HU profs, students to get 6 Kaye science prizes

The Kaye Awards for Innovation will be presented next week during University's annual board of governors meeting.

June 12, 2013 03:45
3 minute read.
The grounds of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Hebrew U 370. (photo credit: Courtesy of the Hebrew University)

Six Hebrew University of Jerusalem faculty and students will receive Kaye Awards for Innovation next week, for research they have done in solving bee colony collapse disorder, developing a superior water filtration system, improving drug delivery through the skin, advancing the use of stem cells, improving antibody therapy and advancing the battle against inflammatory disease.

The prizes have been given annually since Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established them in 1994. His intention was to encourage staffers and students of the university to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential that would benefit the university and society.

This year’s awards will be presented on June 18 during the 76th annual meeting of the HU board of governors.

Bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a global problem that has led to the deaths of a large number of the pollinating insects and inflicted losses of an estimated $35 billion worth of crops annually in the US alone.

After Prof. Ilan Sela discovered a new virus called IAPV and registered it in a public database, a US group doing a metagenomic study associated the virus with the phenomenon of CCD.

Subsequently a group of investors approached Sela, asking him to be chief scientist of an Israeli start-up company, Beeologics, which targets bee diseases and pests and received a license to develop its technology from HU’s Yissum technology transfer company. Within three years, the company developed a method of controlling IAPV by silencing the expression of the viral genes, and thereby controlling CCD. It also managed to bring another apiary threat, the Varroa destructor mite, under control. Two patents were written to protect these inventions.

Last year, Monsanto bought Beeologics for $120 million, and the genesilencing product, Remebee, is now commercialized.

Sela, a Hebrew University emeritus professor of virology and molecular biology, joined the faculty in 1968 and was named a full professor in 1981. Although he formally retired several years ago, he is actively involved in research and has made significant breakthroughs in the study of virus-based vectors in plants and bees, and in gene silencing.

Another Kaye Award winner is Prof. Avi Domb of the Institute for Drug Research at the School of Pharmacy, who developed an innovative water filtration system for converting low-quality drinking water into safe, healthy and tasty water. The invention has been successfully commercialized.

Professor emeritus Raymond Kaempfer, meanwhile, of the Institute for Medical Research Israel- Canada (IMRIC) at the university’s faculty of medicine, received a Kaye Award for developing groundbreaking technology in the area of inflammatory disease medicine. That product has also been successfully developed commercially.

Marganit Cohen-Avrahami, a doctoral candidate working under the supervision of Prof. Nissim Garti and Dr. Abraham Aserin of the Casali Institute of Applied Chemistry, won a student Kaye Award for her development of skin-permeable proteins in nano-structured gels that are rubbed onto the skin. This would prevent serious side effects connected to swallowing drugs and makes more efficient drug formulations possible. The gels – which are based on a surfactant, a molecule that can bind water and oil together – are capable of holding high numbers of drug molecules within their extremely large surface areas.

In her research, Cohen- Avrahami focused on developing transdermal gel formulations with non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Patients taking these types of drugs orally, for ailments such as fever, pains, inflammation, arthritis, migraine, renal colic and cancer, sometimes suffer from severe side effects such as ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney failure.

Another student winner is Uri Ben-David, a doctoral student of Prof. Nissim Benvenisty at the university’s Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. Ben-David has developed a safer method for using pluripotent stem cells – human-derived stem cells that can convert into any cell type of the human body.

The final student winner is Noa Kaynan, a doctoral student of Prof. Ofer Mandelboim at the Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology and the IMRIC.

Kaynan has worked on developing tools for improving antibody medical therapy in the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

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