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HU to grant researchers Kaye awards Wednesday
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
10/06/2012
Five young researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will receive Kaye Innovation Awards.
 
Five young researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will receive Kaye Innovation Awards on Wednesday for their research into type 1 diabetes, anti-inflammatory drugs, increasing wheat yields, activation of cannabinoid receptors in the immune system and treatment to halt over-immune responses.

The prizes, to be presented at the university’s board of governors meeting, have been given annually since 1994. British pharmaceutical magnate Isaac Kaye established the awards to encourage HU faculty, staff and students to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential that will benefit the university and society.

Dr. Chamutal Gur, who is studying at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada and is a physician at the Hadassah University Medical Center, will be cited for her work on natural killer cells in autoimmune diseases, specifically the function of the NKp46 killer receptor in this type of diabetes, which is treated by daily injections of insulin.

She has shown the importance of the NKp46 receptor in diabetes development and the therapeutic potential of an anti-NKp46 monoclonal antibody (mAb) as a new treatment modality for it. Based on these results, a patent was filed and licensed to BioLineRx to develop a blocking anti-NKp46 mAb for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Prof. Saul Yedgar, who conducts research at the same institute, has developed an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic family of drugs to combat a variety of illnesses while avoiding detrimental side effects.

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

For decades, alternatives such as biological non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) have been the focus of the pharmaceutical 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, while the biological drugs are expensive, must be injected and have rare but very severe side effects.

All the diseases share biochemical mechanisms. A key among them is the action of an enzyme family (PLA), which initiates the production of a cascade of pro-inflammatory mediators involved in the induction and propagation of the diverse inflammatory diseases.

Yedgar and his team have designed and constructed an entirely novel synthetic generation of drugs that control the PLA activity and the subsequent cascade of pro-inflammatory mediators, thereby providing multi-functional anti-inflammatory drugs. In two clinical studies, the drugs, which has been licensed through Yissum, proved to be safe and efficient in treating contact dermatitis when incorporated into skin cream and allergic rhinitis as a nasal spray.

The development by horticulture Prof. Raphael Goren at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences of a new, water-soluble material that can prevent huge financial losses in agriculture will earn him first prize in the Kaye competition.

Ethylene is a gas that functions as a plant hormone and is usually associated with stimulation of fruit ripening and flower shedding. It thus reduces agriculture yields and is a scourge to farmers worldwide.

Antagonists of ethylene action, which block the hormone’s receptor site, protect the tissues from ethylene action are thus are sought after for agriculture use. Inhibition of the effects of ethylene may prolong the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and prolong the vase-life of cut flowers. But existing solutions have very limited use in open spaces.

To solve this problem, a water-soluble inhibitor of ethylene action was synthesized in a highly purified, solid form.

Unlike the gaseous ethylene antagonists, it can be sprayed as a water solution in the field, plantation or greenhouse or dip-loaded into cut flowers, and is effective as both a pre and post-harvest treatment.

Since it is a non-toxic and odorless inhibitor of ethylene action, it is a promising candidate for pre and post-harvest application in a wide range of open growing environments, with a sales potential in the billion- dollar range, the university said. Yissum arranged for its development and commercialization.

Dr. Lital Magid, a young immigrant from Russia and a registered nurse, will get her award for her work on cannabinoid receptors, of which two types, CB1 and CB2, have been identified in mammals. CB1 receptor is distributed in the central nervous system, activation of which has been found to induce the familiar marijuana- related behavioral effects, whereas selective activation of the CB2 receptor, which is mainly expressed in the peripheral immune system, lacks psychoactivity.

Recent studies have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects mediated by the CB2 receptor in a multitude of pathological conditions, ranging from neurodegenerative disorders and inflammatory pain to atherosclerosis, cerebral injury and liver inflammation and fibrosis. Magid designed and synthesized cannabinoidlike chemical compounds, which were able to bind and activate the human CB2 receptor.

The result was inhibition of pro-inflammatory activity, which in turn creates conditions for easing pain and promoting healing.

Dr. Idit Sagiv-Barfi will receive her award for the synthesis of a highly potent, small molecule that specifically inhibits production of T-cells, a type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system and is at the core of the system that tailors the body’s immune response to specific pathogens. But when this response loses control, it can lead to autoimmune diseases in which the body mistakenly perceives its own tissues for foreign tissues.

Autoimmune and inflammatory disorders involving uncontrolled T cell proliferation affect up to seven percent of the world’s population, and treatments cost over $20 billion per year. A common autoimmune skin disease is psoriasis. Transplanted organ transplants are also rejected without special treatment because are rejected when the recipient’s immune system attacks them.
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