Tag: Medicine & Health

Medicinal Cannabis Oil Effective for Treating Autism

Treatment improves both behavioral and biochemical parameters of the disease.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disease, and its main symptoms are social deficiencies and compulsive behaviors. Cases range from mild to severe, and causes are both genetic and environmental. Researchers at Tel Aviv University have successfully treated autism in animal models with medical cannabis oil, improving behavioral and biochemical parameters.

Advancing in Reverse Order

In about 1% of all autism cases, a mutation in a single gene, called Shank3, is associated. While testing of medicinal cannabis traditionally begins with humans, in the current study PhD student Shani Poleg and Prof. Daniel Offen of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Felsenstein Medical Research Center and Sagol School of Neuroscience used animal models with a mutation in Shank3 to test the effectiveness of cannabis oil for alleviating symptoms of autism. The results of the surprising study were published in Translational Psychology published by Nature.

“We saw that cannabis oil has a favorable effect on compulsive and anxious behaviors in model animals,” says Shani Poleg. “According to the prevailing theory, autism involves over arousal of the brain which causes compulsive behavior. In the lab, in addition to the behavioral results, we saw a significant decrease in the concentration of the arousing neurotransmitter glutamate in the spinal fluid – which can explain the reduction in behavioral symptoms.”

A Little Euphoria Makes All the Difference

Attempting to determine which components of cannabis oil alleviate symptoms of autism, the researchers found that THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis which is responsible for the euphoric sensation associated with its use, is effective in treating autism, possibly even in small quantities.

“Clinical trials testing cannabis treatments for autism usually involve strains containing very large amounts of CBD – due to this substance’s anti-inflammatory properties, and because it does not produce a sense of euphoria,” explains Poleg. “Moreover, the strains used for treating autism usually contain very little THC, due to apprehension regarding both the euphoria and possible long-term effects.”

“In the second stage of our study we inquired which active substance in cannabis causes the behavioral improvement, and were surprised to discover that treatment with cannabis oil that contains THC but does not contain CBD produces equal or even better effects – both behavioral and biochemical. Moreover, our results suggest that CBD alone has no impact on the behavior of model animals.”

Addressing Existing Misinformation

Prof. Daniel Offen says, “Since cannabis is not defined as a medication, trials have already been conducted in children and adolescents with autism – without any preliminary studies addressing issues like the effect of cannabis on biochemical processes in the brain, spinal fluid or blood, and who can benefit from which type of cannabis oil. There is a great deal of misinformation on the subject of medicinal cannabis and autism, and Shani Peleg’s doctoral project represents pioneering basic research with regard to treating autism with cannabis oil.”

“This is an initial study,” concludes Poleg. “But we hope that through our basic research we will be able to improve clinical treatments. Our study shows that when treating autism with medicinal cannabis oil there is no need for high contents of either CBD or THC. We observed significant improvement in behavioral tests following treatments with cannabis oil containing small amounts of THC and observed no long-term effects in cognitive or emotional tests conducted a month and a half after the treatment began.”

TAU Students Racing Towards a Greener Campus

As part of Tel Aviv University’s initiative to reduce its environmental footprint to help combat the global climate crisis, the Entrepreneurship Center rallied 73 students to the cause and held a hackathon aimed at generating innovative solutions for a greener and more sustainable campus. The event was organized in cooperation with Shlomo Meltzer Institute for Smart Transportation and TAU’s Student Union.

Students were challenged to come up with practical solutions to one out of two central issues for cutting down pollution and waste: reducing the daily car traffic to campus and encouraging the use of reusable dishware on campus.

Fifteen experts mentored the students throughout the competition, which also featured professional enrichment and industry insider lectures on how organizations are addressing environmental challenges today.

Vehicular Pollution Challenge Winners

First Place: TAUapt

The winning team worked under the assumption that most TAU students residing in Tel Aviv rely on public transportation and therefore, do not use a car. What could encourage more of this behavior?

By enabling more students to live in Tel Aviv, the number of vehicles commuting to campus could further decrease. The team conceptualized a house hunting app, similar in nature to the existing job hunting platform AllJobs – but for apartments – which sends its subscribers instant messages through WhatsApp about apartments that are vacating. Team members: Abedallah Barghouti and Ubaydah Wattad.    

 

The TAUapt Team receives the prize for winning the competition’s Vehicular Pollution Challenge

Second Place: BIVPIsrael

The team suggested that the main difficulty for drivers of electric bicycles and scooters is the need to carry around a helmet and battery throughout the day. The team proposed a solution for storage compartments in which both helmet and battery can be left, and the latter can be charged, using solar-generated electricity, while the vehicle remains locked nearby.

