Tag: Psychology

Pressure Chamber Therapy Effective in Improvement of Autism

TAU study shows that treatment may significantly improve social abilities and condition of the autistic brain.

A new Tel Aviv University study succeeded in significantly improving social skills and the condition of the autistic brain through pressure chamber therapy. The study was conducted on lab models of autism. In it, the researchers identified changes in the brain, including a reduction in neuroinflammation, which is known to be associated with autism. Moreover, a significant improvement was found in the social functioning of the animal models treated in the pressure chamber. The study’s success has many implications regarding the applicability and understanding of treating autism using pressure chamber therapy.

The breakthrough was made under the leadership of doctoral student Inbar Fischer, from the laboratory of Dr. Boaz Barak of Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and School of Psychological Sciences. The research was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Considered Safe

Fischer and Barak explain that hyperbaric medicine is a form of therapy in which patients are treated in special chambers where the atmospheric pressure is higher than the pressure we experience at sea level, and in addition are delivered 100 percent oxygen to breathe.

Hyperbaric medicine is considered safe and is already being used to treat a long list of medical conditions, including here in Israel. In recent years, scientific evidence has been accumulating that unique protocols of hyperbaric treatments improve the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain, thereby improving brain function.

Improving Brain Function

“The medical causes of autism are numerous and varied, and ultimately create the diverse autistic spectrum with which we are familiar,” explains Dr. Barak:. “About 20% of autistic cases today are explained by genetic causes, that is, those involving genetic defects, but not necessarily ones that are inherited from the parents. Despite the variety of sources of autism, the entire spectrum of behavioral problems associated with it are still included under the single broad heading of ‘autism,’ and the treatments and medications offered do not necessarily correspond directly to the reason why the autism developed.”

In the preliminary phase of the study, a girl carrying the mutation in the SHANK3 gene, which is known to lead to autism, received treatments in the pressure chamber, conducted by Prof. Shai Efrati, director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at the Shamir “Assaf Harofeh” Medical Center, faculty member at the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and a partner in the study. After the treatments, it was evident that the girl’s social abilities and brain function had improved considerably.

In the next stage, and in order to comprehend the success of the treatment more deeply, the team of researchers at Dr. Barak’s laboratory sought to understand what being in a pressurized chamber does to the brain. To this end, the researchers used lab models carrying the same genetic mutation in the SHANK3 gene as that carried by the girl who had been treated. The experiment comprised a protocol of 40 one-hour treatments in a pressure chamber over several weeks.

“We discovered that treatment in the oxygen-enriched pressure chamber reduces inflammation in the brain and leads to an increase in the expression of substances responsible for improving blood and oxygen supply to the brain, and therefore brain function,” explains Dr. Barak. “In addition, we saw a decrease in the number of microglial cells, immune system cells that indicate inflammation, which is associated with autism.”

 Increased Social Interest

“Beyond the neurological findings we discovered, what interested us more than anything was to see whether these improvements in the brain also led to an improvement in social behavior, which is known to be impaired in autistic individuals,” adds Dr. Barak. “To our surprise, the findings showed a significant improvement in the social behavior of the animal models of autism that underwent treatment in the pressure chamber compared to those in the control group, who were exposed to air at normal pressure, and without oxygen enrichment. The animal models that underwent treatment displayed increased social interest, preferring to spend more time in the company of new animals to which they were exposed in comparison to the animal models from the control group.”

Inbar Fischer concludes, “the mutation in the animal models is identical to the mutation that exists in humans. Therefore, our research is likely to have clinical implications for improving the pathological condition of autism resulting from this genetic mutation, and likely also of autism stemming from other causes. Because the pressure chamber treatment is non-intrusive and has been found to be safe, our findings are encouraging and demonstrate that this treatment may improve these behavioral and neurological aspects in humans as well, in addition to offering a scientific explanation of how they occur in the brain.”

