Israeli medical breakthroughs successfully target Alzheimer’s, liver cancer

Israeli researchers have found innovative ways to deliver targeted medication to the brain and liver.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Medical research teams in three Israeli universities have recently developed ground-breaking methods to deliver medication that can help patients with two of the most serious diseases in the modern world – Alzheimer’s and liver cancer.

A multi-disciplinary team from the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and Bar-Ilan University have created a way to get medicine to the brain to slow the accumulation of a harmful protein that is a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

Prof. Ester Segal and doctoral student Michal Rosenberg of the Technion’s Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering have developed a nano-sized silicon chip that can be loaded with a protein called “neural growth factor.” This protein slows the damage done to the brain by the amyloid beta protein, which blocks and kills nerve cells.

It is the degeneration of these nerve cells that leads to the deterioration of brain function, causing various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. The elderly are the most susceptible, and as this segment of the population is growing, this dreaded disease is becoming more and more prevalent.

The Technion team made the infinitesimally small chip both porous and safely dissolvable, and installed a mechanism allowing it to release the restorative protein over a month’s time. But the other vitally important half of the problem was how to deliver it to the brain.

As Segal explained to The Jerusalem Post, the brain has a very effective barrier to protect it from infection through the blood, but this also prevents it from receiving medication in regular drug form.

This is where Prof. Orit Shefi and doctoral student Neta Zilony-Hanin come in. They’re from Bar Ilan University’s Faculty of Engineering.

In a revolutionary move, the two reconfigured a tool usually used to insert DNA into plant cells into “something like a nose spray,” said Segal. This device injects the chip into the brain through the nose because it has conduits directly into the brain, with no need to get through the blood-brain barrier.

Already tested on mice in a study published recently in the medical journal Small, Segal hopes that clinical trials will begin in the near future.

Liver cancer breakthrough

The innovation in the liver cancer treatment was discovered at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As its head of the Pain Plasticity Research Group in the Faculty of Medicine, Prof. Alexander Binshtock explained to the Jerusalem Post Thursday tht his group has found a way to target the malignant cells and leave healthy ones alone.

Liver cells that are cancerous express a certain protein that, when activated, makes an opening in the otherwise impassable membranes for malign intent, to spread the disease. The group found that one of the active ingredients in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), can unlock the same door, as it were, to bring in a partner that can kill the cancer. In this case, it is an effective chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin.

The hope is that since cells that don’t contain the TRPV2 protein will be ignored, the serious side effects associated with chemotherapy harming healthy cells will be reduced, if not eliminated. In theory, the targeted cells can also be given much smaller doses of the cancer-killing drug than what is usually prescribed, which could help reduce harmful and painful side-effects.

Liver cancer has a particularly low survival rate, with the five-year mark of those diagnosed at an early stage being only 31 percent. “It’s too early to make concrete predictions,” Binshtock said, “but we are hopeful. I hope we do have a kind of light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Israeli team’s findings were recently published in Frontiers of Pharmacology. The next step is to prove the concept in lab tests on animals.