Science & Technology
- Written by Technion
In light of the limitations of existing drugs for AIDS:
Researchers at the Technion Faculty of Biology offer a new strategy to combat the HIV-1 virus
The AIDS epidemic continues to take the lives of millions around the world. Despite the resistance of the body cells that are attacked, and despite the use of dedicated drugs, HIV-1 virus manages to survive and reproduce in the living cell and is displaying increasing resistance.
In light of the partial failure of existing drugs, the strategy of medical research in this field is changing: instead of focusing on the proteins of the virus (and the development of drugs that target them), the new strategy focuses on the interactions of the virus proteins with the host cell. This strategy is far more effective, since the virus cannot survive and reproduce without relying on the cellular mechanisms of the host cell.
However, the new strategy also has its weaknesses. Assistant Prof. Akram Alian of the Technion Faculty of Biology explains that when the virus encounters a barrier on its way into a cell, it looks for ‘detours’ that will enable it to take advantage of the cell nevertheless. Since there is redundancy in the host cell - various mechanisms leading to the same operation - the virus may exploit a self-mutation that could enable it to make use of that detour. “Our hypothesis is that the redundancy in the cellular pathways may represent a survival mechanism that allows the virus to take advantage of a wide variety of similar processes,” says Assistant Prof. Alian. “The virus can use these detours when the favored route is blocked by natural cellular mechanisms or artificial drugs and under other circumstances in which it is better for the virus to circumvent the obstacles of the cellular environment and the various stages of replication.”
Assistant Prof. Alian and research assistant Dr. Ailie Marx present an abstract of the innovative concept in a paper that was published in the May issue of the Journal of Virology. Janine McCaughey, a visiting student in the lab, illustrates this idea with a drawing of HIV-1 as an octopus whose arms represent takeover paths. The illustration appears on the cover of the issue (http://jvi.asm.org/content/89/12.cover-expansion).
An earlier article, published in the journal Cell Structure in October 2014, reviewed a new approach to AIDS research developed by scientists at Assistant Prof. Alian’s laboratory. The researchers conducted a comparison of an important viral protein (integrase) that exists in both HIV-1 and FIV, the AIDS pathogen in cats, and discovered new differences that could aid in the understanding and prediction of the development of resistance. With both viruses, the integrase inserts the viral DNA into the DNA of the infected cell, and then replicates itself in a manner that enables it to spread throughout the body. “The virus is a kind of Trojan horse, which uses the host’s genome in order to replicate,” explains Assistant Prof. Alian. “Now we are studying this issue in depth and trying to develop this idea of ‘multiple route reproduction of the HIV virus,’ as a new strategy in the treatment of AIDS.”
- Written by Weizmann Institute
Ants in the Lead A physics-based model can explain how ants cooperate in steering food to their nest
Anyone who has ever watched a group of ants scurrying to carry a large crumb back to their nest has probably wondered how these tiny creatures manage the task. New research at the Weizmann Institute of Science, which appeared today in Nature Communications, explains how a balance of individual direction and conformist behavior enables ants to work together to move their food to in the desired direction.
To lug a large object, a number of ants surround it – the back ones lift, those on the leading edge pull. How do they stay on track, instead of simply pulling all around in a sort of tug-of-war? Dr. Ofer Feinerman and his group in the Institute’s Physics of Complex Systems Department used video analysis to track the individual movements of ants in a group that was carrying a large food item toward their nest. The more ants around the item (for, example, a breakfast cereal nugget) the faster they could move it. Although the bit of food always travelled in the general direction of the nest, its path was one of wrong turns and corrections.
In the videos, individual ants can be seen to help in carrying for a short while, after which new ants take their places. When these new ants mobilize, the other carriers, which have since become a bit confused as to the proper direction, defer to the newcomers. As a new ant attaches, the steering of the object temporarily corrects, so that the trajectory becomes better aimed toward the nest. Newly attached ants continue to lead the motion for about 10-20 seconds. Thus informed ants take the lead, but they are also quick to relinquish it once their informational edge disappears.
