Health Scan: Ben-Gurion professor links worms to AIDS

Bentwich believes that intestinal worms can affect the immune system to cause a major impact on one's susceptibility to HIV.

health scan 88 (photo credit: )
health scan 88
(photo credit: )
A professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's faculty of health sciences is beginning an intensive program in Ethiopia to eradicate the intestinal worms which affect as much as half of Africa's population. Prof. Zvi Bentwich, who heads BGU's Center for Tropical Diseases and AIDS, believes there is a possible connection between the AIDS epidemic in Africa and intestinal worms - one of many neglected tropical diseases which affect nearly a quarter of the world's population. Bentwich believes that intestinal worms can affect the immune system in such a profound way that it has a major impact on one's susceptibility to HIV and tuberculosis, or in coping with these diseases when they are already there. "As head of the largest AIDS center, I dealt with a large number of Ethiopian HIV and AIDS patients, and through them became aware of the magnitude of this problem,"he says. The first stage of the operation to de-worm about 30,000 people from three separate locations in Ethiopia began this month. In the fall, the research project will focus on the town of Mekele in northern Ethiopia, where about 250,000 people live. The program combines the provision and administration of antihelminthic medications - a few pills every four to six months - with information on how to protect populations from exposure to the parasites. Neglected tropical diseases are one of the hallmarks of poverty and neglect, Bentwich explains. "They have been largely neglected by the Western developed countries since they are practically nonexistent there. Curing them often costs much less than fighting the more recognized epidemics like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria." BGU is partnering with the Global Network for the Fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases. The project is being funded by an international coalition of nonprofit organizations. BIG BOOST FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH A new, independent research institute will be established on the Haifa campus of the Rambam Medical Center with a grant of about $40 million by the Legacy Heritage Fund of New York and Jerusalem. The center's scientists will give top priority to diabetes and metabolic health; cardiovascular health and disease; traumatic brain injury; kidney disease; autoimmune and inflammatory disease; bone and joint repair and regeneration; cancer stem cell research; medical device technology; clinical translational genetics and pharmacogenomics and infectious disease epidemiology. Thus the institute, planned for seven floors of a 24,000-square-meter tower, will be on the cutting edge of research into the causes and treatments of the major diseases that afflict mankind. It will integrate scientific and clinical programs, drawing research-oriented clinical faculty as well as specialists in bedside treatment. This reshaping of Rambam's mission will influence biomedical research and patient care far into the future. The Legacy Heritage Fund is built on the legacies of the late Harry and Bella Wexner, cofounders with their children of a small retail business that grew into a world-wide conglomerate. Their business success enabled them to focus on philanthropic causes and projects, including the welfare of Israel, medical research and medical care. The institute, said Rambam director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar, will be a major part of the growing Rambam campus planned to include an underground hospital for emergencies (donated by Sami Ofer), a new children's hospital (donated by Ruth Rappaport), a new oncology hospital (given by an anonymous donor) and a giant underground parking facility for patients, visitors and staff. HOPE FOR DIABETICS Hundreds of millions of type II diabetics around the world are waiting for a pill that will make it unnecessary to inject synthetic insulin several times a day. An Israeli-developed experimental capsule called ORMD 0801 has passed its Phase 2A clinical trial with encouraging results, but still has to go through Phase III trials before it can be presented for US Food and Drug Administration and Health Ministry approval. The study, conducted at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, was a continuation of the successful Phase 1B trials that Oramed completed earlier this year. That trial demonstrated that the product had a good safety profile and was well tolerated and effective in lowering blood glucose in patients with type II diabetes; In six of the nine subjects analyzed, statistically significant reductions in glucose as well as C-peptide were observed. "We are pleased with the results of the Phase 2A trial, as they showed that ORMD 0801 is effective and there are no safety issues," said Oramed's Chief Scientist, Dr. Miriam Kidron. "We look forward to taking the next steps toward making an oral insulin capsule a reality." Oramed Pharmaceuticals, whose corporate and R&D headquarters are based in Jerusalem, is a technology pioneer in the field of oral delivery for drugs and vaccines presently delivered via injection. Oramed is seeking to revolutionize the treatment of diabetes through its patented flagship product, an orally ingestible insulin capsule. Established in 2006, Oramed's technology is based on over 25 years of research by top scientists at Hadassah.