Health Scan: New family drugs without side effects
Synthetic family of drugs to combat a variety of illnesses while avoiding harmful side effects developed by HU faculty.
Various pills [illustrative photo] Photo: Srdjan Zivulovic / Reuters
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
“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.
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
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.