Tag: Medicine & Health

Aerobic Activity can Reduce Risk of Metastatic Cancer by 72%

TAU researchers find that exercise defeats cancer by increasing glucose consumption.

A new study at Tel Aviv University found that aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of metastatic cancer by 72%. According to the researchers, intensity aerobic exercise increases the glucose (sugar) consumption of internal organs, thereby reducing the availability of energy to the tumor.  

The study was led by two researchers from TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine: Prof. Carmit Levy from the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry and Dr. Yftach Gepner from the School of Public Health and the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute. The paper was published in the prestigious journal Cancer Research and chosen for the cover of the November 2022 issue

 

“If the general message to the public so far has been ‘be active, be healthy’, now we can explain how aerobic activity can maximize the prevention of the most aggressive and metastatic types of cancer.” Prof. Carmit Levy and Dr. Ytach Gepner

 

Enhanced Rate of Glucose Consumption

Previous studies have demonstrated that physical exercise reduces the risk for some types of cancer by up to 35%. This positive effect resembles the impact of exercise on other conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

In this study, Prof. Levy and Dr. Gepner added new insight, showing that high-intensity aerobic exercise, which derives its energy from sugar, can reduce the risk of metastatic cancer by as much as 72%. “If the general message to the public so far has been ‘be active, be healthy’,” they say, “now we can explain how aerobic activity can maximize the prevention of the most aggressive and metastatic types of cancer.”

The study combined lab models trained under a strict exercise regimen, with data from healthy human volunteers examined before and after running. The human data, obtained from an epidemiological study that monitored 3,000 individuals for about 20 years, indicated 72% less metastatic cancer in participants who reported regular aerobic activity at high intensity, compared to those who did not engage in physical exercise.

The animal model exhibited a similar outcome, enabling the researchers to identify its underlying mechanism. They found that aerobic activity significantly reduced the development of metastatic tumors in the lab models’ lymph nodes, lungs, and liver. The researchers hypothesized that in both humans and model animals, this favorable outcome is related to the enhanced rate of glucose consumption induced by exercise.

 

“Physical exercise, with its unique metabolic and physiological effects, exhibits a higher level of cancer prevention than any medication or medical intervention to date.” Dr. Yftach Gepner

 

From left to right: Prof. Carmit Levy and Dr. Yftach Gepner

“Exercise Changes the Whole Body”

“Our study is the first to investigate the impact of exercise on the internal organs in which metastases usually develop, like the lungs, liver, and lymph nodes,” explains Prof. Levy.

“Examining the cells of these organs, we found a rise in the number of glucose receptors during high-intensity aerobic activity – increasing glucose intake and turning the organs into effective energy-consumption machines, very much like the muscles. We assume that this happens because the organs must compete for sugar resources with the muscles, known to burn large quantities of glucose during physical exercise. Consequently, if cancer develops, the fierce competition over glucose reduces the availability of energy that is critical to metastasis.”

“Moreover,” she offers, “when a person exercises regularly, this condition becomes permanent: the tissues of internal organs change and become similar to muscle tissue. We all know that sports and physical exercise are good for our health. Our study, examining the internal organs, discovered that exercise changes the whole body, so that the cancer cannot spread, and the primary tumor also shrinks in size.”  

Prof. Levy emphasizes that by combining scientific knowhow from different schools at TAU, the new study has led to a very important discovery which may help prevent metastatic cancer – the leading cause of death in Israel.

“Our results indicate that unlike fat-burning exercise, which is relatively moderate, it is a high-intensity aerobic activity that helps in cancer prevention,” adds Dr. Gepner. “If the optimal intensity range for burning fat is 65-70% of the maximum pulse rate, sugar burning requires 80-85% – even if only for brief intervals.”

“For example: a one-minute sprint followed by walking, then another sprint. In the past, such intervals were mostly typical of athletes’ training regimens, but today we also see them in other exercise routines, such as heart and lung rehabilitation. Our results suggest that healthy individuals should also include high-intensity components in their fitness programs. We believe that future studies will enable personalized medicine for preventing specific cancers, with physicians reviewing family histories to recommend the right kind of physical activity. It must be emphasized that physical exercise, with its unique metabolic and physiological effects, exhibits a higher level of cancer prevention than any medication or medical intervention to date.”  

