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  1. Israeli company develops rapid diagnostic kit for COVID-19 ‘This kit has undergone testing by several central laboratories and hospitals that have now verified its ability to diagnose COVID-19.’ By Abigail Klein Leichman MARCH 1, 2020, 3:33 PM BATM’s rapid diagnostic array. Photo: courtesy Israeli company BATM of Hod Hasharon announced that its biomedical division has developed a diagnostics kit to detect coronavirus from saliva samples in less than half an hour. CEO Dr. Zvi Marom tells ISRAEL21c that the test is compatible with the current hospital-based method for diagnosing COVID-19, reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) – a type of gene sequencing that takes about eight hours. “This kit has undergone testing by several central laboratories and hospitals that have now verified its ability to diagnose COVID-19,” says Marom, referring to the disease caused by coronavirus infection. Marom, who has degrees in medicine and in industrial electronics, said BATM already has an advanced diagnostics kit that detects SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). The COVID-19 aspect will be added to that kit. “BATM is working with academic and research institutions, mainly in Europe, to progress the kit to make it at a price point suitable for large-scale production,” says Marom. “The kit, which supports all the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, has already received interest from customers in several countries.” By next year, BATM expects that the test will be commercialized as part of its NATLab doctor’s office solution using artificial intelligence and individual disease cartridges to diagnose bacterial, viral or fungal infections within 90 minutes. For now, only meningitis can be diagnosed with NATLab, produced by BATM subsidiary Ador Diagnostics in Rome. “Once NATLab is ready, it will change the way infectious diseases are diagnosed because you don’t have to send people to hospitals and it doesn’t require special training,” says Marom. A Chinese company, WuXi Diagnostics, also announced the development of rapid diagnostic kits for COVID-19. Marom says several Chinese kits were studied in Israel and found to be too expensive for general use and too prone to false positives. “Nearly eight years ago we decided to try to find a new way to diagnose pathogens because we believe the current diagnostic methods are not good enough,” says Marom. “We are now gearing to build large quantities of our kit at a reasonable price.” https://www.israel21c.org/israeli-company-develops-rapid-diagnostic-kit-for-covid-19/
  2. Israeli MDs give free counseling to coronavirus patients Physicians from some of Israel’s largest hospitals have volunteered for the Innonation social project geared to helping isolated patients all over the world. By Abigail Klein Leichman MARCH 1, 2020 Illustrative photo by Mongkolchon Akesin via Shutterstock.com Thanks to a new social-action project, Chinese coronavirus patients were able to ask Israeli primary care physician Dr. Rachel Libenson Vansh how to maintain proper health and hygiene while confined at home. Using a Zoom video link over China’s Weibo social network, Libenson Vansh answered their questions in English with immediate translation into Chinese. This remarkable setup, which took place over a week ago, was the first in a series of interactive video broadcasts spearheaded by Israeli organization Innonation, which links talents, companies and organizations across borders through its hubs in Israel and China. One hundred Israeli physicians have volunteered to speak remotely with quarantined COVID-19 patients on topics of concern — such as family and children; dermatology (including sensitivity to protective masks); diet; psychology (as well as dealing with anxieties); pregnancy; and signs of serious illness that require immediate attention. Figures today show the COVID-19 virus has infected 86,584 people in more than 60 countries and caused 2,976 deaths. Many people who have been put into quarantine, or are self-isolated at home, are worried and fearful and have many questions about their situation and how to look after themselves. “The health systems in countries affected by the coronavirus are under tremendous pressure. They find it difficult to deal with the medical needs of people living under quarantine and with the general population that fears going to clinics and hospitals,” says Amit Gal-Or, who cofounded Innonation in 2016 with his father, Amir, and brother, Raz. “This Israeli volunteer initiative will provide them with the necessary knowhow to deal with the daily medical difficulties that currently are not being met.” The online project will target people in China, Japan, South Korea, Italy, the United States, Israel and any other countries where there are quarantines and fears about going out in public. Israeli physician Dr. Ishay Lev leads a remote medical instruction seminar aided by Chinese translator Mazal Liu. Photo courtesy of Innonation Doctors from major medical centers The doctors who volunteered for the Innonation video project are from some of Israel’s major medical centers, including Sheba, Tel Aviv, Rambam, Wolfson and Soroka. In cooperation with companies that agreed to supply practical technology and medical databases, Innonation has started operating broadcast stations at all the participating