Health Scan: Don't let safety take a holiday this summer

The end of the school year is upon us, and Beterem is worried about accidents among children and teenagers.

health scan 88 (photo credit: )
health scan 88
(photo credit: )
The end of the school year is upon us, and Beterem - the National Center for Child Safety and Health - is worried about accidents among children and teenagers. It and the Health Ministry have launched an information campaign to raise awareness among parents and children, as the summer months invariably mean a rise in injury and deaths in this age group from road accidents, choking, poisoning, falls, drownings and other incidents. In 2007, a total of 121 children and youths died from accidents, with a monthly average of 14. But in July, 20 kids died in accidents and 26 in August. Going on hikes, staying in unaccustomed places such as hotels, biking and playing outdoors can be risky. Leaving a child under six without supervision is against the law. When older children are left at home, always post a list of telephone numbers in case of emergency. When on a hike, decide on a place where all will meet if someone loses contact. Have cellphones and give children a note with your number on it. Up to the age of five, children need continuous supervision in water, whether a pool or a beach. With the theme "During the summer as well, don't take a vacation from safety," Beterem is stressing that parental supervision is always needed. Various TV channels, Internet portals and the cinemas are presenting the public service messages, posters have been hung and pamphlets are being distributed. One videoclip aimed at telling parents and caregivers not to leave children in hot cars even for a moment depicts a baby playing in the sand in a seething desert. A vehicle left in Israel's summer sun can become as hot as a furnace. RNA ENGINEERING CAN COMBAT DISEASE Research that helps control errors in gene expression as a safer and more effective alternative to conventional drugs has won for Prof. Hermona Soreq, dean of the Hebrew University science faculty one of this year's Kaye Innovation Awards. These prizes, given annually by prominent British industrialist Isaac Kaye to encourage HU faculty, staff and students to develop innovations with good commercial potential that will benefit society, are always presented during the board of governors' meetings. The concept behind Soreq's work lies in coping with situations involving over- or under-expression of certain genes. Through development of state-of-the-art technologies, she and her research partners succeeded in manipulating the RNA that translates cholinesterase genes from DNA into the cholinesterase proteins that control body-to-brain and brain-to body communication and are therefore very important. Essentially, all the drugs known today are aimed at blocking the activities of excess proteins. This, she says is "economically" wrong because these drugs must target a large number of protein molecules, requiring relatively large quantities of drugs, and thus causing undesirable side effects. On the other hand, Soreq says, one doesn't want to hamper the genes that are at the top of the "pyramid" of the process leading to the production of proteins, because this could endanger the next generation of cells. The third possibility, she continues, is to deal with the central part of the "pyramid" - the RNA level. RNA can be cloned and engineered to be expressed in various cells or tissues, adding protein if needed. Or, conversely, the RNA can be engineered to block a particular gene from being expressed, and thus prevent production of the unwanted excess of such protein. Her invention of engineered human cholinesterase and RNA-targeted agents to suppress its functioning has been patented by Yissum, the university's technology transfer company. Over the years, this technology has won over $5 million in research grants and generated a significant patent portfolio. One company under license from Yissum has developed a herd of goats engineered to produce the human cholinesterase BCHE protein in their milk; this can protect soldiers against nerve gas, and could also be used as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. TEDDY-BEAR CARE Children from Sderot recently were invited to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba to meet bears, that is, stuffed teddy bears. The "Teddy Bear Hospital Project" uses stuffed animals to reduce fears of medical treatment among young children. Some 200 kindergarten children from the southern development town, which has been bombarded by Palestinian terrorists for more than seven years, visited Soroka, bringing along teddy bears and other stuffed animals that "needed" treatment by medical students at Ben-Gurion University's Health Services Faculty. The stuffed animals were "X-rayed," bandaged and given "medications" at the hospital pharmacy. They and their owners also toured an ambulance and participated in a psychodrama workshop. The Teddy Bear Hospital concept originated in Scandinavia, and is popular at medical schools around the world, as the students benefit at least as much as the children. A NEW WRINKLE IN THE TOBACCO WARS Young people usually don't pay attention to warnings that cigarettes can give them cancer or heart disease because these seem to be problems of middle-aged and elderly people. Thus, to induce teenage girls and young women to quit smoking or not to start, the Israel Cancer Association has placed posters in the bathrooms of 200 pubs, cafés and clubs around the country warning that in addition to causing fatal diseases, smoking also wrinkles your skin prematurely. Although the smoking rate has halved in the past four decades, it has not dropped enough among girls and women, and in many cases the trend is for more smoking in this age group. One can almost always identify women who smoke just by looking at their faces. Yellow stains on their teeth and fingers are additional evidence. The ICA posters show a lovely young woman, with the wrinkling effect created by crumpling the paper on which her face appears. It carries a very powerful message - and one hopes they get it.