Experts agree that, more than ever before, modern wars will be fought in the cyber zone, targeting an enemy’s communications technology to cause untold damage. Now a Tel Aviv University researcher is suggesting that the same tactics should be employed in the battle against one of the body’s deadliest enemies — cancer.
In an article published in Trends in Microbiology, Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of TAU’s School of Physics and Astronomy and Prof. Herbert Levine of Rice University, long-time bacteria researchers, and Prof. Donald Coffey of Johns Hopkins University, a renowned cancer researcher, examine the shared traits of cancer cells and bacteria. Like bacteria, cancer cells rely on communication and “social networking” to become powerful entities within the body. Inspired by the social and survival tactics of bacteria, the team presents a new picture of cancer as a meta-community of smart communicating cells possessing special traits for cooperative behavior.
For many years, scientists ignored the complex social interactions of bacteria, now the number three killer in hospitals in the Western world. The researchers believe that medical professionals are similarly “underestimating the enemy” when it comes to cancer cells that exhibit many similar behaviors.
The parallels that can be drawn between the two types of cells are astounding. While healthy cells are highly disciplined, responding to chemical and physical cues telling them how to behave, bacteria and cancer cells override this control by using different chemical and genetic pathways. They proliferate quickly to make rapid genetic changes, avoiding the body’s immune system and developing drug resistance.
Using intricate communication, cancer cells can distribute tasks, share resources, differentiate, and make decisions. Before sending cells to colonize organs and tissues throughout the body (metastasis), “spying cells” explore the body and return the cancer’s origin. Only then do metastatic cells leave the primary tumor and navigate to new posts.
Also like bacteria, cancer cells change their own environment. They induce genetic changes and enslave surrounding normal cells, forcing them to do the disease’s bidding — providing physical support, protecting them from the immune system, and more. Cancer cells can also become dormant when they sense danger, such as chemotherapy chemicals, then reactivate at will.
Prof. Ben-Jacob suggests that studying the social behavior of cancer cells can inspire new research directions and pave the way for the development of novel therapeutic approaches — for example, a new class of drugs to target cell-to-cell communication or send misleading messages.
With the ability to become immune to chemotherapy and lay dormant until it determines the time is right to reawaken, cancer often relapses undetected until it’s too late to treat, says Prof. Levine. Breaking the communication code for awakening dormant cells could help researchers learn how to reactivate them on purpose — and be ready to kill them as soon as they “awaken.”
The team also suggests further research into cancer “cannibalism,” when cancer cells may consume their peers when they run out of resources. The idea is to send signals which trigger cancer cells to kill each other, which can be done with bacteria.
Other researchers have demonstrated that injected bacteria can “outsmart cancer.” Bacteria can be used to induce gap junctions between the cancer cells and immune cells, “teaching” the immune system to recognize and kill the tumor cells. We might be entering a new era of biological cyber-warfare, in which scientists can enlist bacterial intelligence to defeat cancer, Prof. Ben-Jacob concludes.
Rasheda Ali, daughter of legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali — who suffers from Parkinson’s disease — visited the campus of the Hadassah University Hospital-Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on Thursday to learn about the hospital’s work on innovative treatments for brain degenerative diseases.
She accompanied the managers of BrainStorm, an Israeli biotechnology company developing adult stem cell therapies for neurodegenerative disorders such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Ali serves on BrainStorm’s advisory board and is an internationally known advocate for advancing research in this area, based on her personal experience as Ali’s daughter.
Rasheda Ali praised Hadassah’s work in the area and said she was looking forward to meeting the people behind the names and seeing everything with her own eyes.
This is not the only connection that boxing legend Muhammad Ali has with the Jewish people. Another one of his daughters, Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer, is married to a Jewish attoney, Spencer Wertheimer. Their son Jacob celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in April of this year at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with the former champ in attendance.
Source: Times of Israel
A new technology developed by Ben-Gurion University could soon provide better, more accurate, and more effective therapies for patients suffering from diseases like Parkinson’s, AIDS, and a host of brain disorders. The technology, called V-Smart, uses nanotechnology to develop a microscopic “bubble” transport system that can bring drugs to the exact area in the body where they are needed, rather than administering them through the bloodstream or directly to the central nervous system, which can cause side effects.
V-Smart, according to Professor Eliahu Heldman, one of the designers of the system, offers the best hope for curing brain and central nervous system diseases because it enables drugs to traverse the normally uncrossable “blood-brain barrier.” V-Smart, Heldman said, “can transport encapsulated small molecules, peptides, proteins and nucleic acids, across the BBB and release them in the brain where their activity is needed,” giving doctors an important new tool in treating serious diseases of the brain.
V-Smart uses microscopic bubble-like membranous structures, known as vesicles, to deliver drugs. Vesicles occur naturally in the body and are used to carry proteins and other molecules through membranes. Vesicles are one of the few things in the body that can permeate the BBB, which consists of special cells around the central nervous system to keep blood and brain fluid separate.
Sometimes, however, pathogens are able to break down the BBB, enabling substances such as bacteria or other toxins to attack parts of the brain — possibly resulting in diseases such as meningitis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and HIV Encephalitis.
Any disease that is able to break through the BBB is considered very serious and difficult to contend with, often because it is difficult to target the areas of the brain affected with the amount of drugs needed for treatment. Several methods exist for breaching the BBB, most notably targeting the brain directly with a needle, but that, too, is an imprecise method, because it is difficult to target the specific area of the brain where help is needed.
That’s where V-Smart comes in, said Heldman. “Animal models that we have used show that this system holds a lot of promise in dealing with these diseases of the brain,” he told The Times of Israel.
