Health scan: Parasites to be countered more easily

Work by researchers at the Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology in Haifa will help counter both human and agricultural parasites.

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April 24, 2011 02:13
The Jerusalem Post

laboratory 311. (photo credit: Bloomberg)

 
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The treatment of worm parasites will be upgraded thanks to a discovery by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The work of biology Prof. Benjamin Podbilewicz and his colleagues can be implemented immediately to develop the treatment, he says, after discovering proteins that merge any two animal cells – even a virus – with mammalian cells.

Podbilewicz and his colleagues discovered a family of genes in many organisms that normally merge cells to form body organs. Transfer of such genes to mammalian cells is enough to fuse any two cells, even those that do not naturally fuse. An engineered pseudo-virus was successfully targeted with this technology to infect animal cells. This discovery, which recently appeared in Science, is aimed at treating parasites not only in plants and cattle but also in humans.

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The ability of two or more cells to fuse into one is vital for the initial development of an embryo by fusing the sperm and ovum, and for the development of body organs such as the skeleton, muscles and placenta. Despite the importance of the fusion process for human health and reproduction, the cell fusion mechanism is still unknown. Yet certain enveloped viruses use similar strategies, which have been deciphered in detail, to fuse and infect body cells of their host such as flu and the HIV virus.

These processes are being unraveled in Podbilewicz’s lab, as critical proteins mediating the process in animals have now been identified for the first time and their operating mechanism characterized at the molecular level.

In the just-published research, his doctoral student Ori Avinoam discovered that this fusion family (“FF”) of genes – initially discovered by their lab in common C. elegans worms – also exists in other organisms, and that when transferred to mammalian cells, are enough to force any two cells to fuse.

“In the beginning we thought we had discovered a gene family that exists only in nematode worms,” says Podbilewicz. “We were surprised to discover that these genes also exist in other organisms, which makes them or others similar to them the leading candidates for being responsible for the fusion process between cells in all kingdoms of life.”

In the future, they conclude, this discovery will enable scientists to understand how cells in the human body fuse, and then help treat diseases stemming from defects in the fusion process that are liable to cause serious problems in fertility and the musculoskeletal system.

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GETTING UP AT NIGHT

 Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is known to disturb the sleep of a very large number of men who have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night to urinate. But now researchers at Ben-Gurion University believe that the truth may be the opposite – that they get up to go to the bathroom because of a sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, and not BPH.

Dr. Howard Tandeter, whose study was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, looked at middleaged and older men up to the age of 75 who were selected randomly at Clalit Health Services’ primary clinics with BPH and complained of awakening at least once a night (nocturia) to urinate. A control group of men did not suffer from BPH but got up either once nightly or not at all.

If the severity of nocturia in men with enlarged prostates is actually a pre-existing sleep disorder, this can now be treated to improve patients’ quality of life, Tandeter said in a statement.

FLORIDA & TEL HASHOMER HOSPITALS COLLABORATE

Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and the Florida Hospital have signed a memorandum of understanding for international collaboration and strategic relations. The Florida medical center has eight campuses, while our own Sheba is the largest general hospital in Israel. The administrators said the agreement would leverage their unique strengths, experience and perspectives in delivering and improving patient care. Signing at the Israeli ceremony for Sheba were hospital director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein and his vice president for research and development, Prof. Shlomo Noy.

The two institutions will collaborate to improve clinical outcomes and the quality of care for patients in Israel and the US, they said, while also implementing projects that answer important clinical and patient-care questions. Advanced robotic and minimally invasive surgery will also be promoted, using global training and education initiatives. Among the specific areas in which they are likely to collaborate are multi-specialty robotic surgical training and education; medical simulation; patient safety; stem cell transplantation; palliative care and hospice medical research; and hematology and oncology.

YAWN TO SAY ‘HI’ If someone yawns when seeing a friend, the act can easily be considered offensive.

But a US study of chimpanzees, published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) journal, suggests that when they yawn, they are not just tired but are also actually showing empathy.

Drs. Matthew Campbell and Frans de Waa Yerkes of the National Primate Research Center at Georgia’s Emory University found that chimps yawn more after watching monkeys they know than chimps with whom they are unfamiliar.

“The idea is that yawns are contagious for the same reason that smiles, frowns and other facial expressions are contagious,” the study authors stated.

“Our results support the idea that contagious yawning can be used as a measure of empathy, because the biases we observed were similar to empathy biases previously seen in humans.”

Two groups of chimps, each living separately, were made from among 23.

They were shown several nine-second video clips of other monkeys in both groups, either yawning or otherwise occupied. They yawned 50 percent more frequently in response to seeing members of their own group yawn compared to seeing others yawn – thus showing empathy. The authors explain that chimpanzees live in small groups, where strangers are by definition members of a separate social group, thus the in-group/out-group distinction may be more absolute

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