The amount and quality of medical research coming out of Israel is quite astounding. Advances in treating cancer, asthma, diabetes, sepsis, neurological diseases such as ALS – Israeli scientists have made their mark in all these areas and many more.
So it’s not surprising that some of Israel’s best minds have been tackling the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a fatal and progressive brain disorder that is the most common cause of dementia worldwide.
AD affects about one in 20 people age 65 or older, accounting for 60-80 percent of dementia cases. In 2010, AD afflicted 5.4 million people in the United States, where it is the sixth leading cause of death. One in eight Americans will develop the disease at some point, while more than six million are affected in Europe. About half of AD patients also suffer from depression, and up to 40% exhibit symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease as well.
To mark World Alzheimer’s Month during September, here are 10 ways the small Jewish state is contributing to solutions for a huge worldwide problem.
Last May, Israel’s Avraham Pharmaceuticals began 26-week and 36-month Phase 2 clinical studies of ladostigil, an Israeli-developed drug candidate to treat mild cognitive impairment — one of the signs associated with the onset of senile dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
This “neuroprotective” drug, developed by Prof. Marta Weinstock-Rosin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ) and Prof. Moussa Youdim of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology based on an invention by HUJ Prof. Michael Chorev, relieves behavioral and psychological symptoms of AD including depression and anxiety. In lab animals, it also slows the progression of symptoms for sustained periods of time and actually modifies the pathology of the disease. The new trials will determine if it has the same effects in humans.
This electromagnetic stimulation system, developed by Yokneam-based Neuronix, is the first medical device in the world to receive approval for treating mild to moderate AD. It appears to change the course of the disease and allow patients to regain cognitive skills. Clinical trials in Europe and the United States are revealing that a few weeks of this non-invasive treatment deliver better measurable results than medications in cognitive improvement.
NeuroAD is based on a patent-pending technology that electromagnetically stimulates areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning, making them receptive to simultaneous tailored cognitive training.
The Herzliya-based company aims to revolutionize diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of AD and other brain disorders with its trademarked, non-invasive brain network activation (BNA) technology.
During the painless procedure, patients sit at a computer for 15 to 30 minutes performing a specific task many times (the repetition allows the device to sift out unrelated brain activity) while the device maps network activation points in the brain in the form of a three-dimensional image.
BNA is sensitive enough to show subtle differences in the severity of the condition from one day to another, and it can optimize drug-dosing decisions by monitoring the changes in brain network activities as the drug takes effect. It can also help identify patients best suited to test new drugs.
Brainsway’s patented medical device for deep-brain electromagnetic stimulation is thought to help alleviate addictions and other brain disorders including AD.
The device consists of a helmet outfitted with an electromagnetic energy-emitting coil licensed exclusively to the company by the Weizmann Institute of Science and the US National Institutes of Health. The patient wears the helmet for about 15 minutes while sitting quietly, allowing the coil to determine what parts of the brain should be stimulated and how intensively. It can be activated at varying frequencies and patterns for therapeutic results over a course of time.
Trials are taking place at 22 centers throughout Europe, the United States, Canada and Israel including Harvard and Columbia universities.
Tel Aviv University researchers, led by neurobiologist Dan Frenkel, say their (not yet commercialized) two-in-one nasal spray vaccine can protect against both AD and stroke. The two are associated because people with AD are at increased risk of stroke due to vascular damage in the brain. The product appears to repair this damage by activating the body’s own immune system. The vaccine would be given as a nasal spray to people at risk or showing very early AD symptoms, as well as post-stroke patients.
Another AD immunotherapy is under development at NasVax in Ness Ziona. The company’s patented BBS technology, invented by Prof. Beka Solomon of Tel Aviv University, is based on antibodies that have been shown to prevent the progression of AD and to improve cognitive functions in animal models of AD. This approach was recently validated by genetic data on Icelanders with a certain mutation linked to decreased incidence of AD and improved cognitive function. BBS immunotherapy mimics the effect of that mutation.