hospitals. “The technology bridges the medical gap in these countries, while the recruitment of Israeli medical institutions and the impressive volunteering of the best doctors in Israel help realize this project and meet the tremendous demand for the necessary medical knowledge,” says Gal-Or. Speaking to ISRAEL21c last Thursday, Amit Gal-Or said three sessions were completed with Chinese patients and another three are planned this week with patients recruited via social media in other countries. “The way it works is that first we do a live session where people apply to join and send their questions. That is capped to about 100 people so we can have a real give and take,” says Gal-Or. “Then we edit the videos and release them for publishing all over the world. It’s a mix of the personal and the necessary scale to help large numbers of people.” Donation of medical supplies to China Amit Gal-Or, one of the founders of Innonation. Photo: courtesy The video project follows on Innonation’s previous initiative of recruiting donors for medical equipment sorely needed in China. Board members and partners of Innonation and the Israeli Chamber of Commerce in China (IsCham) have so far donated some 500,000 pieces of protective gear including masks, gowns and gloves. Gal-Or, 23, has lived and been educated in China for 12 years. He is currently in Tel Aviv, where Innonation has an office in addition to branches in Chinese regions including Beijing, Hangzhou and Hong Kong. The Gal-Or family has been active in technology, telecommunications and real estate deals in the Chinese market for about 20 years. “We are experts at connecting, and this issue of the coronavirus hit us very personally,” he says. “We wanted to figure out ways to contribute aside from the donations of supplies. The Jewish tradition is about sharing knowledge. And the quality of expertise and technology in Israel’s medical field is very high quality. So we felt that the way to really contribute is through knowledge sharing.” Innonation reached out to managers of several medical centers with which it has ties. “It was incredible to see how quickly doctors wanted to volunteer and managers wanted to support this project,” says Gal-Or. Innonation has also established a company to facilitate the building of new hospitals and the transfer of Israeli medical technology. This global initiative is run by teams in China and Israel with the goal of improving medical systems and facilitating joint R&D projects internationally. But the video project is Gal-Or’s focus for the time being. He acknowledged that Innonation doesn’t profit from this activity aside from the positive publicity it engenders. “This is about connecting people in crisis with doctors and hospitals. We will continue until we see the virus disappear.” https://www.israel21c.org/israeli-mds-give-free-counseling-to-coronavirus-patients-worldwide/
  3. Jewish New Year fruit may hold seeds of hope for brain disease sufferers Israeli neurologist, nanotech expert make pomegranate oil capsules that send antioxidants where they can have the most effect By SHOSHANNA SOLOMON September 18, 2017, 4:36 pm Pomegranates at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on August 25, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90) As Jewish families across the world reach for the pomegranate that they customarily eat on Rosh Hashanah, they may not realize that the fruit, with its juicy red seeds and crown-like crest, could hold a key to graceful aging. King Solomon is said to have designed his crown based on that of the pomegranate, and the image of the fruit often appears on ancient coins of Judea. The pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds, which correspond with the 613 Jewish precepts or commandments set out by the Torah regulating the Jewish way of life. For this reason, and because it represents fruitfulness, knowledge, learning and wisdom, and is seasonal in Israel, it customarily appears on Jewish New Year dinner tables. The association of the pomegranate with knowledge, learning and wisdom may not be far from the truth. Pomegranate seed oil (PSO) contains high concentrations of punicic acid, or omega 5 as it is also called, which is believed to be one of the most powerful antioxidants in nature. “Oxidation of proteins and lipids play an important role in aging and neuro degeneration in the brain in general,” said Prof. Ruth Gabizon, a researcher of degenerative brain diseases at the Neurology Department of Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem. “Brain cells die over time, from when we are teenagers, and they are not replaced.” Prof. Ruth Gabizon, a researcher of degenerative brain diseases at the Neurology Department of Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem (Courtesy) Common daily activities, such as digesting food and breathing, create free radicals that result in oxidation and damage to human cells, in particular to brain cells. Unlike blood or skin cells, brain cells do not get replaced by new ones. So free radicals are harmful to our health and end up impairing our thinking, memory, orientation and alertness, among others. Degenerative brain disease and brain atrophy are typical of debilitating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in which brain cells are destroyed, followed by rapid functional and behavioral deterioration and eventual death. The number of people