4th Covid-19 Vaccine Reduces Risk of Death by 72% Amongst Elderly

Study by Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, and Israeli Ministry of Health included 40K Israelis.

A new study by Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in collaboration with the Israeli Ministry of Health, found that the fourth COVID-19 vaccine is effective in protecting the elderly from the Omicron variant.

The groundbreaking study included approximately 40,000 elderly Israelis living in institutions supervised by the Ministry of Health’s “Senior Shield” program, a task force launched by Israel’s government to oversee the prevention and control of COVID-19 in the country’s geriatric facilities. According to its results, elderly at-risk individuals vaccinated with the fourth dose of the Pfizer vaccine have a 34% reduced risk of contracting the Omicron variant, a 64-67% reduced risk of requiring hospitalization due to COVID, and a 72% reduced risk of death from the virus.

The study was led by Prof. Khitam Muhsen and Prof. Dani Cohen of the School of Public Health at Tel Aviv University, Prof. Ron Dagan of Ben Gurion University, Prof. Nimrod Maimon, director of the Internal Medicine Department at Soroka Medical Center and until recently head of the Ministry of Health’s Senior Shield program, as well as program staff members Ami Mizrahi, Omri Bodenheimer, and Boris Boltyansky, in collaboration with Lea Gaon and Zafrira Hillel-Diamant of the Ministry’s Department of Geriatrics. The study was published in the prestigious journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Particularly Vulnerable Population

“Our study compared 24,088 residents of Senior Shield facilities who received a fourth dose of the Pfizer vaccine – that is, the second booster shot – with 19,687 residents who were vaccinated with the first three doses four months or more prior to the follow-up, but who chose not to get the second booster,” explains Prof. Muhsen.

“These are residents of geriatric institutions, nursing homes and assisted living facilities that are part of the Ministry of Health’s Senior Shield system – a total of about 1,000 institutions across the country. This population is particularly vulnerable to infection, morbidity, and mortality from the coronavirus, due to the nature and living conditions of the institutions, the fact that many residents need help with daily activities, and the previous health issues that many of the residents suffer from.”

When the Omicron wave spread throughout Israel between January and March of this year, there was no registered and available vaccine for this variant, which underwent significant mutations in the spike protein that allows the virus to attach to and penetrate human cells. Because the existing COVID-19 vaccines target the spike protein, there has been much discussion in Israel and the rest of the world about the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the Omicron variant in general, and with regards to a second booster shot. Israel was the first country to approve the second booster (the fourth dose of the vaccine) for those aged 60 and above. The present study is based on data from the Senior Shield population database, which constituted the first large group to receive the second booster. Prof. Muhsen points out that this new study was conducted on a national scale, and that it successfully addressed the methodological problems that characterize observational epidemiological studies on the effectiveness of COVID vaccines.

Fourth Dose Saved Many Lives

“We monitored the infections, hospitalizations and mortality rates in these two groups throughout the Omicron wave, and found that the members of the group that received the fourth vaccine were infected at a rate that was 34% less than the control group; were hospitalized for mild-to-moderate illness 64% less, and for severe illness 67% less than the control group; and had a mortality rate that was 72% less than the group vaccinated with only the first three doses,” says Prof. Muhsen.

“These are significant data, because the Senior Shield population is one of the groups who suffer the most severe morbidity from the coronavirus, at a much higher rate than the general population. We assume that the fourth dose of the vaccine boosted the level of neutralizing antibodies, which conferred cross-protection against the Omicron variant. Our study points to the significant benefit of administering the fourth dose of the vaccine and confirms that the policy adopted by the State of Israel was the correct one. The decision to vaccinate at-risk populations with the fourth dose was a wise choice that saved a lot of human lives.”

