”—is what enables the development of mutations and variants.
“Inoculation, even with vaccines that aren’t specifically formulated to target a certain strain, is the only thing that will break these ‘chains of infection’ and prevent the emergence of new variants,” says Stern, whose lab has been studying the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, now including the origin and behavior of the Omicron variant.
Prof. Adi Stern
Furthermore, she notes that current vaccines are based on the original wild-type strains seen early in the pandemic. “These vaccines have proved effective thus far in protecting against severe disease and death from existing variants, including the Delta strain. Considering all this, it’s much better to be vaccinated now to promote individual and herd immunity.”
Between “pandemic fatigue” and hyperbolized fears stoked by some officials, the latest variant outbreak renews questions about how to manage the situation. To avoid spurring panic, Dr. Bruria Adini cautions that public officials should not jump to conclusions about the severity of the Omicron variant when addressing the public.
“The public needs to be a full partner in the pandemic response. If officials lose the public’s trust, the situation will deteriorate,” says Adini, head of the Department of Emergency and Disaster Management in the School of Public Health, Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
Dr. Bruria Adini
Adini, who has been conducting long-term studies of COVID-19 since March 2020, surveys the public every few months to gauge their emotional status and level of resilience over time. Her research continuously incorporates new developments that contribute to public perceptions, such as the risk versus reward of vaccinating children.
“It could be Omicron today or a new variant tomorrow, but we’ll live with COVID-19 for at least the near future,” she says.
One of the main concerns countries need to manage now is the prevention of healthcare system overloads.”Strengthening the capacity of medical systems with measures such as more ICU and internal medicine beds will foster more public resilience, which my research has found to be the greatest predictor of behavior such as agreeing to get vaccinated,” she says.
As opposed to earlier in the pandemic, she notes that the public and governments have shifted their mindset toward coronavirus. She points to the lessening of widespread lockdowns and closures of workplaces and schools amid each new development as a positive indication of evolving pandemic responses.
Recent Shmunis School achievements:
As the COVID-19 pandemic nears the end of a second year, Tel Aviv University is maintaining its fast pace of scientific discovery in the global battle against coronavirus.
Building on the University’s innovation record, TAU in 2020 launched the Center for Combating Pandemics. The Center harnesses the collective power of academia, hospitals, government and industry to promote research and guide government policy. It is the first entity of its kind in Israel, and potentially the world.
Members of the Center include more than 100 research groups comprised of top TAU experts from all scientific disciplines across campus. Among them, over 60 researchers have, until now, conducted projects related to COVID-19.
To date, the Center’s members have published findings from dozens of COVID-19 studies. Select examples include:
Prof. Noam Shomron (Medicine) spearheaded a novel approach to remote monitoring of COVID-19 patients that flags early cardiovascular warnings of worsening health. More here.
Prof. Shoshana Shiloh (Social Sciences) and team devised a model to determine the psychological and social factors that predict who will voluntarily take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Prof. Dan Yamin’s (Engineering) lab developed a “big data” COVID-19 detection technology that could be used to reduce viral spread and help shape more efficient testing policy. More here.
Prof. Isaac Sasson (Engineering) led a study to help improve understanding of COVID-19 mortality and age in countries with limited data. More here.
A team led by Prof. Saharon Rosset (Exact Sciences) built a statistical model to better understand SARS-CoV-2 evolution and to predict future mutations of the virus, particularly those which lead to new variants.
Prof. Aeyal Gross (Law) and team examined legal and public health implications of Israel’s “Green Pass” proof-of-vaccination rules under the country’s pandemic response. More here.
Through big data methods, Prof. Tal Pupko’s (Life Sciences, Shmunis School) found that the swift implementation of lockdowns, rather than their strictness, was more effective in reducing COVID-19 mortality rates. More here.
Currently, the TAU researchers from the Center have approximately 30 ongoing coronavirus projects, including:
Prof. Dan Peer (Life Sciences), TAU Vice President for Research & Development, is exploring best practices to advance the bourgeoning technology behind non-viral mRNA vaccines.
Prof. Adi Stern’s (Life Sciences, Shmunis) lab has been studying the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, including the origin and behavior of the Omicron variant. More here.
Prof. Ron Shamir (Exact Sciences) has teamed up with local hospitals to explore early predictors of deterioration in COVID-19 patients using machine-learning and “big data” methods.
Prof. Yael Benyamini (Social Sciences) is leading a broad study on pregnancy and childbirth that surveyed the concerns of pregnant women about childbearing amid COVID-19.
Prof. Miri Yemini (Humanities) & Dr. Efrat Blumenfeld (Arts) are leading an urban-sociological examination of remote teaching and learning during times of social distancing.
In March, the Center plans to hold its first international conference to highlight recent COVID-19 research. The event will also recognize trailblazing research fellows and grant recipients. For registration and updates, visit: https://en-pandemics.tau.ac.il/save-the-date-first-tccp-convention .
Featured News: More than 100 research groups from all scientific disciplines across TAU campus are on the frontlines of the pandemic battle. (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)
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