worldwide living with dementia, for example, is expected to almost double every 20 years, reaching 75 million in 2010 and 131.5 million in 20150, according to Alzheimers’ Disease International. Fighting fire with food Aging and brain degeneration are a natural and unavoidable process, explained Gabizon, but they can be accelerated or slowed down depending on our lifestyles. Antioxidants are known for their ability to protect against the destruction of brain and body cells. They can be found in foods such as cranberries, blueberries, beans, artichokes, pecans and foods containing Vitamin E. GranaGard is a food supplement that contains pomegranate seed oil (Courtesy Efrat Eshel) “If we are able to control the levels of free radicals, maybe our cells will work better and live longer,” Gabizon said. “Our approach is that even if we cannot cure the severely affected patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, since they are diagnosed at a stage when large numbers of brain cells are already dead, perhaps we can delay the disease’s advance at early stages or even prevent disease outbreak in healthy people at risk of developing neurodegeneration, which is actually most of us. “This, by extending the life span of brain cells, and improving their functioning even under dire conditions in which the body is filled with ‘biological garbage’ like the destructive oxidizing free radicals.” Antioxidants, as they are present in many vegetables and fruits, may in principle protect against the destruction of brain and body cells. And this is the case for pomegranate seed oil. Unfortunately, antioxidants that we consume through food and supplements do not always have the desired impact because they are consumed in too low of a concentration or broken down in the digestive system, and thus never make it to the brain or other cells. The challenge, said Gabizon, is to make sure the pomegranate oil that we eat, which generally is filtered out by the liver, gets to the parts of our body which can benefit from it. So Gabizon teamed up with Prof. Shlomo Magdassi — an expert in the field of nanotechnology from the Casali Institute for Applied Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — and together devised a way to break down the oil into tiny particles that can slip through the liver undetected and make their way to the brain. The product they have developed, called GranaGard, has a high concentration of antioxidants that have a good chance of reaching the brain. Prof. Shlomo Magdassi of the Institute of Chemistry at the Faculty of Science, February 02, 2012. (Nati Shohat/Flash90) A study of GranaGard performed by Gabizon and Magdassi found that consumption by lab mice with multiple sclerosis delayed the spread of the disease and considerably reduced its intensity. An additional experiment with lab mice who suffered from Creutzfeldt-Jakob showed that the use of GranaGard “considerably delayed the spread of the disease and lowered the intensity of the accompanying degenerative-dementing processes,” Gabizon said. The two studies were published in the international Journal of Nanomedicine in November 2015 and in the International Journal of Nanomedicine in 2014. Gabizon and Magdassi patented the product and formed the firm Granalix Biotechnologies Ltd. They are now hoping to undertake clinical trials to test the effect of their formulation in humans with Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, Gabizon said. GranaGard is already on sale as a dietary supplement at www.granalix.com and is being used by patients with degenerative brain diseases, their family members and others, Gabizon said. The recommended dose is two capsules with breakfast. Seeds of hope M is a Jerusalem-based 50-year old medical professional who was diagnosed a year and a half ago with brain atrophy. He has been using GranaGard for a year and three months, after a friend recommended the supplement and after he met with Gabizon to find out more about it. “One of the ways to deal with atrophy is via fighting free radicals,” M said, preferring not to make his identity known. Since his diagnosis, he has started an antioxidant diet, which includes taking GranaGard and his regular medications along with exercise. Since his diagnosis, he said, there has been no deterioration in his condition. He would “absolutely” recommend taking the supplement, M said. “I cannot substantially say this (GranaGard) absolutely benefited me, but I have incorporated it as an important piece of my regime. The end result is that I am still functioning.” Prof. Tamir Ben-Hur, the chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Hadassah Medical Center, knows the supplement and also knows Gabizon, but has no stake in the firm or the technology, he said. “Oxidation is one of the important mechanisms of tissue injury in many diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s,” he said in a phone interview. “To use antioxidants to stall the process has been around for a while but efforts have generally failed, because either the anti-oxidants were too weak or the active ingredient did not reach the brain.” The concept behind GranaGard is not new, he said, but the way it is used makes it more powerful than other antioxidants available, such as Vitamin E. Products that consumers find in health stores – either creams or products to be taken orally — are sometimes inconsistent in their dosages and