AN ISRAELI doctor 370.
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
It’s not an illness, but itching skin can drive sufferers mad. Now, researchers
at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Boston Children’s Hospital near
Harvard Medical School have come to the rescue, by discovering how to silence
the neurons that transmit itch-generating stimuli.
This is the first time
that this has been demonstrated, and means it is possible to block itch signals
in the neurons that are the mediators in creating the types of itch not
involving histamine – a chemical found in some of the body’s cells that causes
many allergy symptoms, brought on when histamine triggers an inflammatory immune
response to foreign agents, as occurs in hay fever. Their findings are believed
to have great clinical importance because they could be translated into novel,
selective and effective therapies for previously largely untreated dry skin itch
and allergic dermatitis itch.
The study demonstrated the presence of
functionally distinct sets of neurons that detect and transmit itch-generating
stimuli. The research was a collaborative effort by a group led by Dr. Alex
Binshtok of Hebrew University’s medical neurobiology department, the Institute
for Medical Research Israel-Canada and the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for
Brain Sciences. The findings were recently published in the journal Nature
Itch is a complex, unpleasant sensation of the skin that in
some respects resembles pain, yet is different because of the urge to scratch
and its intrinsic sensory quality.
Although some types of itch like
urticaria (hives) could be treated effectively with antihistaminergic agents,
itch accompanying most chronic itch-inducing diseases, including atopic
dermatitis (eczema), allergic itch and dry skin itch, is not primarily induced
An understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms
underlying the sensation of itch, therefore, is important to develop effective
and selective treatment of itch, which in some cases could become a devastating
condition, say the researchers.
The researchers’ findings suggest that
primary itch-generating neurons that carry messages toward the central nervous
system code functionally distinct histaminergic and non-histaminergic itch
pathways that could be selectively blocked.SAFED MEDICAL SCHOOL TO GET A
A new research institute, to be established at Western Galilee Hospital
in Nahariya and affiliated with the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Medicine in
the Galilee (now housed in temporary quarters in Safed), was launched with a
cornerstone-laying ceremony early this month. Construction of the institute is
being funded by the state, along with a gift from businesswoman Raya Strauss
Ben-Dror, who serves as president of the Israel Friends of the northern
hospital, with funds raised by outgoing BIU president Prof. Moshe
The building will cover 1,200 square meters and due to open in a
year. It will be a boon to the twoyear- old (fifth) Israeli medical school,
which is home to Israeli students who have returned from medical study abroad
and others who have completed a B.Sc. Some 300 students are currently enrolled,
50 of them research students. Fourteen Israeli physicians and researchers have
returned to Israel to join the staff.
BIU hopes that obtaining building
permits for construction of the medical school’s permanent campus in Safed will
go smoothly, and that ground will soon be broken for that project and that it
will receive the necessary state funds. By 2015, it hopes to take on 42 senior
faculty members, and set up a four-year program for 280 students and a threeyear
program for 108 additional students.
It also wants to enroll 132 research
students and hire 66 administrative and technical staffers. Medical school dean
Prof. Ran Tur-Kaspa said at the ceremony that the institute will operate in a
translationresearch format, with the objective of developing drugs for a wide
spectrum of illnesses.
“This is an important project which would not have
taken shape were it not for Raya Strauss Ben-Dror, who has tirelessly supported
our hospital and this research institute,” said Western Galilee Hospital
directorgeneral Dr. Masad Barhoum. “The establishment of a medical research
institute constitutes a great increase in the status of our hospital as a leader
in the field of medicine and academia on a national and international level,” he