Nano-developed vesicles administered intravenously or orally deliver encapsulated material such as analgesic peptides, which can target specific cells or proteins in the brain with drugs. The nano-sized vesicles are formed from compounds (bolaamphiphiles) that are programmed to release their drugs when they hit a specific environment in the body. The nanovesicles are highly stable and provide a controlled release mechanism which allows the drug to pass through biological barriers, including the blood-brain barrier, targeting specific cells and tissues.
The technology aims to pinpoint where the drug will be released in the brain, ensuring that the area of the brain that needs treatment gets it and that there are far fewer side effects. In a recent study, for example, Mayo Clinic researchers found that Parkinson’s patients who were being treated with a dopamine agonist had begun engaging in compulsive gambling or excessive sexual activity. Such side effects could be avoided if Parkinson’s drugs were targeted specifically at the parts of the brain affected by Parkinson’s, without affecting other parts of the brain that could trigger unwanted behaviors.
V-Smart, Heldman believes, will greatly enhance the treatment of Parkinson’s and many other diseases once it comes to market. “If all goes well, I think we will be ready for human trials within two years,” he said.
Heldman has been working in the field of nano-based drug treatment and delivery for years, and was involved in commercial development of drugs for Parkinson’s and other diseases, he said.
Along with Heldman (who is professor emeritus of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Clinical Biochemistry), scientists who worked on the project included Dr. Sarina Grinberg of BGU’s Dept. of Chemistry, and Dr. Charles Linder of the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering. Ben-Gurion’s technology transfer company, BGN Technologies, recently signed a licensing agreement for V-Smart with Lauren Sciences LLC, a privately held biotechnology company in New York. And both BGU and Lauren Sciences were recently awarded research grants for the development of V-Smart and drugs that can be used with it from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Campbell Foundation.
Source: Times Of Israel
Praying regularly can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and milder memory problems by 50 percent, according to a joint Israeli-American study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The study was aimed at identifying factors that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Researchers examined several aspects of the subjects’ lives, including what they did in their spare time during their 20s and 30s. It turns out females who prayed regularly had 50 percent less chance of having mild dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Lead researcher Prof. Rivka Inzelberg said they couldn’t determine the connection between praying and Alzheimer’s amongst men because 90 percent of their male subjects prayed daily. “But among the women, only 60 percent of the women prayed five times a day, as per Islamic custom, but 40 percent didn’t pray regularly, so we were able to compare the data,” Inzelberg explained.
The study did not characterize the connection between prayer and memory, but Inzelberg noted, “Prayer is a custom in which thought is invested, and the intellectual activity involved in prayer, beyond the content of the prayers, may constitute a protective factor against Alzheimer’s.”
The findings, presented at a Tel Aviv conference last month, also showed that 50 percent more women suffer memory problems than men and that formal schooling reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s and memory impairments.
Other risk factors that were identified were high blood pressure, diabetes, excess fats in the blood and heart problems.
In addition, researchers said those who gardened in their youths also had a reduced risk of dementia, though they hadn’t calculated the exact degree of influence.
This is not the first study suggesting a link between religion and health. In 2005 researchers concluded that adopting a spiritual or religious lifestyle slows down the progress of Alzheimer’s. An earlier study showed that more people succumbed to heart problems and cancer in secular kibbutzim than in religious ones.
The Israeli group Assia found that the morbidity and mortality rates among infants was much lower in religious communities than in secular ones. And researchers who conducted another joint Israeli-American study postulated that the mortality rate was lower for Arab dialysis patients than Jewish patients as a result of spiritual and community support.
Apoptosis is a process of programmed cell death that takes place in our bodies as a way of stopping abnormal cells. Cancer cells usually bypass this process because of genetic mutations. This means the cancer cells survive, but healthy cells die.
The scientists at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Weizmann Institute of Science looked at the interaction of two proteins involved in cell death and found regions in those proteins that take one of the critical steps to begin the process.
Using this knowledge, the researchers worked in cell cultures and succeeded in triggering the death of human cancer cells.
“We have just begun to uncover the hidden potential in the interaction between these proteins,” said Assaf Friedler, one of the researchers and a professor at Hebrew University’s Institute of Chemistry. ”This is an important potential target for the development of anti-cancer drugs…”
The following video provides a close-up view of apoptosis:
The findings, led by Hebrew University graduate student Chen Hener-Katz and involving a collaboration between Prof. Assaf Friedler of the Hebrew University and Prof. Atan Gross of the Weizmann Institute, were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in an article titled ”Molecular Basis of the Interaction between Proapoptotic Truncated BID (tBID) Protein and Mitochondrial Carrier Homologue 2 (MTCH2) Protein.”
The discovery by Prof. Gross of the MTCH2 protein as well as its relationship to tBID, allowed the research team to develop a technique that mimics apoptosis.
Programmed cell death, or Apoptosis, is a critical defense mechanism against the development of abnormal cells like cancer, according toHealthCanal.com. “Cancer cells usually avoid this process due to mutations in the genes that encode the relevant proteins,” it continues. “The result is that the cancer cells survive and take over while healthy cells die.”
”These protein segments could be the basis of future anti-cancer therapies in cases where the mechanism of natural cell death is not working properly,” said Prof. Friedler, head of the school of chemistry at the Hebrew University. ”We have just begun to uncover the hidden potential in the interaction between these proteins. This is an important potential target for the development of anticancer drugs that will stimulate apoptosis by interfering with its regulation.”
The potential ramifications of this discovery was described in the Weizmann Institute’s 2010 Update on Cancer Research: “Scientists can use this newly gained knowledge to devise novel therapeutic methods. If clinicians could regulate the production and activity of MTCH2, they would be able, for instance, to ‘turn on’ mitochondria apoptosis in cancerous cells and turn it ‘off’ in the brain cells of patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.”