don’t get effectively absorbed. “These capsules help the formulation surpass the liver, and this is the true advantage of this product versus other products in the stores.” “There is no clinical proof that GranaGard can slow down Alzheimer’s, and I hope a clinical trial will prove that. But there is good biological research data that it is well absorbed by the gut, reaches the brain and has an antioxidant effect on the brain. We believe it may work with humans but we need to prove it,” he said. Elderly men play backgammon at a country club in northern Tel Aviv, illustrative (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90) “I would certainly recommend it to people who are aging and prone to degenerative diseases,” he added. “When you have a pre-Alzheimer’s condition there is nothing to prevent the disease from developing and nothing to stop it. There is no clinical proof of efficacy, but I suggest people take it, because there is good biological rationale, and good data in animals, so why not?” Gabizon is cautious about raising hopes of patients who are suffering from these debilitating afflictions. At the moment, the only product her company has on the market is an over-the-counter food supplement. Most likely, to actually defeat these illnesses, a cocktail of various compounds will have to be developed, she said. But each step forward is a victory, she added. Their component has shown a way antioxidants can be broken down to go undetected by the liver and has shown a “definite effect” on the pathology of mice. “We have not yet proven the formulation’s effect on the human brain,” she said, “But the effect on mice has been proven and we hope to show the same effect with humans during the clinical trials. Even if we don’t find a cure for these diseases, if we are able to delay the degeneration process by a few years, we have done our job.” https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-new-year-fruit-may-hold-key-to-graceful-ageing/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
  4. Multiple sclerosis study reveals possible trigger Israeli scientists discover an abnormality in neurons’ protective membrane may enable the immune system to launch a mistaken attack. By ISRAEL21c Staff June 20, 2017, 9:00 am Multiple sclerosis, one of the most devastating neurodegenerative diseases, affects some 2.5 million people worldwide and has no known cure. Researchers have long speculated that MS is triggered by the body’s own immune system unleashing an uncontrolled attack on myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells (neurons). A study published by Israeli scientists in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) pinpoints a structural instability in the myelin membranes, the “insulating tape” surrounding neurons. This vulnerability seems to be what gives the immune system access to otherwise protected regions. “We found that small modifications in the myelin sheaths create structural instabilities that may help the immune system to enter and attack neurons,” said principal investigator Prof. Roy Beck of Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy and Sagol School of Neurosciences. “Current therapeutic approaches have focused on the autoimmune response without identifying a clear mechanism. Our research suggests a new avenue for multiple sclerosis therapies and diagnostics,” Beck said. Breaking down the insulation Axons, which carry electrical impulses in neurons, are surrounded by protective myelin sheaths. In MS, an autoimmune “error” mistakenly identifies these sheaths as hostile foreign entities and breaks them down. The research, conducted by Rona Shaharabani, a doctoral student in Prof. Beck’s lab, pinpoints the precise alterations to the myelin sheaths that result in structural instabilities, creating “easy access” for autoimmune attacks. “After years of research, we were amazed to discover that a possible trigger for the outbreak of the disease could be found in the membrane’s physical structure,” said Beck. Cylindrical instead of flat He explained that the lipid-and-protein building blocks of the myelin sheaths give the membrane a shape that is critical to their functioning. “If the basic building blocks are straight, the membrane will be flat, which is the preferred structure for a neuron’s ‘insulating tape,’” said Beck. “However, if they exhibit a more cone-like shape, the membrane will tend to form closed round cylinders. These produce spontaneous holes in the surface of the sheath, rendering it vulnerable to attack.” For the purpose of the research, the scientists harnessed X-ray light to examine hundreds of membrane model systems that mimicked those of healthy and diseased animal models. In collaboration with Prof. Ruth Arnon of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, co-developer of the leading MS drug Copaxone, and Prof. Yeshayahu Talmon of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, the team also used electron microscopy to determine the different nanoscopic structures of both natural myelin sheaths and model system membranes. “The next step is to find a way to reverse the disease progression and find new techniques for early detection,” said Beck. MS is "lupus of the myelin sheath." In SLE, the autommune system causes the body to attack itself via inflammation. In SLE, every body system, not just the myelin sheath, can be attacked, including body organs.