Featured image: Members of the TAU research team (left to right): Dr. Nour Ershaid, Prof. Neta Erez and Lea Monteran (Photo Credit: TAU)

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

Finding Humor in Imperfection

The “TAU Review” held a Zoom interview with well-known Israeli comedian, writer and TV and radio host, Einav Galili, who earned her BA in psychology and arts from TAU in 2001.
By Melanie Takefman “Holocaust jokes are a wonderful thing,” says TAU alumna Einav Galili. “When you laugh at something, it doesn’t dishonor it; it’s another way of dealing with something that’s impossible to deal with…the Holocaust intrigues me and in that way it is totally mine to laugh about.” By contrast, if a German told a Holocaust joke, “I would shoot him,” she says jokingly, maintaining her trademark poker face. “Comedy is a way to expose our dark side without anyone dying.” For decades, Galili has brought a sharp, intellectual and hilariously wry voice to Israeli media.  Yet, with her influence comes responsibility: Galili believes that she has a role to play in shaping public discourse. “It’s part of my job to extract topics from their conventional molds and clichés and forge something more complex,” she says. In Israel, “you must be radical to have a presence…People want short, extreme and click-baity. I often try to give a fuller picture….I try very hard not to be predictable.” The same is true about the range of subjects she broaches on the morning radio show she co-hosts: from politics to the connection between Koala and human diseases. For Galili, comedic and serious content need not be separated. “The most interesting people are those whose humor is laced with pain and whose pain is laced with humor. In the end, it’s all different layers of the same thing.” Yet, sometimes being funny comes at a cost. As a main panelist on one of the country’s longest-running TV satires, State of the Nation (later renamed Back of the Nation), Galili is no stranger to controversy. “What we say makes people uncomfortable…..It’s a program that’s a big headache to support and maintain. You have to withstand pressure and you receive angry phone calls.” Still, she has never been censored. With governments around the world cracking down on journalists and limiting freedom of speech, she doesn’t take that for granted and considers herself “spoiled” in this respect.  At the same time, she says that viewers themselves often quash serious programming. “You come home in the evening. Life is tough…it’s hard to make a living…there are a million things to deal with. You don’t have the energy for another burdensome investigation about violence against women. You want Netflix!” she says. “I can understand them.” Exposing national neuroses That being said, satire is “like the vital signs of a human body. If we don’t have it, it’s like declaring death.” ​​​Humor is especially important during crises such as the Corona pandemic. “Sometimes humor can be divisive; one groups laughs at another. But when people laugh about a common experience such as Corona, it brings people together.” She adds, Humor exposes the neuroses that characterize Israeli society….there is a very interesting dance with humor around taboos. It helps determine what’s legitimate and what’s not.”   Photo: Adi Orni In addition to her radio show and Back of the Nation, she hosts the Israeli version of the BBC TV program Room 101, in which she interviews Israeli personalities about their biggest fears or pet peeves. She also lectures about humor and writes newspaper columns. She recently produced a documentary about the anti-aging industry. Galili is one of several well-known female comedians in Israel, but women are still the minority in the field. An avowed feminist, she says that she insists on having at least one female writer on the Back of the Nation team. What separates her from her male counterparts, she says, are the jokes she doesn’t make. She will never make a joke about a woman being old or ugly or fat, she says. ”It’s not in my agenda.”
She will, however, soliloquize about her children’s hamsters, riffing on their proclivity for reproduction and what happened when she had to eulogize one of two identical pets (she didn’t know which one died.)

​Her various endeavors have given her insights into the human psyche. ”We live in a society preoccupied with perfection: We strive to look perfect, to make a good impression, to portray ourselves as more than what we are, more beautiful, younger, more confident, more successful in our careers, taller, skinnier.”

To her, perfect is boring. It is exactly in imperfection“the defects and the cracks”that she finds her most engaging and inclusive material.

Drawing on academic training Analyses like these exemplify how psychology permeates Galili’s many professional roles. Her TAU studies left an imprint on her in other ways too. Studying at the University taught her discipline and the value of hard work. In academia, and particularly in psychology, a very competitive program, everything is systematic, she says. If you put in the effort, you see results. Her studies also armed her with critical thinking skills—how to differentiate between reliable and unreliable information—an important ability in the era of social media and fake news. Galili recalls her time at TAU as a very enjoyable and enriching experience. She was completely immersed in her studies, alongside “amazing” classmates and inspiring professors. She remembers Prof. Ina Weiner, a “fascinating” professor who taught her honors psychology, and art historian Dr. Henry Unger, who “taught me elementary terms about the arts world. It was precisely enough to know what to look for.” As an alumna, Galili is one of 85,000 members of the TAU Alumni Organization, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, under the direction of Sigalit Ben Hayoun. The Organization’s goal is to leverage the influence of TAU alumni as a positive force in Israeli society and serve alumni through shared knowledge, networking and opportunities. Upon receiving her BA, Galili completed the coursework for a master’s degree in psychology, but never submitted a thesis. Even though she is very happy with where her career has taken her, she has never stopped dreaming of returning to TAU to complete her MA. We hope she realizes that dream. Featured image: Einav Galili. Photo: Shay Bachar.


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