A synthetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic family of drugs to combat a variety of illnesses while avoiding harmful side effects has been developed by Hebrew University Medical Faculty heart researcher Prof. Saul Yedgar of the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada.

Inflammatory and allergic diseases affect billions of people around the world, and treatments for them are a major focus of the pharmaceutical industry.

The most common drugs currently used to treat these numerous diseases are steroids, which are potent but associated with severe side effects. These include metabolic changes (weight gain, increased blood pressure and type II diabetes), organ-specific effects (glaucoma, cataracts and thin bones) and even psychotrophic side effects (depression and psychosis).

For decades, alternatives, such as biological non-steroidal alternative anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been the focus of the drug industry. The resulting drugs have been commercially successful, but have not produced genuine alternatives to steroids due to their limitations. Synthetic NSAIDs are less potent and have their own serious side effects, including cardiovascular disorders, stomach bleeding and respiratory disorders. The biological drugs are costly and must be injected; they also have rare but very severe side effects.

Inflammatory/allergic diseases present different symptoms affecting different organs, such as skin inflammations (dermatitis and psoriasis); airway injury and allergy (asthma, cystic fibrosis and allergic rhinitis); osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis; intestinal inflammation (ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease); central nervous system inflammation (multiple sclerosis), as well as atherosclerosis and cancer metastasis.

What they have in common is that all of them share biochemical mechanisms, such as the action of an enzyme family (PLA2) that initiates the production of a cascade of pro-inflammatory mediators involved in the induction and propagation of the diverse inflammatory diseases. Yedgar and his lab associates have designed and constructed an entirely novel synthetic generation of drugs that control the PLA2 activity and the subsequent cascade of pro-inflammatory mediators, thereby providing multi-functional anti-inflammatory drugs (MFAIDs).

These have been shown to be very safe and efficient in treating diverse inflammatory/allergic conditions in animal models, using different methods of administration – oral, rectal, intravenous, inhaled and injected.

These conditions included sepsis, inflammatory bowel diseases, asthma and central nervous system inflammation.

Two MFAIDs have excelled in clinical studies treating contact dermatitis when incorporated into skin cream and allergic rhinitis when administered as a nasal spray.

The technology has been exclusively licensed from HU through its Yissum technology transfer company to the UK’s Morria Biopharmaceuticals, which is currently developing these drugs to treat inflammatory diseases of the airways (hay-fever, cystic fibrosis), the skin (eczema), the eye (conjunctivitis) and the gut (colitis and Crohn’s disease).

SACH GETS VOLUNTEER AWARD

Save a Child’s Heart, the voluntary organization founded by the late Dr. Amram (Ami) Cohen to save the lives of children with congenital heart defects around the world, was honored earlier this month with the President’s Volunteer Prize at Beit Hanassi.

An excellent heart surgeon, Cohen came on aliya from the US in 1992 and joined the staff of Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center, where he served as deputy chief of cardiovascular surgery and head of pediatric cardiac surgery. He got the idea for SACH in 1988 while serving in the US armed forces in Korea. The head of the international organization Save the Hearts told Cohen about its sending of orphaned and indigent Korean children to Western countries for medical care not available locally. Cohen was so impressed with the concept that began to participate in the program and performed 35 pediatric cardiac surgeries.

As an Israeli, Cohen launched SACH three years later when an Ethiopian doctor referred to him by a mutual friend at the University of Massachusetts asked for his help with two children in desperate need of heart surgery. Since then, SACH has repaired the hearts of nearly 3,000 children from over 40 countries – regardless of race, color, gender, religion or financial means. Wolfson’s medical staffers provide the service free.

Cohen died in a tragic accident while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania 11 years ago – but his life project, Save a Child’s Heart, continues to save children’s lives, transcend national boundaries and political differences and build bridges of peace and understanding between Israel and other nations.

The SACH founder wrote, in his appeal for medical volunteers: “I am convinced that for the vast majority of people who chose cardiothoracic surgery as a profession, idealism was initially a strong factor. For those of you who are reading this and just starting out, hold fast to your ‘day aftervision’ because, if it fades, despite all the skills acquired, there will be something missing. For those who are searching, join us and together let us make the network to help children with heart disease globally big enough to be equal to the task. There is work for everybody. There are no dollars and cents in it, but it is worth a fortune.”

A PICTURE OF HUNGER

A picture may be worth a thousand calories; according to a new study from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, just looking at images of high-calorie foods stimulates the brain’s appetite control center and results in an increased desire for food. The study was presented recently at the American Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Houston.

“This stimulation of the brain’s reward areas may contribute to overeating and obesity,” said lead researcher Prof. Kathleen Page. “We thought this was a striking finding, because the current environment is inundated with advertisements showing images of high-calorie foods,” she added.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers studied the brain responses of 13 obese Hispanic young women who are at high risk for continued weight gain and obesity. Each participant had two fMRI scans as she viewed blocks of images of high-calorie foods, such as ice cream and cupcakes, as well as lowcalorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and nonfood items.

After each block of similar images, participants rated their hunger and desire for either sweet or savory foods on a scale of one to 10. Halfway through the scans, they drank 50 grams of glucose – the amount of sugar in a can of soft drink – on one occasion and an equivalent amount of fructose on another occasion. These two simple sugars make up both table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Because fMRI measures blood flow to the brain, regions with increased blood flow indicated greater activity, Page explained. The researchers identified which brain regions activated in response to viewing the images and how sugar consumption influenced brain activation and ratings of hunger and appetite.

The team found that simply viewing high-calorie food images activated brain regions that control appetite and reward, unlike pictures of non-foods. Viewing pictures of high-calorie foods also significantly increased ratings of hunger and desire for sweet and savory foods, Page said.

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