  5. Israeli researchers use stem cells to treat age-related blindness Initial clinical trials show new therapy could treat macular degeneration, helping millions to keep their sight Israeli researchers say they have developed a promising stem-cell therapy to treat age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, potentially saving the sight of millions of people. Jerusalem-based Cell Cure Neurosciences reports that its OpRegen therapy infusion has shown encouraging potential in the first phase of its clinical trials. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in people over 60, and is estimated to affect 11 million people in the US in various forms, asserts the Bright Focus Foundation’s fact sheet. In a healthy retina, one layer of retinal pigment epithelial cells functions to help support nutrition to photoreceptors, cells that process light to provide vision. When the RPE cells deteriorate in people with macular degeneration, photoreceptors lose their support system and deteriorate, ultimately leading to blindness. The Israeli firm’s therapy involves an injection of RPE cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, underneath the patient’s retina. Dr. Eyal Banin, one of the lead developers of the technology and director of degenerative diseases at the Retina Center at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, believes that the OpRegen infusion will replace the patient’s dysfunctional RPE cells. It also may help support the remaining healthy cells. “The biggest advantage of this type of therapy may be its communication with the surrounding cells and environment,” he said. “This two-way interaction may help these remaining cells to survive and function properly.” Based on the encouraging results of the first phase, the researchers will move on to a second trial in which new patients will receive an upped dose. The news was announced via the Columbia, Maryland-based Foundation Fighting Blindness, which provides funding and pre-clinical research for the trials. Measure Measure
  6. Cure For Terminal Cancer Discovered With Breakthrough Immunotherapy By Einat Paz-Frankel Clinical trials of a new drug cocktail developed by Dr. Jacob Schachter, head of the Ella Institute at Sheba Medical Center, have been shown to cure 58 percent of terminally-ill patients by shrinking cancerous tumors or eliminating them altogether. The scientific community is hailing this discovery as a major breakthrough in cancer research. The new cocktail is a form of immunotherapy, a relatively new class of drugs that harness the body’s immune system to extinguish fatal tumors. Prof. Jacob Schachter, who took part in the development of the drug and in the recent clinical trials, told Israel’s Channel 10 that the newfound drug cocktail could serve as the basis of treatment for many types of cancer, potentially replacing chemotherapy. “It’s an explosion,” he said. In one of the trials, over half of the terminally ill patients saw their tumors shrink or disappear completely. The drug, which was developed by a team led by Schachter, was used in an international study led by Dr. James Larkin of UK’s Royal Marsden Hospital. The results of the study were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The worldwide clinical trial involved 945 patients, suffering from advanced (or metastatic) melanoma, which causes 55,000 deaths annually and is considered the deadliest type of skin cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Since melanoma is typically treated by chemotherapy, radiations and/or surgery, this cocktail gives new hope to thousands of families. “Significantly more effective” According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), to whom Schachter and his colleagues from around the globe presented their findings this week, for patients with previously untreated advanced melanoma, the combination of immunotherapy drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab were “significantly more effective at delaying cancer progression than ipilimumab alone.” The two drugs were previously used separately, but the groundbreaking study shows that combining them leads to much better results. This study “provides a powerful new immunotherapy option for patients with melanoma,” according to the ASCO. Schachter, head of the Ella Institute at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, told Channel 10 that the side effects of this new drug are fewer than those of chemotherapy. It’s important to note, however, that the new drug is still experimental at this stage, and is not available on the market. The melanoma findings were among several cancer studies presented this week at ASCO’s annual meeting in Chicago. “These advances are expected to immediately influence oncology practice, leading to improved survival and quality of life for patients,” ASCO said in a statement. http://www.friendsofsheba.org/cure-for-terminal-cancer-discovered-with-breakthrough-immunotherapy/ Pioneering cancer drug combination approved By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website 17 June 2016 From the section Health Image copyright A pioneering pair of cancer drugs that unleash the immune system on tumours will be paid for by the NHS in England. In trials, the combination therapy shrank the most aggressive and deadly type of skin cancer in 69% of patients. The decision to approve the drugs is one of the fastest in NHS history and is likely to be adopted throughout the UK. Experts said harnessing the body's own defences was now giving "new hope" to cancer patients. The field - known as immunotherapy - is one of the most exciting in cancer treatment. Cancers are a corrupted version of healthy tissue and evolve ways of evading the immune system. Ipilimumab and nivolumab stop the cancers hiding and