New year, new fruit, new discoveries

  (photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)
(photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, according to custom, the new fruit gracing your table is likely to be a pomegranate.  Now, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers have found that pomegranates may hold the key to treating nerve cell degeneration.

Pomegranates are known to contain powerful antioxidants that combat the inflammation and aging that can overwhelm our immune systems. Recognizing the fruit’s potential, Hebrew University researchers have developed a supplement derived from pomegranate seed oil —GranaGard—that has proven helpful in improving cognitive function in multiple sclerosis patients experiencing difficulties associated with the disease.

The story behind GranaGard begins with Hebrew University senior researcher Ruth Gabizon, an experimental neurologist. Prof. Gabizon learned that the active ingredient in pomegranate oil is punicic acid, a powerful antioxidant. She wondered how this polyunsaturated fatty acid (also known as Omega 5) might prevent oxidation in lab mice who are predisposed to developing the fatal neurodegenerative disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Punicic acid seemed a good candidate.

Normally, oils don’t get past the liver. So, to make the pomegranate seed oil bioavailable to the brain, Gabizon turned to nanotechnology expert Shlomo Magdassi of Hebrew University’s Casali Center for Applied Chemistry. Magdassi met that challenge by breaking the oil down into nanodrops that travel easily through the bloodstream.

In a test on the efficacy of GranaGard, Prof. Dimitrios Karussis, the director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, found significant improvement in learning ability and text comprehension, word recall, and categorization in patients enrolled in the study. While it is not a cure — nerve cell damage is irreversible –GranaGard seems to prevent or slow neurodegeneration and reduce symptoms caused by disease or aging.

Professors Gabizon and Magdassi established Granalix Biotechnologies to offer the formulation as a food supplement. Made with punicic acid-rich pomegranate seed oil from Israeli sources, GranaGard is manufactured by Israel’s SupHerb as a soft gelcap that is sold worldwide through the Granalix website.

The interdisciplinary research and development that produced Granalix is a hallmark of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At HU, academics are encouraged to interact with colleagues from various university disciplines as well academics throughout the world, thereby breaking down the silos that can obscure the big picture and inhibit innovation. 

This cooperative, interdisciplinary ethos is evident in the Center for Sustainability, where academics and the HU community work together to build a greener, sustainable future;  the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC), where a thriving interface between theory and experimentation leads to exciting new discoveries in brain research; and the Institute of Archaeology, where excavations at sites rich in Jewish history are coupled with a computational archaeology lab and a laboratory for ancient technologies. By expanding and refocusing their fields of research, Hebrew University researchers are providing exciting new ways to make our world a better place.

American Friends of the University (AFHU) is a proud supporter of the research and innovation that makes the Hebrew University such a valued part of Israel’s cutting-edge breakthroughs of global importance. The $61.6 million dollars raised last year by AFHU is a clear indicator of the support that the U.S Jewish community and other Americans of good will provide to HU, and the commitment they have to improving the lives of Israelis and people worldwide.

The AFHU community wishes you and yours a happy, healthy, and sweet new year! Shana Tova and please visit to follow all the exciting breakthroughs that the Hebrew University will produce in 5783.

This article was written in cooperation with American Friends of Hebrew University