BGU researchers discover way to slow the development of ALS in mice

Announcement made on 30th day after the passing of Dov Lautman, the dedicated industrialist and education promoter who died of ALS.

December 23, 2013 03:42
2 minute read.
Esther Priel

Esther Priel 370. (photo credit: courtesy)


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Ben-Gurion University scientists have found new substances that will reportedly make it possible to extend the lives of patients with the progressive and fatal neurological disorder amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). The announcement was made on the 30th day after the passing of Dov Lautman, the dedicated industrialist and education promoter who died of ALS.

Prof. Esther Priel, director of the School of Medical Laboratory Sciences at the university in Beersheba discovered the substances, which lengthen the life of the cells that decline and die due to ALS. The research was funded by the Israel ALS Research Association (ISRA.L.S.), of which Lautman was a major donor.

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Most victims die within three years of diagnosis, but some, including Lautman and Prof. Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed in his 20s and is still alive in his 70s, survive longer.

Priel, in cooperation with Dr. Aviv Gazit (formerly of the Hebrew University) and Prof. Shimon Slavin (also formerly of HU and currently head of the Genetic Therapy Institute in Tel Aviv) created new chemical substances that can increase the amount of telomerase, the protein that lengthens the life of cells by extending the telomeres (ends) of the chromosomes. They did this by working on mice, whose telomeres were extended in a controlled way in all of the rodents’ organs, including the brain. The team then succeeded in doing the same in human cells.

Ordinarily, this protein is not active in most body cells. As a result, the cells age and eventually die.

Research has shown that using genetic engineering in mice, one can extend the lives of telomeres by some 35 percent and strengthen them against infections and failure of bodily systems including those of the muscles.

One of the important discoveries by Priel and her colleagues was the possibility to supervise telomerase, as the high expression of the protein can lead to cancer. In the mice research, it was found that increasing the expression of telomerase in the brain and spinal cord causes the slowing of ALS and a longer life expectancy in the affected mice.

The discovery caused waves of interest among researchers and was published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, among other journals. BGU’s research and development arm, B.G.Negev, signed a deal for development and licensing of the product with a private US investment fund that provided over $1 million for the next two years to expand the research.

“This is a scientific breakthrough as these substances have great potential not only in coping with the degeneration of the nervous system but with other disorders connected to aging,” said Priel.

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