allow the immune system to attack. Image copyright Image caption Melanoma kills more than 2,000 people in the UK each year Ten years ago, patients with advanced and aggressive melanoma lived for anaverage of nine months. But two years after a being given both drugs - more than half experience tumours shrinking and a fifth have no sign of cancer at all. Prof Carole Longson, from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) which approved the drugs, said: "These promising new immunotherapy treatments for advanced melanoma look set to significantly extend the life of people with the condition." The combination was licensed across Europe only last month. The speed with which it was approved by NICE means patients in England will be the first to have access to the therapy on the continent. Peter Waite Peter Waite, a 63-year-old motor technician from Preston, was diagnosed with kidney cancer last year. He started a trial on the drugs, which are now being tried in a wide range of cancers, in April 2015. He told the BBC: "There was a 30% reduction in the size of the tumours and it has arrested any further growth. "It's very easy to decide your life is over when you have a terminal illness, the introduction of these drugs is going to bring a lot of hope to people and I'm totally positive and looking forward to watching my grandchildren grow up." He now has his cancer monitored every six weeks to ensure it does not start to grow again. Nivolumab and ipilimumab both work by interrupting the chemical signals that cancers use to convince the immune system they are healthy tissue. Nivolumab blocks the off-switch on white blood cells called PD-1. Ipilimumab blocks a similar switch called CTLA-4. Dr Paul Nathan, from the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex, told the BBC News website: "Immunotherapy is genuinely exciting, it is starting to have a profound effect on many cancers and I'm in no doubt there will be patients that have long-term durable control of their disease... it really is a game-changer." It is the dual-action that means the combination therapy works better than either alone. However, the combination also causes inflammation in the bowels and liver as the drugs triggers the immune system to attack healthy tissues. Prof Peter Johnson, the chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, said: "These results give new hope to melanoma patients. "But, it's important to remember that more powerful treatment comes with an increased chance of severe side effects. "Our research now needs to identify which patients are most likely to benefit from this combination and who is most likely to experience the side effects, so doctors can make sure we get the balance right." Gill Nuttall, the founder of the charity Melanoma UK, added: "Once melanoma reaches an advanced stage, it is an aggressive and life-threatening disease which is difficult to treat because it has spread to other parts of the body. "Today's decision is hugely significant for patients." http://www.bbc.com/news/health-36549674
  7. New Israeli Treatment For Fibromyalgia Helped 100% Of Sufferers In New Study December 30, 2015 A clinical trial involving women diagnosed with fibromyalgia showed the painful condition improved in every one of the 48 who completed two months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Brain scans of the women before and after treatment gave credence to the theory that abnormal conditions in pain-related areas of the brain may be responsible for the syndrome. Above: The interior of a hyperbaric chamber at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel, used to treat patients with fibromyalgia in a recent trial. Courtesy of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicineand Research The interior of a hyperbaric chamber at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel, used to treat patients with fibromyalgia in a recent trial. Courtesy of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research – See more at: http://news.rice.edu/2015/06/02/hyperbaric-hope-for-fibromyalgia-sufferers-2/#sthash.yinyQ3dt.dpuf Hyperbaric Hope For Fibromyalgia Sufferers Mike Williams • Rice University Rice University part of Israel study to test novel treatment for little-understood condition Women who suffer from fibromyalgia benefit from a treatment regimen in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, according to researchers at Rice University and institutes in Israel. A clinical trial involving women diagnosed with fibromyalgia showed the painful condition improved in every one of the 48 who completed two months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Brain scans of the women before and after treatment gave credence to the theory that abnormal conditions in pain-related areas of the brain may be responsible for the syndrome. Results of the study appear in the open-access journal PLOS One. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that can be accompanied by – and perhaps related to – other physical and mental conditions that include fatigue, cognitive impairment, irritable bowel syndrome and sleep disturbance. More than 90 percent of those diagnosed with the syndrome are women, said Eshel Ben-Jacob, a lead author of the proof-of-concept study who developed the analytical method used to show the association between patients’ improvement and changes in their brains. He is an adjunct professor of biosciences at Rice University, a senior investigator at Rice’s Center for Theoretical Biological Physics and a professor of physics and member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University. “Symptoms in about 70 percent of the women who took part have to do with the interpretation of pain in their brains,” Ben-Jacob said. “They’re the ones who showed