Prof. Muhsen adds: “This is a groundbreaking and innovative study based on a database of the elderly population in care facilities. Previous studies have been conducted in the general population, and therefore also among relatively young populations with an average age of around 72, whereas the average age in our study was 80. Moreover, in general, people who go to be tested or vaccinated against COVID tend to exhibit positive health behaviors, so it is very difficult to compare their morbidity levels to those of unvaccinated people or those who have been vaccinated with three doses. We have no information as to why some of the residents chose not to receive the fourth vaccine dose, but both groups in our study underwent routine and ‘blind’ COVID tests according to uniform Senior Shield protocol, regardless of whether they received the vaccine. Therefore, our study was less affected by the ‘healthy vaccinee effect,’ and its results can also be applied to other populations, in Israel and around the world.”

According to Prof. Dani Cohen, “The study indicates that giving booster shots and raising the level of antibodies through a vaccine based on the original COVID-19 strain provides significant protection against the onset of serious illness even after infection with new variants, including those that are very different from the original, such as Omicron.”

Prof. Nimrod Maimon adds that “The task of protecting institutions for people living outside of the home is a very important aspect of the Ministry of Health’s Senior Shield program. The database that the project has built and accumulated about the institutions and their residents has allowed for rapid and effective vaccination campaigns, which have yielded dramatic results in curbing illness from the coronavirus amongst these populations. The impressive results of the program have received widespread international praise, with health authorities from many countries around the world seeking to learn from the Senior Shield program.”

Prof. Ron Dagan concludes that the results presented in the study demonstrate once again the critical role of vaccines and the use of structured and effective systems in curbing waves of severe morbidity and mortality in at-risk populations.

Going to the Beach? Sun Exposure Makes Men Hungrier than Women

TAU researchers find surprising connection between sun exposure and men’s appetite.

A new study from Tel Aviv University reveals that solar exposure increases appetite in males, but not in females. It is the first gender-dependent medical study ever conducted on UV exposure, and for the first time, the molecular connection between UV exposure and appetite was deciphered.

Skin as Regulator of Appetite

The groundbreaking study was led by Prof. Carmit Levy and PhD student Shivang Parikh of the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. It was conducted in collaboration with many researchers in Israel and worldwide, including contributors from Tel Aviv Sourasky (Ichilov), Assuta, Meir, and Sheba Medical Centers, along with Dr. Yiftach Gepner and Dr. Lior Bikovski from TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and Prof. Aron Weller of Bar-Ilan University. The paper was published in the prestigious journal Nature Metabolism.

The study was based on epidemiological data collected in a year-long survey about the eating habits of approximately 3,000 Israelis of both sexes, including self-reports from students who had spent time in the sun, combined with the results of a genetic study in a lab model. The findings identify the skin as a primary regulator of energy and appetite (metabolism) in both lab models and humans.

 

Prof. Carmit Levy

Estrogen Hormone Blocks Urge to Eat in Women

The study unravels the differences between males and females in the activation of the metabolic mechanism. The researchers explain that in males of both animal species and humans, sun exposure activates a protein called p53, to repair any DNA damage in the skin that might have been caused by the exposure. The activation of p53 signals the body to produce a hormone called ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite.

In females, the hormone estrogen blocks the interaction between p53 and ghrelin, and consequently does not catalyze the urge to eat following exposure to the sun.

The researchers explain that there is a dramatic metabolic difference between males and females, impacting both their health and their behavior. However, so far it has not been established whether the two sexes respond differently to environmental triggers such as exposures to the sun’s UV radiation.

“We examined the differences between men and women after sun exposure and found that men eat more than women because their appetite has increased. Our study was the first gender-dependent medical study ever conducted on UV exposure, and for the first time, the molecular connection between UV exposure and appetite was deciphered. Gender-dependent medical studies are particularly complex, since twice the number of participants is required to find statistically significant differences,” explains Prof. Levy.

“As humans, we have cast off our fur and consequently, our skin, the largest organ in our body, is exposed to signals from the environment. The protein p53, found in the skin, repairs damage to the DNA caused by sun exposure, but it does more than that. It signals to our bodies that winter is over, and we are out in the sun, possibly in preparation for the mating season. Our results provide an encouraging basis for more research, on both human metabolism and potential UV-based therapies for metabolic diseases and appetite disorders,” Prof. Levy concludes.

Breakthrough Technology Could Lead to One-Time HIV Treatment

TAU researchers demonstrate initial success in neutralizing the virus with a single vaccine.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University demonstrated success of a novel technology that may be developed into a one-time vaccine to treat people with HIV and AIDS. The team used CRISP systems, best known as a gene-editing technique, to engineer type B white blood cells that activate the immune system to produce HIV-neutralizing antibodies.

