A Ben-Gurion University researcher and her colleagues have identified a chemical
compound that may lead to prolonged lifespans for patients with Amytotrophic
lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Esther Priel and her team published an article in the February edition of EMBO
Molecular Medicine Journal, in which they demonstrate how their compound can
induce an increased production of the enzyme telomerase in the bodies of
laboratory mice and in human stem cells. The increased amount of
telomerase slows the progression of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s
Telomerase has already been proven to prolong life in such
cases, and in 2009, scientists Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack
W. Szostak won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of
how telomerase protects chromosomes.
Priel, based in Ben-Gurion
University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, worked principally with
her colleagues Prof. Aviv Gazit – formerly of the Hebrew University – and Prof.
Shimon Slavin – also formerly of the Hebrew University and now director of the
International Center for Cell Therapy & Cancer Immunotherapy in Tel Aviv –
as well as a team of student researchers. About a month before its article was
published, the group also secured an over-$1 million grant for their patented
breakthrough treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, BGU said.
Technologies, BGU’s tech transfer company, recently signed a research and
license agreement with a private American investment fund that has agreed to
invest the money to expand the team’s research over the next two
“This is a scientific breakthrough, since these compounds have
great potential not just in fighting neurodegenerative diseases, but also other
diseases related to aging,” Priel said.
The chemical compound engineered
by the team increased the protein and the enzyme levels within both mice cells
and human stem cells, thereby “protecting the cells from oxidative stress,”
Priel told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday. The enzyme, she explained, is
responsible for the lifespan of the cells as well as the tissues to which they
belong, and mice whose genetics were manipulated to include this enzyme had
“This is why also in potential they are good for other
neurodegenerative diseases, because they are not providing any answer for the
cause of the disease,” Priel said.
“They are enabling the damaged cells
to protect themselves from the consequence of the damage. This is why this could
be good for different diseases.”
It will take at least 10 years to
develop the compounds into a drug, she predicted. In the meantime, however, the
team is producing positive results in animals, she said.
remains a rare disease in Israel and throughout the world, Priel stressed just
how debilitating it becomes to those who have it.
“There are not a lot of
people, fortunately, who have this disease, but it’s a terrible disease because
they become paralyzed, and the head is working very well, so they are aware of
what is going on with their body,” she said. “It is a devastating disease and
there is no cure for it.”