the most improvement with hyperbaric oxygen treatment. We found significant changes in their brain activity.” Scientists have not pinned down the syndrome’s cause, although another recent PLOS One study identified a possible RNA-based biomarker for its diagnosis. A variety of treatments from drugs to lifestyle changes have been tried to relieve patients’ suffering, with limited success, Ben-Jacob said. “Most people have never heard of fibromyalgia,” he said. “And many who have, including some medical doctors, don’t admit that this is a real disorder. I learned from my M.D. friends that this is not the only case in which disorders that target mainly women raise skepticism in the medical community as to whether they’re real or not. However, these days there are increasing efforts to understand the effect of gender on body disorders.” Researchers at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and Tel Aviv University were studying post-traumatic brain injury patients when they realized hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) could help patients with fibromyalgia. “Patients who had fibromyalgia in addition to their post-concussion symptoms had complete resolution of the symptoms,” said Dr. Shai Efrati, who noted his own mother suffers from the syndrome. Efrati is lead author of the study, head of the research and development unit at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and a member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers that expose patients to pure oxygen at higher-than-atmospheric pressures are commonly used to treat patients with embolisms, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning and decompression sickness (known to divers as “the bends”), among many other conditions. One effect of exposure is to push more oxygen into a patient’s bloodstream, which delivers it to the brain. Efrati’s earlier trials found HBOT induces neuroplasticity that leads to repair of chronically impaired brain functions and improved quality of life for post-stroke and mild traumatic brain injury patients, even years after the initial injury. Ben-Jacob said two patients spearheaded the push for the study. One was an Oxford graduate student who developed fibromyalgia after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a train crash. “By chance, the secretary of the department where she worked is the mother of the nurse in charge of the HBOT. She said you have to go and try to do it,” he recalled. The other, he said, is a professor of sociology who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorders due to child abuse. The professor had suffered from fibromyalgia for many years. Her symptoms got worse through the initial treatments – a common experience for other patients in the study who she said had suppressed memories due to child abuse – before they got better. But by the end of treatment both women showed remarkable improvement, Ben-Jacob said. The interior of a hyperbaric chamber at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel, used to treat patients with fibromyalgia in a recent trial. Efrati said some patients will likely require follow-up sessions. “The abnormalities in brain regions responsible for the chronic pain sensation in fibromyalgia patients can be triggered by different events,” he said. “Accordingly, the long-term response may be different. “We have learned, for example, that when fibromyalgia is triggered by traumatic brain injury, we can expect complete resolution without any need for further treatment. However, when the trigger is attributed to other causes, such as fever-related diseases, patients will probably need periodic maintenance therapy.” The clinical trial involved 60 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia at least two years earlier. A dozen left the trial for various reasons, but half of the 48 patients who completed it received 40 HBOT treatments five days a week over two months. The 90-minute treatments exposed patients to pure oxygen at two times the atmospheric pressure. The other half were part of what Ben-Jacob called a crossover-control group. They were evaluated before the trial and after a control period that saw no improvement in their conditions. After the two-month control, they were given the same HBOT treatment as the first group and experienced the same relief, according to the researchers. The researchers noted the successful treatment enabled patients to drastically reduce or even eliminate their use of pain medications. “The intake of the drugs eased the pain but did not reverse the condition, while HBOT did reverse the condition,” the researchers wrote. Efrati said the findings warrant further study. “The results are of significant importance since, unlike the current treatments offered for fibromyalgia patients, HBOT is not aiming for just symptomatic improvement,” he said. “HBOT is aiming for the actual cause — the brain pathology responsible for the syndrome. It means that brain repair, including even neuronal regeneration, is possible even for chronic, long-lasting pain syndromes, and we can and should aim for that in any future treatment development.” Co-authors of the paper are Ham Golan, Olga Volkov, Gregori Fishlev, Jacob Bergan and Mony Friedman of the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University and the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, Zerifin, Israel; Yair Bechor of the Institute of Hyperbaric Medicine at Assaf Harofeh; Yifat Faran of Ashkelon Academic College, Israel; Shir Daphna-Tekoah of Ashkelon Academic College and Kaplan Medical Center, Israel; Gal Sekler of Tel Aviv University; Jacob Ablin of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Tel Aviv University; and Dan Buskila of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.
