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Israeli Scientists Chasing High-Tech Breakthroughs

Israeli Scientists Chasing High-Tech Breakthroughs

Israeli scientists in universities across the country have been forging ahead in recent months with new innovations in medicine and technology that could lead to breakthroughs.

Professor Shimon Efrat of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, along with graduate students Holger Russ and Yael Bar, have developed a way to cultivate healthy human beta cells in the laboratory and implant them into diabetes patients. They are now working to convince the body to accept these cells — a move that could pave the way to a new and simpler form of diabetes treatment.

Another Sackler Faculty of Medicine professor, Eliezer Flescher, has helped to develop an anti-cancer drug from jasmonate, a synthetic compound derived from the Jasmine flower. Both blood cancers and solid tumors seem to be responsive to the compound and Flescher said he is hopeful that an anti-cancer drug based on jasmonate could be on American shelves within four years. The shortened development time is aided by the fact that “the jasmonate compound is used widely in agriculture and cosmetics,” Flescher said. “Proven to be non-toxic, it has the same regulatory status as table salt.” His research is the foundation of a promising new biotech company, Sepal-Pharma, which funds Flescher’s research and where he serves on the scientific advisory board.

Adverse life events and a pessimistic outlook could increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to a new study by Professor Ronit Peled of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. A survey of 622 women showed that optimists were 25 percent less likely to have the disease while women who had suffered two or more traumatic life events had a 62 percent greater risk. “The relationship between happiness and health should be examined in future studies and relevant preventative initiatives should be developed,” Peled said.

The Cardiology Institute of Schneider’s Children Medical Center in Petach Tikva performed the first successful implant of an artificial pulmonary artery valve in a child suffering from a congenital heart defect. The procedure was conducted using catheterization — a technological breakthrough that enables children to be discharged the next day and return to normal activity within a few days — instead of the long recovery period of traditional open-heart surgery. Schneider’s Children’s Cardiac Institute is among the leading centers in the world for this type of treatment.

Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, has been found to activate a defense mechanism in the elderly that “provides them with a survival advantage,” according to Professor Peretz Lavie of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Sleep apnea affects 10 percent of men and 5 percent of women and has been found to constitute a significant risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Studies at the Technion and elsewhere have found that those with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for mortality, particularly if they are overweight.

In his study of 611 elderly patients with light or no sleep apnea, moderate and severe sleep apnea, Lavie said that when compared with the general population, those with moderate sleep apnea had a mortality rate one-third of that of the general population. And the mortality rate for the elderly with no sleep apnea or light sleep apnea and severe sleep apnea were on par with those of the general population.

Nanotechnology scientists at Bar-Ilan University are designing “bullets” to destroy cancer cells. The Nanotechnology Institute is making major breakthroughs in cancer treatment, optics, water purification and computers. The Institute will move into a new triplex next spring that will house Israel’s largest nanotechnology center, including a staff of 28 research teams in physics, chemistry and biology, using one of only 10 such sophisticated machines in the world.

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