The study was led by Dr. Adi Barzel and PhD student Alessio Nehmad, both from the School of Neurobiology, Biochemistry and Biophysics at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Dotan Center for Advanced Therapies at TAU in collaboration with the Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov). The study was conducted in collaboration with additional researchers from Israel and the US. The study was published in the prestigious journal Nature.

An Inside Operation

There is currently no permanent cure for AIDS. There is also no genetic treatment for AIDS, so the research opportunities are vast. “Based on this study,” says Dr. Barzel, “we can expect that over the coming years we will be able to produce a medication for AIDS, additional infectious diseases and certain types of cancer caused by a virus, such as cervical cancer, head and neck cancer and more.” 

Dr. Barzel explains: “We developed an innovative treatment that may defeat the virus with a one-time injection, with the potential of bringing about tremendous improvement in the patients’ condition. When the engineered B cells encounter the virus, the virus stimulates and encourages them to divide, so we are utilizing the very cause of the disease to combat it. Furthermore, if the virus changes, the B cells will also change accordingly in order to combat it, so we have created the first medication ever that can evolve in the body and defeat viruses in the ‘arms race’.”

Over the last two decades, the lives of many AIDS patients have improved as a result of game-changing treatments. These treatments control the virus to convert the disease from what was once a universally lethal to a chronic illness. However, the researchers underline that there is still a long way to go before a treatment is found that would provide patients with a permanent cure. The development from Dr. Barzel’s laboratory offers one possible route for the endeavor. HIV destroys certain white blood cells that are critical for immune health, weakening the body’s defenses against serious infections. The technique developed in his lab involves the injection of genetically-engineered type B white blood cells into a patient’s body, catalyzing the immune system to secrete antibodies that neutralize the HIV.

B cells are a type of white blood cells responsible for generating antibodies against viruses, bacteria and more formed in bone marrow. When they mature, B cells move into the blood and lymphatic system and from there to the different body parts.

Dr Barzel explains: “Until now, only a few scientists, and we among them, had been able to engineer B cells outside of the body. In this study, we were the first to do this within body and then make those cells generate the desired antibodies. The genetic engineering is conducted with viral carriers derived from viruses that were also engineered. We did this to avoid causing any damage, and solely bring the gene coded for the antibody into the B cells in the body.”

“Additionally, in this case we have been able to accurately introduce the antibodies into a desired site in the B cell genome. All lab models that had been administered the treatment responded, and had high quantities of the desired antibody in their blood. We produced the antibody from the blood and made sure it was actually effective in neutralizing the HIV virus in the lab dish.”

Modifying B Cells Inside the Body

The genetic editing was done with a CRISPR, a technology based on a bacterial immune system against viruses. The bacteria use the CRISPR systems as a sort of molecular “search engine” to locate viral sequences and cut them in order to disable them.

PhD student Alessio Nehmad elaborates on the use of CRISPR: “We incorporate the capability of a CRISPR to direct the introduction of genes into desired sites along with the capabilities of viral carriers to bring desired genes to desired cells. Thus, we are able to engineer the B cells inside a patient’s body. We use two viral carriers of the AAV family, one carrier codes for the desired antibody and the second carrier codes the CRISPR system. When the CRISPR cuts in the desired site in the genome of the B cells it directs the introduction of the desired gene: the gene coding for the antibody against the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.”

TAU Researchers Find Gene Mechanism Linked to Autism and Alzheimer’s

Experimental drug has potential to treat rare syndromes that impair brain functions.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Illana Gozes from the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, have unraveled a mechanism shared by mutations in certain genes which cause autism, schizophrenia, and other conditions. The researchers also found that an experimental drug previously developed in Prof. Gozes’ lab is effective in lab models for these mutations, and believe the encouraging results may lead to effective treatments for a range of rare syndromes that impair brain functions and cause autism, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“Some cases of autism are caused by mutations in various genes,” explains Gozes. “Today, we know of more than 100 genetic syndromes associated with autism, 10 of which are considered relatively common (though still extremely rare). In our lab, we focus mainly on one of these, the ADNP syndrome. The ADNP syndrome is caused by mutations in the ADNP gene, which disrupt the function of the ADNP protein, leading to structural defects in the skeleton of neurons in the brain. In the current study, we identified a specific mechanism that causes this damage in mutations in two different genes: ADNP and SHANK3 – a gene associated with autism and schizophrenia. According to estimates, these two mutations are responsible for thousands of cases of autism around the world.”

