Six HU scientists honored for benefiting humanity

Kaye prize winners' conducted outstanding health research.

Research 88 courtesy (photo credit: )
Research 88 courtesy
(photo credit: )
Important research that promises to improve oral medications for Type II diabetes; offers better therapy for epilepsy; isolated a gene involved in 33 types of cancer; and other work have been performed by six Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientists, who on Tuesday will receive the Kaye Innovation Awards during the university's current board of governors meetings. The prizes have been given annually since 1994, when they were established by British pharmaceutical industrialist Isaac Kaye to encourage HU faculty, staff and students to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential that will benefit the university and society.
  • Prof. Shlomo Sasson of the School of Pharmacy will be cited for "groundbreaking research that can bring closer the development of novel oral drugs to control blood glucose levels in diabetes Type II patients, who are likely to number over 380 million people within the next two decades. Conventional oral drugs to reduce glucose in the blood often fail, forcing many patients to inject themselves daily with insulin. "Sasson, with his colleagues and students, made a unique discovery that high levels of the carbohydrate D-xylose increased the rate of glucose entry into skeletal muscle cells in a non-insulin-dependent manner. They then used it as a prototype molecule for the planning and synthesis of chemical derivatives that could be potential drugs to lower blood glucose in diabetics. One of the lead compounds they developed reduced blood glucose levels in various animal models of diabetes. This discovery indicates the great potential of these new derivatives to supply the basis for diabetes drug development.
  • Neta Pessah developed safer versions of current drugs for epilepsy that promise to eliminate harmful side effects. A doctoral student of the HU School of Pharmacy, Pessah says her results suggest that two novel compounds have high potential for development into new drugs to treat different types of epilepsy, neuropathic pain and other central nervous system disorders. The compounds have shown high potency, wide safety margins and lack of harmful effects on fetuses.
  • Prof. Daphne Atlas, who focuses mainly on diseases of the elderly, developed a molecule that shows signs of being an excellent candidate for treating a variety of neurodegenerative disorders. Oxidative stress plays an important role in the progression of neurodegenerative and age-related diseases such as Parkinson's, causing damage to proteins, DNA and fats. The molecule, N-acetylcysteine amide (AD4) (developed in collaboration with Tel Aviv University's Dr. Daniel Offen and Prof. Eldad Melamed of the Rabin Medical Center), has been shown to penetrate cell membranes and overcome the blood-brain-barrier. The molecule, while could be given in pill form, can be adapted for the prevention and treatment of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and other degenerative diseases that are linked to oxidative stress, such as asthma, diabetes and the blood disease beta-thalassemia. The invention was licensed by Yissum, the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University, to Eucalyptus Ltd., an Australian biotechnology company.
  • Prof. Avraham Hochberg developed a product that has been shown in clinical trials to be successful in halting the growth of various types of cancer cells - thus earning the first prize among the Kaye Award winners. He isolated the H19 gene in humans and showed that it is significantly expressed in over 33 different forms of cancer, including superficial bladder carcinoma and pancreatic, ovarian and metastatic liver cancer, while lying dormant and unexpressed in noncancerous cells. Hochberg's research was patented by the HU's Yissum Research Development Company, which established BioCancell Inc. to which it licensed the technology. The company is now traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. BioCancell's leading product, BC-819, has been shown effective in clinical trials in Israel and the US for the treatment of human bladder, pancreatic and ovarian cancers.
  • Shay Sela, a doctoral student at the HU-Hadassah Medical School, discovered a protein molecule variant that is involved in causing preeclampsia, a pregnancy disorder that can lead to the death of the mother or fetus. Although there has been much research into preeclampsia, it has not resulted in substantial improvement in prediction or prevention. Sela discovered a soluble protein molecule that naturally neurtralizes vascular endothelial growth factor, which has been blamed for causing preeclampsia. This could ultimately lead to minimizing premature deliveries and saving lives around the world.
  • Prof. (emeritus) Arieh Gertler receives his award for producing a blocker for a body protein involved in autoimmune disease, heart failure and possibly cancer. He focused on leptin, a small protein produced mainly by fatty tissue. While leptin has been found to reduce appetites and thus cause weight reduction, Gertler also discovered it can be harmful and be involved in this dangerous diseases, thus leptin blockers or "antagonists" could be helpful. Gertler identified the region in the leptin molecule responsive for activation of the receptor and is working on mice models that have shown the blocker has the potential of becoming an effective drug.