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Rosetrees Trust Interdisciplinary Prize Awarded to Hebrew University Scientists

18/09/2017

Yaakov Nahmias and Nir Friedman win prize for a bold new model of human metabolism

The Rosetrees Trust Interdisciplinary Prize for 2017 has been awarded to two scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Yaakov Nahmias and Prof. Nir Friedman. This is the first group from outside the United Kingdom to win the prize. The award was presented at the 30th Rosetrees Trust Anniversary Symposium on September 14 at the UCL Institute of Child Health in London.

Profs. Nahmias and Friedman won for their research proposal to engineer a platform that mimics the physiological dynamics of human metabolism. The circadian rhythm or “body clock” is a daily cycle that regulates many physiological processes, such as telling our bodies when to eat or when to sleep. 

With funding from the Rosetrees Trust, the two scientists will lead a team of Hebrew University researchers in combining Prof. Nahmias’ groundbreaking organ-on-chip platform with Prof. Friedman’s key understanding of molecular networks. This interdisciplinary partnership will unravel the complex interplay between changing metabolism and its underlying genetic regulation in human cells, replacing current animal models that lack clinical relevance. The research will be instrumental to drug development, offering a route to the rational design of therapeutics for obesity, fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes.

The Rosetrees Trust is a private, family funded charity, formed in 1987 to support medical research. Rosetrees provides grants to fund outstanding research projects across all areas of human health and disease. The theme of the 2017 Rosetrees Interdisciplinary Prize is to promote collaborative research between medicine and engineering.  The prize is worth up to £250,000 over 3 years.

The prize is given each year to two researchers from different disciplines with the purpose of inspiring collaborative research between medicine and another field, in the hopes of pushing forward medical breakthroughs in the realm of human health. This year, for the first time, two sets of research teams impressed the Rosetrees Trust panel of judges enough to issue a joint prize: in addition to the Hebrew University team, Dr. James Dear and Dr. Maiwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas from Edinburgh University won for their proposal to develop a prototype device to rapidly diagnose drug-induced liver damage.

“Each year Rosetrees seeks the best research to support and every year the quality is a little better,” said Richard Ross, Chairman of the Rosetrees Trust. “This year the judging panel found it extremely hard to choose a winner because there were so many outstanding projects.”

Prof. Yaakov Nahmias is the founding director of the Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering, which brings Hebrew University researchers together to develop transformative technologies, and an ERC-funded tissue engineer at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. His research is focused on the integration of tissue engineering, microfluidics, and metabolism. Projects include nanotechnology-based diagnostic devices and microchip alternatives for animal and human testing recently commercialized to Tissue Dynamics Ltd., a startup company that was established by Prof. Nahmias together with Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University.

Prof. Nir Friedman is a professor at the Rachel and Selim Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering, and the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, at the Hebrew University. His research combines machine learning and statistical learning with systems biology, specifically in the fields of gene regulation, transcription and chromatin. He has received two ERC advanced awards.

Prof. Yaakov Nahmias said, “The Rosetrees Trust Interdisciplinary Prize is instrumental in bringing scientists of different disciplines together. It will enable us to not only build a groundbreaking model of human physiology on a chip, but also to leverage the advanced computational resources needed to understand the vast amount of data our platform will generate, in the hope of developing critical new therapies for metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.”

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s leading university and premier research institution. Founded in 1918 by innovative thinkers including Albert Einstein, the Hebrew University is a pluralistic institution that advances science and knowledge for the benefit of humankind. For more information, please visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.

Rosetrees Trust Interdisciplinary Prize Awarded to Hebrew University Scientists
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Algorithm leads to dramatic improvement in drug discovery methods; Prof. Amiram Goldblum wins 2017 Kaye Innovation Award

22/06/2017

An algorithm developed at the Hebrew University cuts through the immense number of possible solutions to shorten drug discovery times from years to months

Discovery earns Prof. Amiram Goldblum a 2017 Kaye Innovation Award

Antibiotics for treating particularly resistant diseases, molecules that block immune system overreactions, molecules that inhibit the growth of cancer cells by removing excess iron, molecules that may increase the digestion of fats: all these and more have been discovered in recent years using a unique computerized approach to solving particularly complex problems.

Over the past five years, an Iterative Stochastic Elimination (ISE) algorithm developed in the laboratory of Prof. Amiram Goldblum, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Drug Research, has been applied to the discovery of potential drugs. The Institute is part of the School of Pharmacy in the Faculty Of Medicine. First tested to solve problems in the structure and function of proteins, the algorithm has since been used to reduce drug discovery times — from years to months and even to weeks.