To start with, the researchers obtained cells from patients with ADNP syndrome. They discovered that when the ADNP protein is defective, neurons with faulty skeletons (microtubules) are formed, impairing brain functions. They also found, however, that ADNP mutations take different forms, some of which cause less damage.

Gozes explains that in some mutations, a section added to the protein protects it and reduces the damage by connecting to a control site of the neuron’s skeletal system and that this same control site is found on SHANK3 – a much studied protein, with mutations that are associated with autism and schizophrenia. “We concluded that the ability to bond with SHANK3 and other similar proteins provides some protection against the mutation’s damaging effects,” she says.

At the next stage of the study, the researchers found additional sites on the ADNP protein that can bond with SHANK3 and similar proteins. One of these sites is located on NAP, a section of ADNP which was developed into an experimental drug, called Davunetide, by Prof. Gozes’ lab.

Moreover, the researchers demonstrated that extended treatment with Davunetide significantly improved the behavior of lab animals with autism caused by SHANK3.

“In previous studies we showed that Davunetide is effective for treating ADNP syndrome models. The new study has led us to believe that it may also be effective in the case of Phelan McDermid syndrome, caused by a mutation in SHANK3, as well as other syndromes that cause autism through the same mechanism,” explains Gozes.

Participants in the study: Dr. Yanina Ivashko-Pachima, Maram Ganaiem, Inbar Ben-Horin-Hazak, Alexandra Lobyntseva, Naomi Bellaiche, Inbar Fischer, Gilad Levy, Dr. Shlomo Sragovich, Dr. Gidon Karmon, and Dr. Eliezer Giladi from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU, Dr. Boaz Barak from The School of Psychological Sciences, Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU, and Dr. Shula Shazman from the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the Open University. The paper was published in the scientific journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Want to Live Longer? Find Out if You Snore

Women over 50 who snore face an elevated risk of sleep apnea.

If you’re a woman and over 50, we recommend that you find out whether or not you snore at nights (your bed partner may or may already have alerted you to the issue). TAU researchers found that women aged 55 and over who snore are at increased risk for sleep apnea, which can be fatal. Because the phenomenon occurs during sleep, most women who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing are not aware that they are at increased risk.

“The lack of early diagnosis is particularly noticeable in one of the target demographic groups: women over the age of 50, who suffer from an increase in the incidence of sleep-disordered breathing due to hormonal changes that occur during menopause,” warns TAU’s Prof. Ilana Eli, adding “We wanted to examine and characterize the phenomenon in this group in order to raise a red flag when necessary.” The following study was conducted by Dr. Alona Emodi-Perlman, Prof. Ilana Eli, Dr. Jawan Sleiman and Dr. Pessia Friedman-Rubin from the Department of Oral Rehabilitation at The Maurice and Gabriela Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University, and was published in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Medicine

Drop the Shame

The researchers examined hundreds of Israeli women, whom they divided into two groups: women aged 20-40 (pre-menopause) and women aged 55 and over (post-menopause).

They found that 15% of the older women are at significant risk for sleep apnea, compared to only 3.5% of the younger women. In addition, they found that 11% of the women who snore are at increased risk for sleep apnea, compared to only 1% of the women who do not snore.

In the study, the participants filled out dedicated questionnaires, which included a variety of questions such as: How do you feel when you get up in the morning: Fatigue, headache, tension/stiffness in the muscles of the face, neck and jaw? Do you grind your teeth at night? Do you wake up during the night? Do you feel tired or drowsy during the day? And the big question, which many women are ashamed of answering: Do you snore? The data were weighted with physical indicators – BMI and neck circumference, which is known to thicken in old age, as well as demographic data – work, number of children, marital status, etc. The findings make it possible to define three categories of risk for sleep apnea: women who are at high, medium and low risk.