Together with the group of Prof. Nir Gov of the Weizmann Institute’s Chemical Physics Department, a mathematical model was developed to describe this cooperative behavior. According to the model, the decisions of the “non-informed” carriers fit an intermediate level of behavioural conformism; the well informed individuals are then set to optimally steer the direction of the load. This model describes a critical point between conformism and individuality that enables the group of ants to coordinate their work and adjust their direction as needed. The model is a variation on a so-called Ising model, which is more often used to describe emergent phenomena in statistical physics.
What can this study teach us about the role of individuality within a group of social animals? Feinerman: “In this system, the wisdom does not come from crowds. Rather, some individuals supply the ‘brains,’ and the role of the group is to amplify the ‘muscle’ power of savvy individuals so that they can actually move the load.”
Dr. Ofer Feinerman’s research is supported by the Yeda-Sela Center for Basic Research; the Clore Foundation; and the Tom Beck Research Fellow Chair in the Physics of Complex Systems. Dr. Feinerman is the incumbent of the Shlomo and Michla Tomarin Career Development Chair.
Prof. Nir Gov's research is supported by the Yeda-Sela Center for Basic Research. Prof. Gov is the incumbent of the Lee and William Abramowitz Professorial Chair of Biophysics.
Videos taken during the research:
The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the Institute is home to scientists, students, technicians and supporting staff. Institute research efforts include the search for new ways of fighting disease and hunger, examining leading questions in mathematics and computer science, probing the physics of matter and the universe, creating novel materials and developing new strategies for protecting the environment.
Weizmann Institute news releases are posted on the World Wide Web at
http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/, and are also available at http://www.eurekalert.org/
Photo provided by Weizmann Institute
- Written by Technion
Technion ranked 31st in the world in the U.S. Academy of Inventors index
The Technion received approval for 65 patents in the U.S. in 2014, the most of any Israeli university.
The rankings list of the National Academy of Inventors, founded in the U.S. in 2010, ranks the Technion in 31st place in the list of universities around the world, based on the number of patents approved in the U.S. in 2014. The Technion, with 65 approved patents last year, ranks above well-known universities such as Yale, Duke, Rutgers, USC (University of Southern California) and Tokyo University, as well as all the other Israeli institutions that placed in the rankings: Tel Aviv University (43rd place), the Weizmann Institute (52nd place) and Hebrew University (73rd place). The top-ranked university is MIT, which advanced from second place in 2013, with 453 approved patents in 2014.
A few of the patents registered by the Technion and approved in 2014 are: medical scaffolding; a system for monitoring air passage in the lungs; a system for the rapid imaging of the macula; non-friction molecular engines; an innovative device for separating oxygen from air; silicon-air batteries; and assessment for the early diagnosis of growths in the large intestine.
Prof. Wayne D. Kaplan, Technion’s Executive Vice President for Research, congratulated the researchers, senior staff and students on this impressive achievement.
“The commercialization of inventions and the registering of patents are strategic goals for us, connected with strengthening the ties between academia and industry. The Technion invests significant resources in these matters, and the Technion’s patent registration department, headed by Ofir Alon, is doing wonderful work. We will continue to strive to translate research into finished technology and to bring inventions from the lab to the market.”
Benjamin Soffer, director of T3―Technion Technology Transfer Office, which houses the patent registration department, said that this impressive accomplishment is “an expression of the Technion’s tremendous openness to innovation and to the balance between the entrepreneurial spirit and excellence in academia and research. In the past few decades the Technion has been constantly increasing the entrepreneurial component in training students, with the intention that at the end of their studies the students will be equipped not only with scientific and engineering tools, but also with the managerial and entrepreneurial skills that will enable them to ‘invent their own workplace’ and not only to find jobs as salaried employees in existing companies.”