Goldblum’s solution is different from other algorithms called "heuristics," which are based on deriving solutions using logic and intuition, and suggests better solutions. In this instance, the algorithm produces a model for the activity of small molecules on one or more proteins known to cause the disease. A model is a set of filters of physico-chemical properties that distinguish between active and non-active molecules, or between more and less active ones. Millions of molecules can then be screened by the model, which enables the scoring of each molecule by a number that reflects its ability to pass through the filters based on its own physico-chemical properties.

A model of this type is usually built in a few hours and is capable of screening millions of molecules in less than a day. Therefore, within a few days or more, it is possible to make initial predictions about the candidate molecules for a specific activity to combat a disease. Most of those candidates have never been known before to have any biological activity.

For the development of this algorithm, Prof. Goldblum won an American Chemical Society Prize in 2000. Since then, the algorithm has solved many problems related to understanding various biological systems such as protein flexibility, proteins-small molecules interactions, and more. These and other discoveries stem from collaborations between Goldblum's laboratory, where his students employ the algorithm to solve various problems, and laboratories and pharmaceutical companies in the world that test Goldblum's predictions in Germany, Japan, the United States and of course in Israel.

On the strength of Goldblum’s technology, the company Pepticom was founded in 2011 by Yissum, the Technology Transfer arm of the Hebrew University, to revolutionize the discovery of novel peptide drug candidates. Pepticom’s key asset is an exceptional artificial intelligence platform aimed at designing peptide ligands based upon solved crystal structures of proteins.

Wide Applications

The algorithm can be applied to other types of problems, in which the number of possibilities is immense and are not solvable even if the world's most powerful computers would work on it together. These include problems in which the number of possible outcomes are 10 to the power of 100 and more, such as problems of land transport, aviation, communications and biological systems.

In the field of transportation, this could involve finding alternative ways to get from one point to another using traffic data on each of the alternative roads leading between the two points. In aviation, an optimal arrangement of landings and takeoffs at busy airports. In telecommunications, finding the least expensive routes within a complex array of communication cables. And in biology, a model that is constructed on the basis of a few dozen or hundreds of molecules serves to screen millions of molecules and to discover new drug candidates. These are then sent to experimental labs to be developed further, and in some cases have been crucial in furthering the development of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and different forms of cancer.

Kaye Innovation Award

In recognition of his work, Prof. Amiram Goldblum was awarded the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017.

The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential, which will benefit the university and society. For more information about the 2017 Kaye Innovations Awards, visit http://bit.ly/kaye2017.

About the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel’s leading academic and research institution, is ranked among the top 100 universities in the world. Founded in 1918 by visionaries including Albert Einstein, the Hebrew University is a pluralistic institution where science and knowledge are advanced for the benefit of humankind. For more information, please visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en

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Algorithm leads to dramatic improvement in drug discovery methods; Prof. Amiram Goldblum wins 2017 Kaye Innovation Award
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Israel Prize to Hebrew University's Prof. Yehuda Liebes

05/02/2017

Prof. Liebes, from the Department of Jewish Thought, awarded for his work in Kabbalah and Jewish myth

Prof. Yehuda Liebes from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was notified today that he will be awarded the Israel Prize for his work in the field of Kabbalah and Jewish mystical literature. Prof. Liebes is the Gershom Scholem Professor Emeritus Of Kabbalah in the Department of Jewish Thought in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Humanities.

Established in 1953, the Israel Prize is considered Israel’s highest honor and is awarded to Israeli citizens or organizations that have displayed excellence in their field or contributed significantly to Israeli culture. The award will be presented at an Israel Independence Day ceremony attended by Israel's president, prime minister, Supreme Court president and other national leaders.

In its recommendation, the Israel Prize Committee noted that Prof. Liebes is a brilliant leading researcher in the study of Jewish mystical literature. His many innovations include highlighting the role of myth and messianism as prominent forces in Jewish culture, and his research ranges across many fields, in particular all aspects of Kabbalah, where he showed depth, boldness and innovation.

The Committee added that Prof. Liebes is outstanding in his vast knowledge of many cultures: the classical, the Christian and the Muslim cultures; and in his knowledge of many languages, which enriches the depth of his research. His unique contribution in the field of the Zohar and Sabbateanism has significantly changed the map of research in these fields, while he has nourished a new generation of researchers with great devotion.

