Health Scan: Psoriasis causes both physical and social suffering

Health Scan Psoriasis c

Although psoriasis - the skin disease that causes itchy red and scaly skin patches in some 200,000 Israelis - is not infectious, a third of the population don't want to wok with a sufferer of the condition, according to a new survey conducted for Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. It also found that half of all Israelis would refuse to be treated by a doctor who has psoriasis and 58% would avoid going on a date with someone who has the disorder. The poll was conducted on a representative sample of 500 adults to mark Israeli Psoriasis Awareness Day. "We struggle daily with our reality," said Yona Taub, chairman of the Israeli Psoriasis Association. Nearly half of the sample never heard of the disease, but many were disgusted by the symptoms when they saw them. Prof. Eli Sprecher, head of the hospitals' dermatology department, said the survey showed an urgent need for educating the public. Although the condition can be treated effectively, albeit not yet cured, the stigma is so great that some patients with visible scaling are too embarrassed to leave their homes. The average age at which psoriasis symptoms first appear is 27, but in 2% of cases, it begins in toddlers. Recent research has found it may have connection to metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart and lung disease, obesity and diabetes. Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center offers treatments by a multidisciplinary team that includes dermatologists, rheumatologists, dietitians, internal medicine specialists and psychologists. A group of Sourasky researchers headed by Dr. Jana Nusbeck recently made a breakthrough in the understanding of psoriasis: They found a small protein named IGFBP7 whose lack causes rapid division of skin cells; the protein is known to have anti-tumor characteristics. Adding the protein to skin cells in the lab was shown to slow the speed of their division. It will take a long time for a cure, but this discovery will lead to continuing studies of IGFBP7 and its link to psoriasis. As some existing medications raise the risk of cancer, a better understanding of how the disease occurs is urgently needed. Their work was recently published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. ASHKENAZI FOCUS FOR SCHIZOPHRENIA RESEARCH Israeli and American geneticists have received a $2.1 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the genetic basis of schizophrenia. Called a "Grand Opportunity" (GO) grant, it was awarded to a team headed by Prof. Ariel Darvasi of the Hebrew University's Silberman Institute of Life Sciences and Prof. Todd Lencz at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York. It is hoped that the results of this research will lead to more accurate prediction, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. The GO grant program was designed to support "high-impact ideas that can accelerate critical breakthroughs in our understanding of human disease. President Barack Obama personally announced the awards and singled out genetic research as "one of the most exciting areas of research to move forward as a result of this investment." It has long been known that schizophrenia - a complex brain disease marked by often-frightening hallucinations and delusions - tends to run in families, and therefore has a genetic component. However, scientists have struggled to identify the genes that contribute to risk for this disease. Their research will build on prior genehunting efforts, especially the unprecedentedly large sample group of 4,000 Israeli Jews of Ashkenazi origin recruited by Darvasi and his Israeli colleagues. "The unique demographic history of the Ashkenazi population results in a more homogeneous genetic background compared to the general population. This should allow diseaserelated genetic signals to stand out more clearly," he said Additionally, this study will utilize the most advanced genetic technologies, which will permit examination of many more pieces of the genetic code than prior research. GIVING THEIR BLOOD By the end of October, blood drives by American Friends of Magen David Adom brought in 1,628 donors to MDA - more than in all of 2008. Foreigners visiting Israel are increasingly giving blood while they are here. Participants in the Jewish Agency board of governors who convened in Jerusalem at the end of October have become accustomed to donating blood, not money, for the cause. Rabbi Vernon Kurtz of Chicago's North Suburban Synagogue Beth El noted, "As a regular blood donor and active Zionist, I find it especially meaningful to donate blood in Israel, where one has a very tangible sense of the urgency sometimes needed to save lives." For more information about opportunities to donate blood in Israel through AFMDA, please contact Jonathan Feldstein at or (057) 761-4220.