Third Place: The Hitchhikers

The team proposed a way to encourage carpooling to campus by offering benefits to students and faculty members. They decided to appeal to people’s pockets – not their ideology.

Reusable Dishware Challenge Winners

First Place: Tengo

To cut down waste from single-use plastics, the Tengo team proposed a collaborative circular model based on the use of reusable dishware marked with a barcode. The reusable dishware is returned to collection boxes after use, where the users are credited. The dishware then gets   transported, cleaned and distributed back to campus restaurants. Team members: Chen Agassi, Idan Stark, Roi Farjun and Tali Aknin.

The Tengo Team receives the prize for winning the competition’s Reusable Dishware Challenge

Second Place: Go Clean Go Green

The team proposed a platform to incentivize the use of reusable dishware by awarding store credits for popular retailers. Through barcode-scanning technology on reusable cups and more, one earns redeemable points with every swipe.  

Third Place: TAUBIS

A game app that ranks businesses according to their degree of eco-friendliness. Students enjoy services similar to food delivery platforms like UberEats, Wolt or 10bis, accumulation of financial and ecological points.

Yair Sakov, Head of TAU’s Entrepreneurship Center: “Sustainability and the circular economy are key issues promoted by the Entrepreneurship Center; there is no field more important than this to initiate and flood innovation.”

The Competition’s Judges

The judges in the competition included Knesset Member Prof. Alon Tal, former Head of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Public Policy; Miki Haimovich, Chairperson of the Heschel Center for Sustainability; Asi Schmelzer, Chairman of the Shlomo Group; Yuval Shani, VP of Technology and Innovation at Shlomo Group; Lior Hazan, Chairperson of TAU’s Student Union; Prof. Colin Price, Head of TAU’s Department of Environmental Studies; Prof. Hadas Maman, Head of the Environmental Engineering Program at TAU’s Faculty of Engineering; Dr. Ilit Oppenheim, Director at Shlomo Schmelzer Institute for Smart Transportation; Orlie Gruper, General Partner in Mobilitech Capital; Shani Raved, Global Operations Strategy Lead and Product Manager at Lime.  

Parent Smartphone Use Could Harm Child Development

Mothers devote only 25% of their attention to toddlers when distracted, consequences can be far-reaching.

A new study from Tel Aviv University found that mothers devote only 25% of their attention to their toddlers while using smartphones, a practice which may impair child development. The researchers believe the findings are applicable to fathers as well.

To conduct the study, researchers monitored dozens of mothers who were asked to perform three tasks alongside their toddlers, aged two to three: Browse a specific Facebook page and like videos and articles that interest them; read printed magazines and mark articles that interest them; and finally, play with the child while the smartphone and magazines were outside the room (uninterrupted free play).

The goal was to simulate situations in real life where the mother has to take care of her child, while at the same time devoting some of her attention to her smartphone. To encourage natural behavior, the mothers were unaware of the purpose of the experiment when browsing a smartphone or reading a printed magazine compared to periods of uninterrupted free play.

The results of the new study, which was led by Dr. Katy Borodkin of the Department of Communication Disorders at The Stanley Steyer School of Health Professions, Sackler Faculty of Medicine of Tel Aviv University, were published in the top-tier Journal of Child Development.

When Mom Reads a Really Good Post

“The mothers talked up to four times less with their children while they were on their smartphones,” said Dr. Borodkin. Not only did they exchange fewer conversational turns with the toddler, the quality of the interactions was also poorer, as the mothers provided less immediate and content-tailored responses, and more often ignored explicit child bids. “Even when they were able to respond while browsing Facebook, the quality of the response was reduced – the mothers kept their responsiveness to a bare minimum to avoid a complete breakdown in communication with the toddler.”

While the researchers did not find that one medium distracted the mothers more than the other between smartphones and magazines, Borodkin noted that: “It is clear that we use smartphones much more than any other media, so they pose a significant developmental threat.

While the study focused on the mothers, the researchers believe the findings characterize communication interferences between fathers and their toddlers as well, since the smartphone usage patterns are similar between men and women.

WATCH: Dr. Katy Borodkin explains how extensive use of smartphones by parents might damage toddlers’ development

Parents, Put Your Phones Away! 

