Seventy senior public health professionals working to promote health and save lives around the world will visit Israel this week. The visitors will spend nine days learning about cutting-edge research while exchanging professional experiences, challenges and successes.
The participants are graduates of the Hebrew University-Hadassah International Master of Public Health (IMPH) program. The one-year graduate program is part of the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine.
The event is the second Pears IMPH Alumni Workshop and Reunion, sponsored by the Pears Foundation (UK). Participants will hear from world-renowned public health experts such as Harvard’s Dr. Michelle Williams, to whom US President Barack Obama presented the Presidential Award for Excellence.
Since 1971, the one-year IMPH degree has been awarded to more than 750 graduates from 90 countries. Graduates have become leaders in their countries of origin and internationally, working to alleviate disease, end extreme poverty and promote health and development around the world.
Students from low-income countries are awarded scholarships by the Pears Foundation and other donor agencies.
“The Pears Foundation is a strategic partner in our IMPH program,” said Braun School Director and former IMPH program Director Prof. Yehuda Neumark. “In providing support for IMPH scholarships and follow-up alumni activities, it aims to build a network of scholars in low-income regions of the world who benefit from academic expertise in Israel and transfer that expertise towards efforts to alleviate disease, end extreme poverty and promote health and development.
“Its support also helps strengthen relationships between Israel and Africa through building strong academic cooperation.”
Current students and the visiting alumni hail from Albania, Cameroon, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Kazakhstan, Mali, Macedonia, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestinian Authority, Philippines, Russia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, and Uganda, among others.
Graduates of the program include leading health professionals such as Prof. Cui Fuqiang, a widely published research scientist serving as deputy director of China’s National Immunization Program and director of the Hepatitis Division of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
After graduating the IMPH program in 2004, he moved to Beijing to join China CDC, was granted over $3 million in research support, and recently received his doctorate from the University of Basel.
“I will never forget the IMPH program’s courses in epidemiology and community-oriented primary care. I learned so much that helped me develop my research model when I returned to China,” he said recently, adding that the program “gave me both epidemiology skills and the self-confidence to pursue my career.”
Another IMPH graduate is Amb. Dr. Josephine Ojiambo, ambassador and deputy permanent representative of the Kenya Mission to the United Nations. Dr. Ojiambo has played a leading role in women’s organizations, UNICEF and public health NGOs, in areas such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.
The event will include representatives of the Africa Population & Health Research Center (Kenya), Association of Schools of Public Health – European Region, Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MASHAV-Israel Center for International Cooperation, University of Toronto, and World Health Organization (Geneva).
You’ll find Ada’s spa in the northern part of Israel. The big attraction is her collection of plants, which eat everything from insects and reptiles to small mammals. But for just $80 you can enjoy a wonderful snake massage. These king and corn snakes are apparently heavy enough to produce a kneading sensation and provide soothing deep tissue therapy.
Some of the regular customers at the spa claim the snake therapy helps to ease migraines and soothe sore muscles. And why wouldn’t it? Having a tangle of creepy, slithering reptiles crawling over my back, neck, and face would quickly make me forget about any other sort of ailment I might be experiencing at the moment. If I can choose between snakes and sore muscles, I’ll take the sore muscles. And for Valentine’s Day let’s just stick with a box of chocolates.
Israeli researchers say they have discovered one of the ways that breast cancer cells turn on their aggressive cancerous behavior. This means that it will be possible to detect breast cancer earlier and decide on the most effective treatment.
“We found a short version of a known enzyme which is actually reprogramming the cell to behave like a cancer cell,” Dr. Rotem Karni of the Hebrew University Institute of Medical Research Israel-Canada told The Media Line. “We identified the molecular mechanism which activates a pathway of transmission of information that is sent to the cell.”
The short version has fewer genes than the longer version of the enzyme. The research is expected to help with both early detection of breast cancer and follow-up treatment of malignant growths.
“This is fantastic news, because the earlier we can detect breast cancer in patients, the earlier we can potentially begin treating it,” Fern Reiss, author of the new book, The Breast Cancer Checklist: The Only Guide for What to Do Before, During, and After Breast Cancer Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiation, told The Media Line.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that one out of eight women will get breast cancer at some point in her life. The chances increase based on age, genetic history, weight and reproductive history.