Prof. Eli explains that sleep breathing disorders range across a broad spectrum – from mild snoring to the most severe and dangerous disorder – sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes a decrease in blood oxygen concentration and can, as mentioned, be life-threatening. In addition, if the phenomenon is not diagnosed and treated in time, it can contribute to the development of a variety of systemic diseases, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Ask the Right Questions

The difficulty in diagnosing it is mainly due to lack of awareness and under-reporting: women suffering from the problem are unaware of it because it occurs during sleep. They are more likely to report fatigue, headaches, masticatory muscle soreness upon awaking or sleep problems like insomnia to their doctors. It is therefore important that the attending physician makes the connection, asks the right questions and even seeks further diagnosis in case of suspected sleep apnea.

Grinding of teeth at night, high BMI, and a relatively large neck circumference are additional warning signs, according to the researchers.

In the wake of these findings, the researchers address doctors, and especially those who focus on the orofacial area – dentists: “Take note of symptoms that may indicate a risk of sleep apnea. Ask your older patients the relevant questions that no one is asking, such as: Do you snore? Do you suffer from headaches/neck pain when you wake up? Ask them to fill out a dedicated questionnaire to identify the risk of sleep apnea. Take note of the condition of the teeth – are there any indications of grinding of teeth at night? Note the thickness of the neck, which tends to expand in old age. And the bottom line is, if you have identified a high-risk patient, refer her to a sleep diagnosis specialist. This way, we can diagnose women who are ‘under the radar’ due to lack of awareness and under-reporting and provide them with appropriate and life-saving care.”

TAU Researchers Invent Healthy Weapon Against Covid

Vaccines of dietary supplements can help protect us against Corona and winter illnesses.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, humanity has led an arms race against mutations, variants, and extensive contagion, in order to minimize damage to human life and the economy. Currently the battle against the virus relies mainly on RNA-based vaccines, alongside several anti-viral medications.

The Covid virus, however, changes very rapidly, and frequent updates are required to treatments and vaccines that are based on familiarizing the immune system with the virus. The same is true for flu viruses, another widespread cause of illness and death. Now, TAU researchers have shown that common dietary supplements can help protect us against the Covid virus as well as several common winter illnesses.

The study was led by Prof. Ehud Gazit, Prof. Eran Bacharach, and Prof. Daniel Segal of The Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, TAU, together with PhD students Topaz Kreiser and David Zaguri and other researchers. The paper was published in Pharmaceuticals.

Preventive Supplement

Prof. Gazit, who also heads TAU’s BLAVATNIK CENTER for Drug Discovery, said: “To address the rapid changes of the virus, we decided to develop active vaccines made of safe and easily obtainable dietary supplements, that would reduce the viral load in the body and cut down contagion. We have known for years that food supplements containing zinc can enhance immunity to severe, viral, and chronic infections and their potentially grave consequences.”

The researchers found that the consumption of zinc alone achieves a relatively low cellular content. To enhance the effect, they combined the zinc with flavonoids – polyphenolic compounds found in many fruits and vegetables. They also added copper – in order to prevent an ionic imbalance and improve the treatment’s effectiveness.

“The interesting aspect is the treatment’s potential flexibility,” explains Prof. Bacharach. “We found that a combination of several flavonoids with zinc helps protect cells against a wide range of RNA viruses. We believe that the product can serve as a supplementary treatment to enhance the effect of existing anti-viral vaccines and medications.”

Prof. Segal adds: “Advanced lab tests, including PCR, have shown that the new vaccines we developed did, in fact, reduce the viral load. We found a 50-95% decrease in the genomic replication of various groups of RNA viruses, including Covid-19, the flu virus, and others. These results are very promising, possibly enabling the development of an orally administered biological shelf treatment.”

So far, all experiments were conducted in vitro in the lab, but the researchers are optimistic as to the study’s practical potential. Soon they hope to launch a series of clinical trials in humans, ultimately leading to an effective treatment accessible to everyone.

 

The Research Team (left to right): Professors Eran Bacharach, Daniel Segal and Ehud Gazit

Is the Vaccine Safe? Consult the Smart Sensor!