As the mothers performed the tasks, the researchers assessed three components of mother-child interaction: They first examined maternal linguistic input, the spoken content that the mother conveys to the child, regarded as an important predictor of a child’s speech development. Previous studies revealed that reduced linguistic input leads to decreased vocabulary in children, a shortcoming that may extend to adulthood.

Next, the researchers examined how interactive the discourse was. Known as “conversational turns,” the back-and-forth discourse between parent and child is a predictor of language and social development, as the child learns that he or she has something to contribute to the interaction as well as the basic social norms of social interactions.

Finally, maternal responsiveness was examined through the extent the mother responded to their child’s speech. This was measured by the immediacy of the response and its contingency on what the child said. For example, when the child says “look, a truck”, there is no comparison between a response such as “yes, that’s great” and a response such as “correct, this is a red truck, like the one we saw yesterday”. This measure is the basis for almost every aspect of child development: linguistic, social, emotional, and cognitive.

“We currently have no evidence suggesting an actual effect on child development related to the parental use of smartphones, as this is a relatively new phenomenon. However, our findings indicate an adverse impact on the foundation of child development. The consequences of inadequate mother-child interaction can be far-reaching.”

Breakthrough TAU Discovery Key to Reversing ALS

Findings may lead to ways to delay, or even roll back, the course of the fatal disease in its early stages.

A Tel Aviv University-led research team has uncovered a core mechanism that causes ALS and has succeeded in reversing its effects. While the root cause of ALS remains unknown, the discovery reveals the basic biological mechanism that leads to nerve destruction in the early stages of the incurable disease that afflicts an estimated one out of every 400 people. 

To date, there is no effective treatment to prevent or halt disease progression. The average life expectancy of ALS patients is approximately three years from diagnosis. “This discovery can lead to the development of new therapies that could enable nerve cells to heal before irreversible damage occurs in the spinal cord,” said lead investigator Prof. Eran Perlson of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU. 

New Tool for Combating the Disease 

The team discovered that an abnormal buildup of a protein called TDP-43 in neuromuscular junctions, which translate brain signals into physical movements, leads to the degeneration and death of nerve cells (motor neurons). They found that this hinders the activity of mitochondria, which are critical for cells to function.  

The researchers found that this process occurs during the early stages of ALS, initiating damage to motor neurons before patients develop serious symptoms. Eventually, the deterioration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord causes ALS patients to gradually lose voluntary muscle ability, leading to complete paralysis including the inability to breathe independently. 

Reversing the Domino Effect  

Using an experimental molecule (originally developed to enhance neural regeneration after injury), the team demonstrated its success in dismantling the toxic protein buildup found in ALS patients. Additionally, in lab models, the researchers showed that this approach actives the process of nerve regeneration, leading to almost complete rehabilitation from the disease. 

Together with Dr. Amir Dori, director of the clinic for neuro-muscular diseases at Sheba Medical Center, and scientists from the US, UK, Germany and France, Perlson and doctoral students Topaz Altman and Ariel Ionescu conducted the study through a series of experiments. The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communication.

Featured image: Prof. Eran Perlson

Experimental Drug Displays Effectiveness in Treating Symptoms of Autism and Alzheimer’s Disease

Has FDA orphan designation for a rare developmental disorder.

An extensive TAU-led international study found that an experimental drug, which has already been awarded orphan drug designation by the FDA for future treatment of a rare development disorder, may also be used for treating a variety of symptoms relating to autism, intellectual disability, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The drug, NAP, was discovered in the lab of Prof. Illana Gozes of the Tel Aviv University Sackler Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry. The latest study is an important milestone on the way to developing a drug, or drugs, that will help children with autism stemming from genetic mutations, as well as Alzheimer’s patients.

Groundbreaking Technology

In recent years, the FDA has granted the experimental drug with orphan drug designation and pediatric rare disease designation for treatment of a rare developmental disorder called ADNP syndrome, which can cause a variety of symptoms, among them intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder.

In the current study, a team of researchers led by Prof. Gozes (also from Sagol School of Neuroscience) developed an innovative lab model and found that NAP can be effective in treating a broad spectrum of symptoms of ADNP syndrome, which is caused by mutations in the ADNP gene (essential to cerebral development and protecting cerebral brain cells). Previous studies showed that ADNP syndrome is related to Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of mental disabilities, developmental delays, and autism.

