Health Scan: Group grapples with gene-customized drugs

This effort could solve one of the most difficult problems facing physicians.

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January 15, 2006 03:54
3 minute read.
Health Scan: Group grapples with gene-customized drugs

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Many heads are better than one, according to the Technion Institute, which is encouraging five of its faculties to work together and try to locate genes for tailoring drug therapy to each patient. If successful, this effort will solve one of the most difficult problems facing physicians - which drug to prescribe, and at what dosage. The project, supported by the Wolfson Foundation of Great Britain and the Technion's Galil Center, highlights the ability of the Haifa institute to integrate engineering, scientific and medical capabilities, says Prof. Ariel Miller of the Technion's Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and the Multiple Sclerosis and Brain Research Center at the city's Carmel Medical Center. "Taking part in the project are 10 scientists from the Technion and physicians from Rambam, Carmel and Ha'emek medical centers, together with their assistants," adds Prof. Ron Pinter of the Technion's computer science faculty. The faculties of medicine, industrial engineering and management, biotechnology and food engineering, biomedical engineering and computer science are participating. The computer scientists will develop methods to analyze the genetic data and genomes provided by the physicians and scientists, explains Pinter, an expert in bio-information. Miller adds that by the time the research is concluded, the project will enable attending physicians to predict the reaction to a drug, replacing treatment based on trial and error. A LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS Kav-Or (meaning Light-Line), a Jerusalem-based voluntary organization that supplies educational computer services and games to young patients in 27 hospitals and 100 pediatric wards around the country, has won first prize in the World Summit Award (WSA) competition for Internet sites that help narrow the digital gap. A ceremony was held recently in Jerusalem in which a representative of WSA presented Kav-Or president Dr. Amnon Shinar and the organization's Web site (at www.kavor.org.il) designer Riki Segal Cohen with the prize. Kav-Or was founded 12 years ago by Dr. Bilha Piamenta, a veteran educator who continues as an active volunteer. First located in two small rooms at the David Yellin Teachers Seminary, the low-overhead organization has expanded dramatically - enabling hospitalized children of all ages to study and enjoy themselves while being treated. Not only can the young people be in touch with their school and friends, but they are linked to educational sites and can play computer games alone or with others. Every day, Kav-Or offers enrichment classes and private lessons for children so they will not fall behind in their studies while hospitalized. There is also a large database of online classes. In addition, video presentations prepare children for operations and treatments by providing information about the procedures and diagnostic tests they are due to undergo, thus minimizing their fears. Operating almost totally on donations, the organization has launched an "Adopt a Kav-Or Child" campaign, in which contributors give $18 to sponsor one of the 120,000 children it assists each year. HUNGRY FOR LEARNING When young school-age children are not sure of having enough to eat, their academic development - especially reading - suffers, according to a new longitudinal Cornell University study. The research provides the strongest evidence to date that food insecurity has specific developmental consequences. Food insecurity is defined as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods; despite federal food assistance and private charitable programs, food insecurity affects 12% of all US households and 18% of households with children. In Israel, the figures are even higher. "We found that reading development in particular is affected in girls, though the mathematical skills of foodinsecure children entering kindergarten also tend to develop significantly more slowly," says nutritional sciences Prof. Edward Frongillo. The study, published in the December Journal of Nutrition, also found that girls' social skills suffer if families become insecure while the child is in the early grades. Frongillo and his team analyzed data from the US department of education's early childhood study on about 21,000 children who entered kindergarten in 1998 and were followed through third grade. The new study builds on work by Frongillo and colleagues showing that hunger and poverty can impair the academic and psychosocial development of school-aged children. Children from food-insecure families were found to be five times more likely to attempt suicide, four times more likely to suffer from chronic depression, twice as likely to have been suspended and 1.4 times more likely to repeat a grade than children from food-secure families.

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