Prof. Yehuda Liebes was born in Jerusalem in 1947 and has lived in the city all his life. Following his military service in the Paratroop Brigade he began his studies at the Hebrew University, where he has served as a member of the teaching staff at the Department of Jewish Thought since 1972. Many of his courses dealt with aspects of Jewish myth and Kabbalah, and above all he took upon himself the teaching of the Zohar. In his research he elucidates Jewish myth from its biblical roots through its metamorphoses in Hellenistic Judaism, in Sefer Yetzirah, in Talmudic writings and in the Kabbalah from its beginning up to modern times. He wrote extensively on the Zohar, Lurianic Kabbalah, Sabbateanism, Braslav Hasidism and the Gaon of Vilna and his disciples. In these studies he frequently sought the autobiographical element of the author encoded in his teaching, as well as the Messianic element.

Prof. Liebes studied the complex relationship between Judaism and other religions: the Hellenic religion, Christianity and Islam. He also wrote about Jewish religious poetry, and studied the theory of literary creation, based on the religious myth. His scientific work includes translation into Hebrew of religious poetry from the Greek, Latin and Arabic, and many of these translations were published with introductions and notes. Occasionally he expresses in writing his views on culture and current affairs. Over the years he was invited to lecture in various American universities, and also taught Zohar courses at the University of Chicago. He was awarded the Bialik Prize and the Scholem Prize for his research.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s leading academic and research institution, producing one-third of all civilian research in Israel. For more information, visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.

- Dov Smith

Israel Prize to Hebrew University's Prof. Yehuda Liebes
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Hebrew University Researchers Bring Home 3 of the 8 EMET Prizes Awarded for 2016

04/12/2016

Hebrew University Congratulates All 2016 EMET Prize Winners for Hard-earned Recognition

The awarding of the prestigious EMET Prize will take place this evening at the Jerusalem Theatre with the participation of the Prime Minister of Israel. This year, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will be awarded prizes in three of the five award categories, and will account for three of the eight EMET Prizes awarded in 2016.

The Hebrew University researchers are:

Prof. Yehuda Bauer, 'inner in Humanities (Holocaust Research): Awarded for multifaceted research that raised public awareness of the Holocaust and influenced the study of the Holocaust and the public discourse in Israel and worldwide on antisemitism, the Holocaust and genocide. Prof. Bauer is the Jonah M. Machover Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies, and the Pela and Adam Starkopf Professor Emeritus, at the Hebrew University (link).

Prof. David Kazhdan, winner in Exact Sciences (Mathematics): Awarded for major contributions in the design of representation theory and its uses in algebra, algebraic geometry and number theory (link)

Prof. Haim Sompolinsky, winner in Life Sciences (Brain Research): Awarded for establishing the theoretical framework for understanding the principles of brain function and the behavior of neuronal networks, and for shaping brain theories into a systematic discipline using methods borrowed from statistical mechanics. Prof. Sompolinsky is the William N. Skirball Professor of Neurophysics at the Hebrew University (link). 

The Hebrew University congratulates all of the Emet Prize winners on this  well-deserved recognition of their many years of research in different academic fields.

The EMET Prize is awarded annually for excellence in academic and professional achievements that have far-reaching influence and significant contribution to society. The Prizes, in a total amount of one million Dollars, are sponsored by the A.M.N. Foundation for the Advancement of Science, Art and Culture in Israel, under the auspices of and in cooperation with the Prime Minister of Israel. The Prizes are awarded annually in the following categories: The Exact Sciences, Life Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities & Judaism, Art and Culture. The A.M.N. Foundation for the Advancement of Science, Art and Culture was founded in 1999 by Alberto Moscona Nisim, a Mexican friend of Israel. More information at http://en.emetprize.org.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel's leading academic and research institution and is ranked among the top 100 universities in the world. Founded in 1918 by visionaries including Albert Einstein, the Hebrew University is a pluralistic institution where science and knowledge are advanced for the benefit of humankind. The Hebrew University produces one third of all civilian research in Israel. For more information, visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.

Hebrew University Researchers Bring Home 3 of the 8 EMET Prizes Awarded for 2016
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IMRIC Scientist Awarded for Work in Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine

18/07/2016

Dr. Yosef Buganim is a young researcher at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC), part of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine

Dr. Yosef Buganim, a research scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the prestigious journals Science and Science Translational Medicine, and the Boyalife industrial research consortium, for his work in stem cells and regenerative medicine. (See Buganim’s essay in Science at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6292/1401.full).