In many instances, the approval of a patent is the preliminary stage to the commercialization of technology or an invention. In the commercialization field, too, the Technion has made impressive strides: Within less than a decade, revenues from commercialization have jumped from $10.7 million annually (in 2008-2009) to over $30 million (2014-2015).
“It’s important to take into account that the Technion’s research budget, $135 million a year, is very low compared to the other universities and is only 8% of the MIT’s research budget. If the universities were ranked based on their revenues from commercialization relative to their research expenditures, the Technion would be in third place, behind Princeton and New York University,” said Soffer.
The Technion Technology Transfer (T³) office operated in the framework of the Technion Research & Development Foundation, and is responsible for the commercialization and protection of intellectual property developed by the Technion. One of the outstanding successes in this field is the commercialization of Azilect, a drug developed in cooperation with Teva Pharmaceuticals, based on research by professors Moussa Youdim and John Finberg. Sales of this drug top $400 million annually.
T3 manages holdings in some 50 active companies and over the past three years, the Technion’s portfolio companies have raised over $250 million in investment capital. These companies include Argo Medical Technologies (which develops exoskeletons to help the disabled to walk); Applied Immune Technologies (a drug development company specializing in T-Cell Receptor-Like, TCRL, antibodies); Accellta (media and cell cultures for the stem cell industry), Sealantis (tissue adhesive); Avraham Pharmaceuticals (drugs to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive disorders), Corindus (robotics technology that enables cardiologists to perform remote catheterization), VibeSec (information security on web-based telephony), NanoSpun Technologies (smart fibers), ElMindA (imaging system for neuron network activity in the brain and treatment based on network stimulation) DigiFlex (products for the printing industry and industrial processes) and Regentis (gel for regenerating tissue).
The department is responsible, among other things, for the management of the Technion’s patent portfolio, which has over 780 applications for patent registration.
For the full list of the rankings: http://www.academyofinventors.com/pdf/NAI-IPO-Top-100-Universities-2014.pdf
- Written by GPO
NIS 5 Million to Be Granted for Innovative Ideas Helping Resolve Global Health Issues and Ensuring Food Safety. Ten Initiatives Will Receive Grants from the Office of the Chief Scientist and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Up to Half a Million Shekels Each
JERUSALEM. JULY 22nd 2015– The Grand Challenges program is an international initiative taking place in countries like the US, Canada, India, Brazil, China and others, aimed at encouraging novel solutions for global food safety and health challenges, with an emphasis on developing countries. The Chief Scientist at the Israeli Ministry of Economy in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV) and the Prime Minister's Office are launching the second round of Grand Challenges Israel, a competition aimed at encouraging innovative technological or social solutions in food safety and global health, with an emphasis on developing countries. The program promotes Israeli technological innovation in new markets as an expression of Israel's commitment to offering aid to these countries.
Israeli Minister of Economy and Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee Aryeh Machluf Deri: "This exceptional program helps the weakest sectors. Most of the world's population suffers from lack of food and access to fresh water and increased exposure to disease. We invite Israeli entrepreneurs to develop technologies that will improve the quality of life of billions of people around the world."
Developing countries face complex challenges related to under-development, lack of resources, technology, skilled personnel and advanced infrastructure. They require innovative solutions adapted to their complex environment. Israel enjoys a large community of developers and entrepreneurs, focusing mainly on the markets of Western Europe and North America - with extensive knowledge and industrial R&D capabilities in the life sciences in general and public health in particular.
The Israeli Ministry of Economy, through the Office of the Chief Scientist, helps strengthen and broaden the technological base of Israeli industry with a variety of support programs. As part of this support and in light of Israel's international cooperation and assistance programs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ MASHAV agency, the Prime Minister's Office and the Israeli Ministry of Economy have initiated a unique program operated by the Office of the Chief Scientist intended to promote research and development to find technological solutions for health challenges in developing countries - Grand Challenges Israel.