  8. Vaxil’s groundbreaking therapeutic vaccine, developed in Israel, could keep about 90 percent of cancers from coming back. As the world’s population lives longer than ever, if we don’t succumb to heart disease, strokes or accidents, it is more likely that cancer will get us one way or another. Cancer is tough to fight, as the body learns how to outsmart medical approaches that often kill normal cells while targeting the malignant ones. In a breakthrough development, the Israeli company Vaxil BioTherapeutics has formulated a therapeutic cancer vaccine, now in clinical trials at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. If all goes well, the vaccine could be available about six years down the road, to administer on a regular basis not only to help treat cancer but in order to keep the disease from recurring. The vaccine is being tested against a type of blood cancer called multiple myeloma. If the substance works as hoped — and it looks like all arrows are pointing that way — its platform technology VaxHit could be applied to 90 percent of all known cancers, including prostate and breast cancer, solid and non-solid tumors. “In cancer, the body knows something is not quite right but the immune system doesn’t know how to protect itself against the tumor like it does against an infection or virus. This is because cancer cells are the body’s own cells gone wrong,” says Julian Levy, the company’s CFO. “Coupled with that, a cancer patient has a depressed immune system, caused both by the illness and by the treatment.” The trick is to activate a compromised immune system to mobilize against the threat. A vaccine that works like a drug A traditional vaccine helps the body’s immune system fend off foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses, and is administered to people who have not yet had the ailment. Therapeutic vaccines, like the one Vaxil has developed, are given to sick people, and work more like a drug. Vaxil’s lead product, ImMucin, activates the immune system by “training” T-cells –– the immune cells that protect the body by searching out and destroying cells that display a specific molecule (or marker) called MUC1. MUC1 is typically found only on cancer cells and not on healthy cells. The T-cells don’t attack any cells without MUC1, meaning there are no side effects unlike traditional cancer treatments. More than 90% of different cancers have MUC1 on their cells, which indicates the potential for this vaccine. “It’s a really big thing,” says Levy, a biotechnology entrepreneur who was formerly CEO for Biokine Therapeutics. “If you give chemo, apart from the really nasty side effects, what often happens is that cancer becomes immune [to it]. The tumor likes to mutate and develops an ability to hide from the treatment. Our vaccines are also designed to overcome that problem.” For cancers in an advanced stage, treatments like chemo or surgery to remove a large tumor will still be needed, but if the cancer can be brought down to scale, the body is then able to deal with it, Levy explains. ImMucin is foreseen as a long-term strategy — a shot every few months, with no side effects — to stop the cancer from reoccurring after initial treatments, by ensuring that the patient’s own immune system keeps it under control. In parallel, the company is also working on a vaccine that treats tuberculosis, a disease that’s increasing worldwide, including in the developed world, and for which the current vaccine is often ineffective and treatment is problematic. Based in Ness Ziona, Vaxil was founded in 2006 by Dr. Lior Carmon, a biotechnology entrepreneur with a doctorate in immunology from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. In June, Vaxil signed a memorandum of understanding to merge its activities into Sheldonco, a company traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. By Rivka Borochov
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