Dr. Buganim is a young researcher who recently joined the Department of Molecular Biology and Cancer Research at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC, http://imric.org). Part of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, IMRIC is one of the most innovative and multidisciplinary biomedical research organizations in the world.

Awarded for the first time this year, the Boyalife Science & Science Translational Medicine Award in Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine honors researchers for outstanding contributions in stem cell research and regenerative medicine around the globe. AAAS, Science, and Science Translational Medicine joined efforts with Boyalife, an industrial-research consortium formed in Wuxi, China, in 2009, to sponsor the award.  Composed of prominent researchers, the judging panel was co-chaired by a Science and a Science Translational Medicine editor.

At his Hebrew University laboratory, Buganim uses somatic cell conversion models to identify and investigate the elements that facilitate safe and complete nuclear reprogramming. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT, he used single-cell technologies and bioinformatic approaches to shed light on the molecular mechanisms that underlie the reprogramming of somatic cells to iPSCs.

Regenerative medicine is a developing field aimed at regenerating, replacing or engineering human cells, tissues or organs, to establish or restore normal function. Embryonic stem cells have enormous potential in this area because they can differentiate into all cell types in the human body. However, two significant obstacles prevent their immediate use in medicine: ethical issues related to terminating human embryos, and rejection of foreign cells by a patient's immune system.

In 2006, Japanese researchers discovered that it is possible to reprogram adult cells and return them to their embryonic stage, creating functional embryonic stem-like cells. These cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and constitute a solution to these two obstacles. In addition, these cells provide a good basis for modeling diseases and finding medical solutions, because they can be reproduced from different patients and different diseases.

Despite these cells’ enormous potential, their quality is still not sufficient to be used in clinical practice, and there is a need to find the best protocol that will enable production of high-quality iPSCs that will not endanger patients.

Dr. Buganim’s laboratory has made two major breakthroughs in this area, representing a major step forward in the field of regenerative medicine and transplantation.

Project A: To improve the quality of embryonic stem cells, Dr. Buganim and colleagues conducted bioinformatics analyses which pointed to four new key genes capable of creating iPSCs from skin cells, of superior quality to stem cells in current use. These cells produced in his laboratory (in this case mouse cells) are able to clone a whole mouse at a much higher percentage (80%) than other iPSCs (30%). This test is the most important one determine the quality of the cells.

Project B: Many women suffer recurrent miscarriages and abnormal development of the placenta, which causes fetal growth restriction and in some cases produces children with mental retardation. Dr. Buganim’s lab found the key genes of the placenta stem cells and by expressing them in surplus in skin cells, created placental iPSCs. These cells looked and behaved like natural placental stem cells. Various tests showed that these cells have cell-generating capability in a Petri dish and inside a placenta that develops following a transplant. These cells have potential for use in regenerative medicine in cases of problematic placental functioning. The success of this project may enable women with placenta problems to give birth to healthy children and rescue pregnancies at risk of dysfunctional placenta. (See details at http://new.huji.ac.il/en/article/27928.)

Forward-looking: Alongside creating specific cell types (e.g. nerve cells in patients with Parkinson's disease, ALS and Alzheimer) from a patient’s skin cells, a potential future use of iPSCs is the creation of whole organs (such as heart, liver or kidney) in a suitable animal model using cells taken from the patient.

Citation: Science, Vol. 352, Issue 6292, pp. 1401, DOI: 10.1126/science.aag1215 (link: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6292/1401.full)

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Boyalife Group, previously known as the International Consortium of Stem Cell Research (INCOSC), was founded in July 2009 in Wuxi, China. In July 2015, Boyalife became the world’s first Stem Cell Bank accredited by AABB standard of Somatic Cell. Through subsidiaries, the company is also engaged in regenerative medicine, genomics, animal cloning, innovative drug discovery and disease modeling.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journals Science, Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling and Science Advances. The non-profit AAAS -- www.aaas.org -- is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, and more.

The Institute for Medical Research-Israel Canada (IMRIC), in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Faculty of Medicine, is one of the most innovative biomedical research organizations in Israel and worldwide. IMRIC brings together brilliant scientific minds to find solutions to the world's most serious medical problems, through a multidisciplinary approach to biomedical research. More information at http://imric.org.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s leading academic and research institution, producing one-third of all civilian research in Israel. For more information, visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.

IMRIC Scientist Awarded for Work in Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine
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