The study, which is the culmination of the MD/PhD student Dr. Gideon Carmon’s doctoral research, was joined by a team of researchers from Prof. Gozes’s lab: Dr. Shlomo Sergovich, Gal Hacohen-Kleiman, Inbar Ben-Horin-Hazak, Dr. Oxana Kapitansky, Alexandra Lubincheva, and Dr. Eliezer Giladi. The team was further joined by Dr. Moran Rubinstein, Prof. Noam Shomron, and Guy Shapira of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Metsada Pasmanik Chor of Tel Aviv University’s The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. Researchers from the Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, and Canada also participated. The article was published in the prestigious journal Biological Psychiatry.

Important Milestone

Prof. Gozes explained that: “NAP, in fact, comprises a short segment of the normal ADNP protein. We previously found that treatment using NAP corrects the function of human nerve cells afflicted with ADNP syndrome in a laboratory test-tube. In this study, we sought to examine the efficacy of NAP in treating various aspects of the syndrome using a model with the most harmful mutation, which allowed us to view brain development and facilitate remedying of behavioral problems.”

The researchers found that mice suffering from ADNP syndrome demonstrated a broad spectrum of symptoms, including increased rates of neonatal death immediately after birth, slowed development and abnormal stride, primarily among females, as well as poor voice communication.

Cerebral examinations demonstrated additional findings: A relatively small number of synapses (the points of contact between nerve cells), impaired electrophysiological activity demonstrating a low potential for normal cerebral arousal, as well as excessive buildup of the Tau protein in young mice, similar to those in the brains of elderly Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Prof. Gozes: “In the past, we have found that NAP corrects impaired functioning of ADNP that has mutated in the nerve cell model in the culture. We now examined its effect in vivo – in animals modeling the syndrome (ADNP mutation). To our amazement and joy, we discovered that treatment using NAP normalizes the functioning of these mice for most of the symptoms indicated above!”

Prof. Gozes summarized: “In this study, we examined the effect of the ADNP gene’s most prevalent mutation in a broad spectrum of aspects and found extensive impairment in physical and cerebral functioning parallel to the symptoms of autism, developmental delay, mental disability, and Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Similarly, we examined the potential use of the NAP drug for treating these diseases, and discovered that it is effective against most of these symptoms in lab models. This study is an important milestone on the way to developing a drug, or drugs, that will help children with autism stemming from genetic mutations, as well as Alzheimer’s patients.”

Ramot – Tel Aviv University Tech Transfer Company filed a number of patent applications to protect the technology and its implementation and, in collaboration with Prof. Gozes, is raising funds to finance further clinical research. Similarly, Ramot is in discussions regarding commercial collaboration with pharmaceutical companies. “We’re excited by this new discovery and believe that this is groundbreaking technology that will remedy a variety of symptoms and disabilities in a broad spectrum of orphan diseases,” said Prof. Keren Primor Cohen, CEO of Ramot.

Featured image: Prof. Illana Gozes

New Ethical Code for World Research of Ancient DNA

TAU researcher was part of international team of experts who composed ethical standard.

For the first time, an international team of experts, among them TAU anthropologist and paleo-geneticist Dr. Viviane Slon from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research, has formulated a globally-applicable ethical code for research of ancient human DNA. The significant increase throughout the last decade in research of ancient DNA extracted from human remains, and its effects on archeology and other fields, created a need to formulate a dedicated ethical standard that will guide researchers in their work.

Sixty-four international researchers from different fields – archeology, anthropology, curatorship, archeo-genetics and paleo-genetics – from 31 different countries, among them TAU anthropologist and paleo-geneticist Dr. Viviane Slon, took part in the formulation of the ethical code. The ethical code was recently published in the prestigious journal Nature.

Interdisciplinary and International Cooperation

Dr. Slon, who is also a member of Tel Aviv University’s Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute, explains that ancient DNA research has unique aspects, which raise the need for ethical regulations. The examination of past ancestry can have social and political implications today, and because ancient DNA research deals with people who once lived, they must be treated respectfully.

The newly-written ethical codes encourage minimal damage to the human remains during research processes, and call for cooperation with stakeholders, including any descendants or local communities as well as fellow researchers in other fields – and to respect their point of view.

Dr. Slon says: “The guidelines proposed here encompass all the different stages of research, from planning, through sampling and sharing of data and results, to communicating with our fellow researchers and with the general public. It is an international project born out of a virtual meeting that took place about a year ago, in which there was a wide consensus regarding the need for ethical regulations in this growing field, and here we have the final product.”