Karni says that the short version of the enzyme, which encourages cancerous cell growth, responds well to certain drugs that have already been approved by the FDA. He says the current research also has long-term implications.
“Once we know how the short form of the enzyme is generated, we can actually block or reverse it,” he said. “We can already do this in the lab and we are developing ways to do it in the body.”
In contrast, the long form of this same enzyme acts as a tumor suppressor which protects normal cells from becoming cancerous. Karni says they are also looking at ways to turn the short form, which is dangerous, into the long form of the enzyme.
He says the main advantage now is in diagnostics by helping doctors decide whether chemotherapy or surgery is needed. He has worked on the project for three years, and his team is continuing to collaborate with drug companies in both the and .
Breast cancer survival rates have improved dramatically in recent years. Currently, 10-year survival rates are 85-90 percent. When caught early, 98 percent of women survive for at least five years. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers.
Jewish women have a one in 7.5 chance of developing the disease, while Arab women have a one in 14 chance. The most common form of breast cancer is invasive carcinoma. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer rates are the fifth-highest in the Western world.
Karni says the research he is doing at is personal as well as scientific.
“I think that every person knows many people around them who are either directly affected by cancer or have relatives who are sick,” he said. “It’s very rewarding in terms of knowing that these findings are important and can contribute to treatment.”
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.medialine.org
Two science projects — one to map the human brain, the other to explore the extraordinary properties of the carbon-based material graphene — have won an EU contest to receive up to 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) in funding each over the next decade.
The EU’s Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) is expected to award the grant to the two winning projects at a ceremony to be held today (Monday) in Brussels, Belgium. Twenty-one groups of researchers competed for the prize, six of them reached the competition’s final stage, yet only two were awarded the grant, to be paid out over ten years.
“European’s position as a knowledge superpower depends on thinking the unthinkable and exploiting the best ideas,” European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said in a statement Monday.
The Human Brain Project aspires to meet one of the biggest challenges of modern science: understanding the human brain and creating the most accurate model of the human brain to date. The Human Brain Project seeks to aggregate information about the brain and its functions in an effort to develop treatment for neurological diseases, help test new drugs and model supercomputing techniques on the brain.
The project first came about during an initiative called the Blue Brain Project that began in May 2005 and was led by brain researcher Professor Henry Markram at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland. Markram, who completed his doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, is also heading up the current project.
His partners include more than 80 researchers from universities and research institutes throughout Europe and elsewhere. Israelis from the Weizmann Institute, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University are also taking part in the project, whose total budget is estimated at 1.19 billion euros.
An additional aspect of the project aims to create a database of all 560 known neurological diseases that will be accessible to physicians and researchers. These include Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s and epilepsy, as well as psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and sleep disorders. The researchers plan to keep the public informed about new discoveries by cooperating with science museums throughout Europe, and the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem.
The other winning project, called “Graphene-CA: Graphene Science and Technology for Information and Communications Technologies and Beyond,” will investigate the properties of graphene, which conducts electricity better than copper, is at least 100 times stronger than steel and is believed to be the future of nanotechnology.
Led by physicist Jari Kinaret of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, the graphene researchers, which also include Israelis, hope to use it to develop nano-materials – and ultimately nano-robots capable of producing energy and transmitting data from inside the human body.
Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered a new pathway by which cells in the body become cancerous. The discovery is expected to facilitate the development of new treatment methods that could block this process and prevent the spread of cancerous growths as well as new diagnostic tools to distinguish between normal and malignant tumors.
In their article in the scientific journal “Cell Reports,” the researchers describe a gene found in every cell of the body that manufactures an enzyme called S6K1. This enzyme appears in two forms, one long and one short. It is the latter variant of the enzyme, which like all enzymes is a protein, that is involved in the process of tumor formation.
While the long variant of the S6K1 enzyme is composed of more than 500 different amino acids, the short form contains only 300. In the article, “S6K1 Alternative Splicing Modulates Its Oncogenic Activity and Regulates mTORC1,” the short variation, or isoform, of the protein is described for the first time. Healthy cells contain a relatively small number of this form of S6K1, which the researchers discovered encourages nearby cells to become cancerous. The research team, led by Ph.D. candidate Vered Ben-Hur and adviser Dr. Rotem Karni of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, demonstrated that an additional protein found in the body, SRSF1, depresses the activity of the long variation of S6K1 and activates its short form – the one implicated in the cancer process.
