Gene identified for common skin ailments [pg. 6]
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
Israeli researchers have discovered genes responsible for psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.
A gene associated with psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis has been identified by a research group led by Dr. Ohad Birk of the Morris Kahn Laboratory of Human Genetics at the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center. The findings, reported in a recent issue of Nature Genetics, allow new insights into the mechanism of these diseases, and in the long run are likely to assist pharmaceutical companies in developing "smart drugs" for these two common skin ailments. Psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis affect two to three percent of the population worldwide and 85% of AIDS patients. Both are caused by excessive proliferation of specific cells in the skin. To date, there is very limited understanding of the molecular mechanisms causing these disorders. According to Birk, "this new gene is associated with a variant of psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis, and offers major molecular insight into why the specific skin cells (keratinocytes) proliferate." Birk's two-and-a-half-year study examined an Israeli Moroccan Jewish family with 44 members over five generations who showed signs characteristic of psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. Doctoral student Ramon Birnbaum analyzed DNA samples of the affected family members, comparing them to normal, un-mutated DNA. The team has succeeded in pinning the beginning of the molecular pathway on a mutation in a gene that is normally expressed ("turned on") in the keratinocytes. The gene is believed to suppress or regulate cell proliferation, and is thought to be a transcription factor, meaning it switches on other genes which may also play a role in the disease. When mutated, this regulation malfunctions, enabling excessive proliferation of skin cells and activating cells of the immune system. NEW PUBLIC HEALTH DEAN Prof. Shmuel Shapira, deputy director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization and CEO of the International Center of Terror Medicine, is now dean of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, replacing metabolism and nutrition expert Prof. Elliot Berry, who returns full time to Hadassah University Medical Center. Shapira is an acknowledged authority on terror, trauma and emergency medicine, and instructs students and physicians on terror medicine, management of mass casualties, advanced trauma life support and risk management. He has served on the medical school's academic staff for 16 years, after receiving his degree from the school, as well as a master's in public health. He completed two residencies in anesthesiology/intensive care and in medical management at Hadassah, as well as advanced training in pain management and obstetric anesthesia. Shapira has served in the Israel Navy, and was head of the IDF Medical Corps trauma branch, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. The author of numerous publications on terror medicine and mass casualty management, he is active in several Health Ministry national committees and councils, and was a board member of Magen David Adom. He will remain deputy director-general of HMO and continue to fill some of his current responsibilities there. INFO AGAINST PROSTATE CANCER World Prostate Cancer Awareness Day was marked in Israel recently for the first time. The Israel Cancer Association (ICA) sponsored a media campaign about the malignancy, with free lectures to minimize fear from lack of information. Prostate cancer affects men over 50, and is the most common type of cancer in Israeli males, with 2,250 new cases diagnosed and an average of 380 dying of it each year. A family history, especially a father who had prostate cancer, can double the risk, says the ICA. Smoking, excessive weight, alcohol and poor diet also increase the prevalence. Cancer rates have increased in recent years, and the older men get, the higher the risk. According to ICA president Prof. Eliezer Robinson, nearly 680,000 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed and 222,000 men died of it in 2005. More research is needed for an improved diagnosis and more effective treatment, he added. At present, there is no recommendation for mass screening with PSA or other blood tests, but Robinson said men are urged to see their doctor and decide for themselves whether to undergo testing. The National Council for Oncology recommends a PSA+TRUS test once a year for men over 50 if they have a family history of prostate cancer. ICA director-general Miri Ziv added that her organization offers a variety of activities for prostate cancer patients, including support groups related to the disease. In addition, information is available and psycho-social support is funded by the ICA. Men with one or more of the following symptoms should go to their doctors for checkups (the diagnosis could be benign prostatic hyperplasia and not cancer): Difficulty in starting to urinate; a weak stream of urine; intermittent urination; a sudden urge to urinate at night, uncontrollable urgency to urinate at any time, blood in the urine, pain when urinating or reduced sexual function.
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