“We hope to increase its impact, and we are working to translate the paper into dozens of languages, including Hebrew. Recently, researchers from the Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute and the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research led the breakthrough research discovering ancient human remains in the vicinity of the Nesher Ramla factory. Due to the foundational principals  laid  for the expansion of the interdisciplinary cooperation in the world of ancient DNA research, we will now be able to maximize the scientific accomplishments in this field, in Israel and throughout the world.”

Featured image: Dr. Viviane Slon (Photo: Fabrizio Mafessoni)

Saving Lives with Artificial Intelligence

New technology will identify patients at risk for serious illness before they become symptomatic.

Blood infections are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the world. The body’s immunological response to the infection can cause sepsis or shock, dangerous conditions that have high mortality rates. Thus, it is very important to identify the risk factors for developing serious illness at the early stage of infection. A new technology developed at Tel Aviv University will make it possible, using artificial intelligence (AI), to identify patients who are at risk of serious illness as a result of blood infections.

The researchers trained the AI program to study the medical records of about 8,000 patients at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital who were found to be positive for blood infections. These records included demographic data, blood test results, medical history and diagnosis. After studying each patient’s data and medical history, the program was able to automatically identify patients at risk of serious illness with an accuracy of 82%, even when ignoring obvious factors such as the age of the patients and the number of hospitalizations they had endured. According to the researchers, in the future this model could even serve as an early warning system for doctors.

Potential to Save Many Lives

Behind this groundbreaking research, with the potential to save many lives, are students Yazeed Zoabi and Dan Lahav from the laboratory of Prof. Noam Shomron of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, in collaboration with Dr. Ahuva Weiss Meilik, head of the I-Medata AI Center at Ichilov Hospital, Prof. Amos Adler, and Dr. Orli Kehat. The results of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“We worked with the medical files of about 8,000 Ichilov Hospital patients who were found to be positive for blood infections between the years 2014 and 2020, during their hospitalization and up to 30 days after, whether the patient died or not,” explains Prof. Noam Shomron. “We entered the medical files into software based on artificial intelligence; we wanted to see if the AI would identify patterns of information in the files that would allow us to automatically predict which patients would develop serious illness, or even death, as a result of the infection.”

Cooperation between Researchers and Hospitals

“Using artificial intelligence, the algorithm was able to find patterns that surprised us, parameters in the blood that we hadn’t even thought about taking into account,” says Prof. Shomron. “We are now working with medical staff to understand how this information can be used to rank patients in terms of the severity of the infection. We can use the software to help doctors detect the patients who are at maximum risk.”

Since the study’s success, Ramot – Tel Aviv University Tech Transfer Company, is working to register a global patent for the groundbreaking technology. Keren Primor Cohen, CEO of Ramot, says, “Ramot believes in this innovative technology’s ability to bring about a significant change in the early identification of patients at risk and help hospitals reduce costs. This is an example of effective cooperation between the university’s researchers and hospitals, which improves the quality of medical care in Israel and around the world.”

Featured image: Prof. Noam Shomron (Photo: Corinna Kern)

TAU Experts on Omicron: “Don’t Panic”

Our COVID-19 researchers weigh in on the latest strain.

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:  

“Keep Calm and Carry On”— with Protection 

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.  

Get Booster Shots ASAP 

  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.” 

Minding the Balance 

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.  

Select Omicron media coverage featuring TAU experts:  

 

Britain and Israel Team Up on Challenge of Healthy Ageing

British-Israeli research partnership contributes £1.6 Million to research collaboration.

A new collaboration between Israel and the UK aims to promote joint research projects related to ageing. As part of this collaboration, Tel Aviv University recently held a hybrid conference on the multidisciplinary aspects of ageing research. Furthermore, a new £1.6 million (7 million) grant program was launched for funding collaborations between Israeli and British researchers in the field of ageing research and the call for proposals is now open. 

Israel and the UK are sharing knowledge in many fields, and according to Prof. Karen Avraham, Vice Dean for Pre-Clinical Affairs of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Chair of the conference from TAU, gerontology is one of the most important among them. The conference is the harbinger of collaboration between Israel and other progressive western countries around these topics, and Prof. Avraham believes we will see more such conferences in the future.

Quality of Life in Old Age

The conference, which dealt with the multidisciplinary aspects of ageing research, among them: molecular ageing, social ageing, age-dependent diseases and interventions and life quality, constitutes a fruitful joint initiative of the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX) partnership, Tel Aviv University, the British Council in Israel and the UK Embassy. It is the 5th BIRAX conference since its launch 10 years ago.