The short variation of S6K1 activates the signaling pathway between cells. This pathway encourages nearby cells to divide in an unregulated manner and thereby become cancerous, spreading and invading various tissues within the body.
The researchers identified the short variform of S6K1 first in mice and then in cell cultures taken from women with breast cancer. They later found significant levels of the short variation in cultures taken from people with lung cancer and from people with cancer of the colon. “We found that the pathway we have described is very important and that it takes place in nearly all types of cancerous tumors,” Karni said.
In a related discovery, the researchers found that in laboratory conditions the long variation of S6K1 actually depresses tumor activity and even prevents healthy cells from becoming cancerous, just the reverse of the effect of this enzyme’s short version. “We showed that the [S6K1] protein causes damage when it is truncated, whereas damage to the long form could actually intensify the disease,” Karni explained.
The researchers have not yet identified the environmental factors affecting the production of either the short or the long variations of the S6K1 enzyme, but the assumption is that environmental factors that have been associated with the development of cancer, such as prolonged exposure to sun or to known carcinogens, could accelerate the production of the short form. Further study will be needed to test this hypothesis.
The research team is now working on turning the short form of S6K1 into its long form and then testing whether this could prevent or at least slow the growth of cancerous tumors.
“We are developing materials that could switch off the splicing mechanism in order to create more of the long form of the protein and fewer of the short ones,” Karni said, adding, “Today we can do this in the laboratory, and the intention is to develop a drug therapy based on this discovery.”
The team has already determined that new cancer drugs, recently approved for use in Europe, can affect the activity of the short form of S6K1.
ICRF and Pink Lady support innovative breast cancer research projects at the Jewish General Hospital and in Israel, as well as the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment.
Event co-chairs this year were Julie Wiener, Maureen Tajfel, Sheryl Rosen Adler and Susan Lavy.
This year’s keynote speaker was Barbara Amiel; her husband, Conrad Black, was on hand as well. Past keynote speakers have included Margaret Trudeau, Marianne Pearl, widow of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, and journalist Jeanette Walls, author of the 2005 memoir The Glass Castle.
This year’s honourees were Kathy Assayag, who has worked in advancement and fundraising for more than 20 years; Julie Greenbaum, co-founder and president of a movement to unite the younger generation against cancer, F*CK CANCER inwykiwyk (It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know); Greenbaum lost her mother to ovarian cancer in 2010; and MNA Kathleen Weil.
Sheila Woodhouse, director of Nazareth House, wrote to The Gazette about a long-standing Christmas tradition at the Shaughnessy village shelter for men. For the past 25 years, a group of women she calls the “Angels of Hudson” have left their own families on Christmas morning – this year it was Dec. 24 – to drive into Montreal with a turkey dinner plus trimmings for 30.
“The Angels also arrive with thoughtful gifts for each and every resident of Nazareth House,” Woodhouse wrote.
“Many of our residents struggle with mental illness and homelessness. Most do not have any contact with their families. These beautiful Angels arrive, laden with … food, gifts, exuberance and the true spirit of Christmas. Each Christmas, they transform the House and the lives of each resident.”
Against enormous odds, Danielle Lepage has spearheaded an annual benefit to raise funds and awareness of sensory neuropathy, Type HSN2, a devastating genetic disease, Anita Kar of the Montreal Neurological Institute wrote to Applause.
“An amazing accomplishment from a woman who suffers from a crippling disease and has had several additional health complications in the year,” she wrote.
The disease, she explained, causes a dangerous lack of sensation, primarily in the hands and feet, and extremely fragile bones. “The combination of a lack of sensation and fragility leads to trauma and infections that often necessitate amputations,” she wrote. “This is how Danielle, in her 50s, has lost several of her fingers and toes.”
“We have to demystify this disease because people are afraid of us; they think it is contagious, but that is not the case,” Lepage said.
Lepage has organized four benefits to raise awareness of the disease: the first, held in 2009, raised just over $6,500. The fourth, held Nov. 17, 2012, raised $30,231.56.
The money will support research led by Bernard Brais at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital; he has dedicated his career to understanding and developing therapeutics for hereditary genetic diseases, including sensory neuropathies, that are more common in Quebec than elsewhere.