Known as the start-up nation, Israel has – and continues to – pour money into the technology industry. In fact, in September of this year, Israel identified its top 5 significant investments over the next 5 years, and amongst them are food, renewable and space technologies.
While Israel has made remarkable strides on the technology side, Israel’s innovations extend to the medical field as well. Some of its innovations over the last months, once integrated into the medical system, can effectively revolutionize medical care.
Israeli scientist Dr. Efrat Shema and her colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science invented a blood test to detect colorectal and pancreatic cancers. Its accuracy rate? 92 percent!
Typically colorectal cancer is discovered through an invasive test, which can be both costly and uncomfortable. At the moment, there is no single diagnostic test that successfully identifies pancreatic cancer. Shema’s new blood test could change the ease with which colorectal and pancreatic cancer is identified and the methodologies to find them.
And Shema’s not stopping there. The idea is that the blood tests will be adapted to detect a wide range of cancers as well as other diseases in the future.
Meanwhile Tel Aviv University brain immunologist Dr. Lior Mayo and two of his PhD students managed to eliminate glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor, in mice. Until now, the most common method to destroy tumors involved attacking them directly, which is how chemotherapy works. Mayo and his team took a different approach. They identified the “power source” of the tumor, and starved it, thereby destroying it.
How did they do it? Well, they found that astrocytes hijack the immune cells needed to prevent cancer, and also secrete cholesterol, which supplies the necessary energy for the tumors’ growth. Therefore, by changing the tumor’s environment and targeting the astrocytes, they were able to eliminate the tumor in mice. Mayo and his team are now working on identifying drugs that could replicate these results in humans.
And in Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv University PhD student Neta Maimon created a test to identify cognitive decline in seniors. The test can also uncover the extent of the decline. It’s a simple 15 minute test that works by tracking the brain function in elderly people or those suspected of dementia as they listen to music.
Normally cognitive decline is checked through face to face assessments. The results from Maimon’s test are similar to standard assessment testing for cognitive decline. Professor Nathan Intrator, from Tel Aviv University, oversaw the study.
Meanwhile Dr. Shani Stern, a neurologist at the University of Haifa, and her team recently discovered that fixing weak electric currents in parts of the brain can help people with Parkinson’s. In the past, scientists have struggled to find common characteristics in the brains of Parkinson’s patients. Genetic mutations have only been identified in approximately 15 percent of people with Parkinson’s, and many scientists have concluded that Parkinson’s is really numerous diseases with shared characteristics, which again, makes it difficult to cure.
However, Stern has uncovered something that could potentially challenge that narrative. According to her study, all patients with Parkinson’s, whether they have genetic mutations or not, have weak electric currents in parts of the brain. Therefore, the hope is that drugs could be developed to target and potentially normalize the weak electric currents, thus curing, or at least effectively treating, Parkinson’s patients.