“I am happy and excited for the unique opportunity given to us, leading researchers from Israel and the UK, to share our knowledge arm in arm. The pandemic has made it clear how old age can be precarious and forlorn, and I hope that gerontological and geriatric topics will gain more public awareness. In a world in which our lifespan is getting longer and longer, we shall make sure that life quality will be conserved also in old age, and we are here to discuss that,” said Prof. Karen Avraham. Prof. Avraham has, among else, developed an innovative treatment for deafness, a novel therapy that could lead to a breakthrough in treating children born with various mutations that eventually cause deafness.

One of the World’s Great Challenges

Among the participants of the conference were the British Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Neil Wigan OBE, Chairman of the British Council, Mrs. Stevie Spring CBE, and Lord Robert Winston of Hammersmith, along with leading researchers from Israeli and British universities.

 

Ambassador Neil Wigen and TAU’s Dr. Mira Marcus-Kalish

 

Ambassador Neil Wigan, said: “Scientific collaboration between the UK and Israel is one of our most important fields, and we are working to expand it dramatically in the future. It’s always exciting to see the groundbreaking research proposals coming out of BIRAX – in ageing research and other academic areas – that have real potential to impact the future of us all”.

“Over the decade of its existence, BIRAX has promoted UK-Israel scientific collaboration allowing both countries to complement each other’s strengths in research, science and medicine. The British Council is proud to be enabling both countries to join forces on one of the world’s great challenges – healthy ageing,” added Stevie Spring CBE.

 

Conference participants

Featured image: Photo (from left to right): TAU Governor and benefactor Mr. Sami Sagol, British Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Neil Wigan and Prof. Karen Avraham at the conference.

TAU Researchers Identify COVID Proteins that Cause Strokes and Heart Attacks

Findings may help develop drug to halt virus’ damage to blood vessels.

Two years into the global pandemic, we still do not know which of the proteins in the SARS-CoV-2 virus are the ones responsible for cases of severe vascular damage. For the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19, a TAU-led team of experts has been able to identify 5 of the 29 proteins that make up the virus that are responsible for damaging blood vessels. The researchers hope that the identification of these proteins will help develop targeted drugs for COVID-19 that reduce vascular damage.

Coronavirus Deconstructed

“We see a very high incidence of vascular disease and blood clotting, for example stroke and heart attack, among COVID patients,” says Dr. Ben Maoz of TAU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Sagol School of Neuroscience. “We tend to think of COVID as primarily a respiratory disease, but the truth is that coronavirus patients are up to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack. All the evidence shows that the virus severely damages the blood vessels or the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. However, to this day the virus has been treated as one entity. We wanted to find out which proteins in the virus are responsible for this type of damage.”

The novel coronavirus is a relatively simple virus – it comprises a total of 29 different proteins (compared to the tens of thousands of proteins produced by the human body). The Tel Aviv University researchers used the RNA of each of the COVID-19 proteins and examined the reaction that occurred when the various RNA sequences were inserted into human blood vessel cells in the lab; they were thereby able to identify five coronavirus proteins that damage the blood vessels.

Dr. Ben Maoz in his lab

Minimizing Damage to Blood Vessels

“When the coronavirus enters the body, it begins to produce 29 proteins, a new virus is formed, that virus produces 29 new proteins, and so on,” explains Dr. Maoz. “In this process, our blood vessels turn from opaque tubes into kind of permeable nets or pieces of cloth, and in parallel there is an increase in blood clotting. We thoroughly examined the effect of each of the 29 proteins expressed by the virus, and were successful in identifying the five specific proteins that cause the greatest damage to endothelial cells and hence to vascular stability and function. In addition, we used a computational model developed by Prof. [Roded Sharan of the Blavatnik School of Computer Science] which allowed us to assess and identify which coronavirus proteins have the greatest effect on other tissues, without having seen them ‘in action’ in the lab.”

According to Dr. Maoz, the identification of these proteins may have significant consequences in the fight against the virus. “Our research could help find targets for a drug that will be used to stop the virus’s activity, or at least minimize damage to blood vessels.”

The study was led by Dr. Ben Maoz of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Sagol School of Neuroscience, Prof. Uri Ashery of The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience, and Prof. Roded Sharan of the Blavatnik School of Computer Science – all Tel Aviv University researchers. Also participating in the study were Dr. Rossana Rauti, Dr. Yael Bardoogo and doctoral student Meishar Shahoah of Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Yaakov Nahmias of the Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University. The results of the new study were published in the journal eLife.

Featured: Illustration of Coronavirus in blood vessel

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