Health Scan: German government promotes Dead Sea spas

German Health Minister Ursula Schmidt includes resort's treatment in the German basket of health services.

dead sea 298.88 (photo credit: Weizmann Institute)
dead sea 298.88
(photo credit: Weizmann Institute)
The German government will encourage tourism to Israel for citizens who suffer from psoriasis and other conditions that can improve at the Dead Sea, German Health Minister Ursula Schmidt told Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog during a recent visit to her country. Herzog called her decision to include Dead Sea treatment in the German basket of health services "a significant breakthrough, and a great opportunity to reestablish the Dead Sea on the world tourism map." The two ministers agreed that senior officials and doctors from both countries would meet to discuss therapeutic services available at Israel's Dead Sea spa and medical facilities. The number of German tourists traveling abroad is 80 million, said Herzog, but Israel gets only a small percentage of them. The number of German patients with skin diseases and other disorders who come to benefit from the high-salt, low ultraviolet-light environment of the Dead Sea has been on a decline for years because of changes in German health insurance rules, but now has a chance to boom again, Herzog added. A Tourism Ministry study found that the cost of treatment for autoimmune skin disease in German spas is about 3,200 euros per patient for four weeks, while a four-week stay at the Dead Sea, including airfare and medical supervision, costs 2,500-2,800 euros; the saving has triggered the positive German response. JERUSALEM BIOCHEMIST TARGETS BRAIN TUMORS A new method for targeting malignant brain tumors by inducing cancer cells to "commit suicide" has been developed by a team of researchers headed by a Hebrew University biochemist. Prof. Alexander Levitzki and his research associate Dr. Alexei Shir, along with colleagues from the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, have pioneered a technique in which a molecule containing long, double-stranded RNA is attached to epidermal growth factor (EGF) and delivered selectively to cells with an abnormally high number of epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR). This proliferation of EGFR is typical of certain types of cancer cells, including glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most lethal form of brain cancer. An article on the team's work was published in a recent article in the journal PLOS Medicine. The nucleic acid-EFG molecule acts as a "guided missile," said Levitzki, which - when injected into the blood stream - is avidly gobbled up by the multiple EGF receptors on the cancer cells without harming normal cells. Once embedded in the tumor cells, it destroys them from within - a true "Trojan horse," he added. Normal cells, which possess 20 to 100 fewer receptors for EGF, are spared, since the amount of double-stranded RNA gobbled up is insufficient to kill them. The lethal RNA approach has been applied to mice in which human brain tumors were grown. The tests proved 100% effective in eliminating the cancerous growths. Further testing is planned in a clinical setting. In the meantime, a small start-up company, Algen Biopharmaceuticals, has been established through HU's Yissum Technology Transfer Company to promote commercial development of the new drug. Levitzki believes the project has great potential, especially in view of the fact that over-expression of EGF receptors is involved in over a quarter of all cancers. The strategy developed to combat GBM can also be applied to other types of receptors found on cancerous cells, he added. BINATIONAL MEDICAL SPECIALTY COOPERATION American allergy and immunology specialists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have organized to provide moral and financial support to Israel. Dr. Bill Silvers (, a clinical professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who also has a private practice in Denver, first started a small organization in 1984 that more recently has gone national. Hundreds of specialists in the field meet, socialize and raise money with the aim of sending US experts to lecture in Israel and sponsoring fellowships in the US for young Israelis. Silvers noted that Prof. Yossi Mekori, the new dean of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine, did a fellowship in the specialty in Denver years ago. Silvers, who was here recently to address the Israel Association of Allergologists and Immunologists at its annual meeting in Safed, said he would like his organization to serve as a model for US specialists in various fields in order to have an interactive relationship with Israelis in the same specialties. EXERCISE LOWERS AMD RISK Regular exercise can cut the likelihood of developing age-related macular degeneration by 70%, according to a retrospective study published in the online edition of the British Journal of Ophthalmology. AMD is a condition in which the light-sensitive cells in the macula at the back of the eye stop working, affecting central vision and daily activities such as driving. It is usually divided into "dry" and "wet" types. The authors based their findings on AMD patients diagnosed over 15 years among almost 4,000 men and women living in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. They were aged between 43 and 86 at the start of the study in 1988, and were assessed at annual intervals. As well as detailed eye examinations, they were asked about their lifestyle and the amount of regular physical activity they took, including stair climbing, daily walks, and sessions of formal exercise. One in four had an active lifestyle, and nearly one in four climbed more than six flights of stairs a day, while around one in eight walked more than 12 blocks. After taking account of other risk factors such as weight, blood fat levels and age, those with an active lifestyle were 70% less likely to develop "wet" AMRD than those who had a sedentary lifestyle. Regular walkers were 30% less likely to develop this variant. Other factors, such as diet, may explain the findings, caution the authors, but physical activity is known to reduce systemic inflammation and irregularities in cells lining the arteries, both of which are thought to have a role in the condition. Physically active people are also likely to be "biologically" younger than those with a sedentary lifestyle, which could also be important, as AMD is associated with ageing, they add.