As part of the program, up to NIS 500,000 will be granted to prove the viability of innovative solutions for problems in global health or food safety. The program aims at directing Israeli entrepreneurs to seek solutions for developing markets - markets where urgent solutions are needed on the one hand and which offer large, unrealized business potential for Israeli industrialists and entrepreneurs on the other.
Among the ten initiatives given grants last year: a novel device to diagnose cervical cancer, a tool for diagnosing malaria, innovative water purifiers and affordable wheelchairs for children to enable maximum mobility and access to education.
Israel’s Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Economy Avi Hasson said: “The Israeli segment of the International Grand Challenges competition is an expression of Israel's capabilities in the field of technological innovation, together with the Israel’s world-renowned entrepreneurial spirit. A combination of doing good by helping resolve global challenges and establishing a foothold in new markets with unique consumer demands for the Israeli industry can bring Israeli entrepreneurs vast new business opportunities."
Head of MASHAV at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Gil Haskel, said: "This unique program reflects Israel's wish to continue helping developing countries in relevant fields and constitutes the meeting point between Israel's diplomacy and technological innovation."
In light of the complex business environment in developing countries, the Office of the Chief Scientist and MASHAV will help entrepreneurs who show interest in finding compatible partners for the development and implementation of initiatives in developing countries. The criteria for submissions include: Potential effect on the health situation in developing countries - the contribution R&D products can have on health challenges in developing countries; the possibility of implementing developed products in developing countries in order to improve public health, save lives or minimize disability. The product and the technology - a different and original approach, technological viability, advantages over existing solutions, the ability to reach significant milestones within the implementation period and the ability to undertake a realistic R&D program during the implementation period. Quality of personnel - knowledge and experience of applicants in the relevant field, personnel available for attaining the program's goals. Scalability - the existence of a clear plan to implement R&D products to solve health challenges in developing countries on a commercial scale within a reasonable amount of time, including the possibility of fundraising and/or finding compatible partners for continued development and commercialization; and Integrated innovation - combining technological innovation with social and business innovation in a way which can maximize the effect of R&D on health challenges, including cooperation with relevant social initiatives in developing countries.
Applications are welcome from researchers, entrepreneurs, small and medium sized businesses (up to 100 employees), research institutions and NGOs. Submissions found compatible will receive funding at up to 90% of the initiative's approved budget, to a maximum of NIS 500,000 - for proof of concept.
Additional data is available at http://www.grandchallenges.org.il
- Written by KKL
Clean Water for Advanced Agriculture in Kibbutz Bror Hayil
A pipeline for wastewater and an upgraded pumping system are about to solve the sewage problem in Kibbutz Bror Hayil, which is located near the Gaza perimeter. The project, which was undertaken with the support of Ma'alot 360, Friends of JNF in Victoria, Australia, is expected to be completed within a few weeks. The upgraded system will enable an influx of new residents, agricultural expansion, environmental protection and a higher standard of living for the people of the entire region.
“The new system is very important to us and to other rural communities in the vicinity as far as ecology and agriculture are concerned,” said Simon Guthrie, the Economic Coordinator of Kibbutz Bror Hayil, regarding the upgraded sewage system. “The water is used for irrigating the fields, and without proper treatment of effluents, it would be impossible to absorb new residents and expand the kibbutz.”
The old oxidation pools provided low quality water and did not meet the standards of the Ministry of Health. The new facility includes an upgraded pumping station and the installation of sewage pipelines, 1.2 kilometers long, that reach the regional wastewater treatment plant in Sderot. The water will be treated in the Sderot Wastewater Treatment Plant and conducted back to irrigate the fields of Sderot and the local rural communities. Upgrading the sewage system keeps the environment clean, ensures a high standard of living for the people and prevents sanitation problems that could inhibit expansion of the kibbutz.
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Photo Simon Guthrie in front of Jojoba groves
Credit.: Yoav Devir