Innovative technology will prevent the reliance on self-reports for future vaccines, using smart sensors to ensure vaccine safety.

In most methods used today, clinical trials designed to evaluate the safety of a new drug or vaccine employ self-report questionnaires, asking participants how they feel before and after receiving the treatment. A new study from Tel Aviv University enables developers, for the first time in the world, to determine vaccine safety via smart sensors that measure objective physiological parameters. According to the researchers, most clinical trials testing the safety of new vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, rely on participants’ subjective reports, which can lead to biased results. In contrast, objective physiological data, obtained through sensors attached to the body, is clear and unambiguous.

The study was led by Dr. Yftach Gepner of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, together with Dr. Dan Yamin and Dr. Erez Shmueli from TAU’s The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering. The paper was published in Communications Medicine, a journal from the Nature portfolio. 

The End of an Era?

Researchers from Tel Aviv University demonstrated that smart sensors can be used to test new vaccines. The current study was conducted when many Israelis received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The researchers equipped volunteers with innovative, FDA-approved sensors developed by the Israeli company Biobeat. Attached to their chests, these sensors measured physiological reactions from one day before to three days after receiving the vaccine.

The innovative sensors monitored 13 physiological parameters, such as: heart rate, breathing rate, saturation (blood oxygen levels), heartbeat volume, temperature, cardiac output, and blood pressure. The surprising results:

  • A significant discrepancy was found between subjective self-reports about side effects and actual measurements. That is, in nearly all objective measures, significant changes were identified after vaccination, even for subjects who reported having no reaction at all.
  • In addition, the study found that side effects escalate over the first 48 hours, and then parameters return to the level measured before vaccination. In other words: a direct assessment of the vaccine’s safety identified physiological reactions during the first 48 hours, with levels re-stabilizing afterwards.

“The message from our study is clear,” says Dr. Gepner. “In 2022 the time has come to conduct continual, sensitive, objective testing of the safety of new vaccines and therapies. There is no reason to rely on self-reports or wait for the occurrence of rare side effects like myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which occurs in one of 10,000 patients. Preliminary signs that predict such conditions can be detected with advanced sensors, identifying normal vs. extreme alterations in physiological parameters and any risk of inflammation. Today, trial participants are invited to the clinic for blood pressure testing, but often their blood pressure rises just because the situation is stressful. Continual monitoring at home solves these problems with simple, convenient, inexpensive, and accurate means. This is the kind of medicine we should strive for in 2022.”

 

The Research Team (from left to right): Dr. Dan Yamin, Dr. Yftach Gepner and Dr. Erez Shmueli

TAU Nanodrug Enables 2-in-1 Attack on Cancer

Innovation pinpoints hard-to-treat cancers and amplifies their responsiveness to treatments.

To overcome the resistance of certain cancers to different types of treatments, Tel Aviv University researchers developed a nanodrug technology that simultaneously delivers two therapies to attack malignancy with precision. The approach lays the groundwork for cancer treatments that can work faster and with fewer side effects than existing methods.

“In our system, a single nanoparticle is capable of operating in two different arenas,” explains lead investigator Prof. Dan Peer, TAU’s Vice President of R&D, who heads the Laboratory of Precision Nanomedicine at the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. “It increases the receptiveness of cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy, while also reinvigorating immune cells and increasing their sensitivity to cancer cells. Thus, with one precisely targeted nanoparticle we provide two different treatments, at very different sites.”

Chemo-immunotherapy, which combines chemotherapy with immunotherapy, is considered the most advanced standard of care for various types of cancer. While chemotherapy destroys cancer cells, immunotherapy encourages the immune system to identify and attack diseased cells while sparing healthy cells critical to recovery. However, many patients fail to respond to chemo-immunotherapy, indicating the need for treatments that target cancer with greater accuracy.

 

Potential to Heal

In a study, Peer’s team showed how a single minescule particle, called a lipid nanoparticle, acts as a molecular precision-guided missile to deliver the two-in-one medicine directly to cancer cells. The medicine, an advanced RNA (ribonucleic acid)-based compound, alters how cancer cells function to make them identifiable for chemotherapy and immunotherapy for obliteration. 

“This is only an initial study, but it has enormous potential for positive change in the ongoing fight against cancer,” says Peer, who is a global pioneer in the field of RNA medicines. Dr. Seok- Beom Yong, a post-doctoral researcher at Peer’s lab, co-led the study. Their team tested the system in lab models for metastasized melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer which spreads to other parts of the body, along with a local solid tumor confined to a single organ.

“In both populations we observed positive effects of our drug delivery system,” adds Peer, who is a member of the Roman Abramovich Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at TAU. The results were published in the scientific journal Advanced Materials.

Targeted Treatment

The new development by Peer’s team builds on a recent discovery by international scientists that sheds light on how cancer evades common treatments. The discovery demonstrates how an enzyme called HO1 is used by cancer cells to both resist chemotherapy and conceal themselves from the immune system. Silencing HO1 in tumors is thus considered an optimal strategy in clinical research, but so far, all attempts to silence the enzyme led to severe side effects.

“Existing methods for silencing HO1 resemble using an F-16 fighter jet to blast a tiny ant,” says Peer. “Our new nanodrug knows how to precisely target the cancer cells, silence the enzyme, and expose the tumor to chemotherapy, without causing any damage to surrounding healthy cells. Afterwards, the same nanoparticle goes on to reprogram T-cells in the immune system to restore their ability to recognize cancer as a foreign body and attack it.”

The study was funded by an ERC grant from the European Union and a research fellowship from the South Korean government.

TAU Welcomes Ukrainian Emergency Fellowship Students

Some “need time to unfreeze”, as they begin their studies on campus.

Tel Aviv University officially welcomed seven Ukrainian graduate students, who arrived within the framework of the Emergency Fellowship Fund recently announced by the University in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing refugee crisis.

The all-women group of students hail from different cities in Ukraine, stretching from Lviv and Kyiv to Mariupol and Mikolaiv, and will continue their studies in law, medicine, psychology, music and linguistics. 

“You are very much wanted here at TAU,” President Ariel Porat told the students at the introductory meeting, expressing hope that despite the unfortunate circumstances students will find “a home away from home” at the University that will enrich their academic and personal lives. 

Constant Worry

Most of the students left their families behind in Ukraine, and worry about their wellbeing around the clock. “I managed to speak to my family yesterday, but today the connection was severed and I was unable to reach them,” says Alisa, a graduate student in law, who will be studying Crisis Management at TAU. She comes from a small town near Mariupol, in Eastern Ukraine, which has suffered some of the heaviest blows in the fighting. Alisa heard about the Fellowship through her academic advisor, as did most of the other students. 

Marina, another law student, was enrolled at the Ukrainian State Pedagogical University in Kropyvnytskyi, a central town which she says is pretty safe for now. The University premises, however, have been converted into living quarters for people escaping from more dangerous areas. Lectures are only taking place online and are highly irregular. “I was supposed to graduate in June,” she tells us, “but for now, I’m just happy to be able to continue my studies here at TAU.”

Kateryna from Kyiv studies psychology, and left immediate family members in Ukraine. “This is my first time in Israel and I know nothing about the local culture, but I’m very curious to learn,” she says, adding that the adjustment process helps her endure the constant concern about her family’s wellbeing. 

“We need some time to ‘unfreeze’, before we can start to take in and appreciate our surroundings,” adds Alisa. 

Here to Help

The students are being offered counseling and psychological services by TAU International, which has been taking full care of them since their arrival in Israel. “In light of the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, we are making a great effort to ensure that the Ukrainian students enjoy their campus experience and have a smooth transition to living in Tel Aviv, and that all their immediate needs are met,” says Michal Linder Zarankin, the School’s International Projects Coordinator.

Their tuition and living expenses are covered by TAU’s $1 million Emergency Fellowship Fund, which was swiftly raised by the University’s donors around the world over the last few weeks. 

Five more Ukrainian students are expected to arrive next week, as well as some faculty members. 

Out of the 30,000 students studying at TAU, over 300 hold dual Israeli-Ukrainian citizenship. In addition to these, there are many Israeli TAU students of Ukrainian and Russian descent. 

Featured image: Ukrainian graduate students are welcomed by TAU’s President Ariel Porat, Prof. Milette Shamir VP International and TAU International staffers

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