An Israeli startup that uses artificial intelligence to diagnose cancer has unveiled a new solution that will help pathologists detect the specific treatments that will benefit breast cancer patients most.
Ibex Medical Analytics’ Galen Breast HER2 platform can accurately determine the expression in cancer slides of the protein HER2, which is responsible for the proliferation of breast cancer cells.
The platform uses AI to analyze the slides, identify the tumor cells and rapidly calculate the HER2 score of the tissue. The results are highlighted for the pathologist, who can review them and make a final decision as to what cancer treatment is best for each patient.
Traditionally, pathologists evaluate HER2 in tumor samples visually, which may result in varied interpretations. The Galen Breast HER2 scoring system quantifies the sample’s expression of the protein into four standard categories to help the pathologist make a more accurate decision.
The technology was developed and validated by Ibex in collaboration with AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish multinational biotechnology company, and Daiichi Sankyo, a Japanese pharma company.
“We are committed to providing pathologists with the most comprehensive AI platform as they implement digital pathology,” said Issar Yazbin, VP Product Management at Ibex Medical Analytics.
“In addition to HER2, we are now able to support full review of breast biopsies and excisions, distinguish between multiple types of invasive and non-invasive cancer, detect more than 50 malignant and non-malignant morphological features, and provide the underlying technology for automated quantification of additional prognostic and predictive breast biomarkers such as Ki-67, ER and PR.”
Advanced technology identifies pairs of drugs that can fight disease together, in microscopic doses.
Researchers have developed a pioneering AI “matchmaker” that pairs together existing cancer drugs for use in nanomedicine.
Prescribing a combination of two or more medications is already an established practice – known as combination therapy — that can prove highly effective.
But a team at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, has gone beyond simply identifying separate medications that will work well together.
These scientists have developed technology that singles out drug pairs whose molecular structure allows them to join together chemically as nanoparticles, measuring just a millionth of a millimeter. Their findings are published in the Journal of Controlled Release.
Administering medicines as nanoparticles – or nanomedicines – has many advantages, allowing doctors to use lower doses, target specific cells and minimize side effects.
The artificial intelligence tool developed at the Technion trawls published articles on existing cancer treatments, gathering information that allows it to predict pairs of drugs that will work well together and, crucially, that are able to chemically assemble into combined nanoparticles.
Prof. Yosi Shamay describes the new approach as a “synergy of synergies” or a “meta-synergy.”
The first synergy is the combination of two drugs so that their combined effect is greater than using each of them in isolation.
The second synergy is identifying which of these drugs pairs can be used in nanomedicine, bringing a whole array of new benefits.
The AI tool has so far proposed 1,985 possible nanomedicine drug combinations to treat 70 types of cancer.
One example is combining Bortezomib (a blood cancer drug) and Cabozantinib (a liver, kidney and thyroid cancer drug) as treatment for head and neck cancer. This combination has proven effective and caused fewer side effects than using either of the drugs individually.
Standard drug combinations combat a tumour more effectively than they would do individually and may prevent the tumour from developing resistance to treatment.
Above and beyond
Nanomedicine combinations go above and beyond. They target cancer cells more precisely, are more successful at fighting tumors, require smaller doses, are less toxic, and minimize side effects.
“The development of meta-synergy on the nanometric level is a very complex challenge,” said Shamay.
“It necessitates the introduction of [at least] two drugs simultaneously into the same delivery system that would lead them to the desired destination in the body,” he said.
“Our research has shown, both in a computational demonstration and in live experiments, that the combination we proposed indeed leads the drugs to the tumor and releases them there — and that this therapy is very effective in treating the disease.”
The study, conducted at the Shamay Lab for Cancer Nanomedicine and Nanoinformatics, was led by PhD student Dana Meron Azagury, whose focus was on the biology and chemistry side of the research, and master’s student Ben Friedmann, who developed the AI model.
Bacteria can be found everywhere, and some are bad and cause illnesses, but some do more good more than harm.
There are thousands of kinds of bacteria – microscopic, single-celled organisms that are among the earliest known life forms on earth and live in every possible environment all over the world. They might be airborne or found in water, plants, soil, animals and even humans, where some cause dangerous diseases such as salmonella, pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis, anthrax, tetanus and botulism.
However, many bacteria, including the ones that comprise the human gut microbiome, do good rather than harm. Bacteria can even be turned into tiny factories that manufacture needed products.
Now, researchers at the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have developed “bionic bacteria” that have many potential applications in industry.
Among those applications are the targeted release of biological drugs in the body using external light and other precise medical uses, sensing hazardous substances in the environment and the production of better fuels and other compounds.
The study was led by Assistant Prof. Omer Yehezkeli and doctoral student Oren Bachar, and co-authored by doctoral student Matan Meirovich and master’s student Yara Zeibaq. Their work has just appeared in the international edition of Angewandte Chemie under the title “Protein-Mediated Biosynthesis of Semiconductor Nanocrystals for Photocatalytic NADPH Regeneration and Chiral Amine Production.” The journal, which is published by the German Chemical Society, officially described it as a “hot paper.”
“My research group deals with the interface between engineering and biotechnology at the nanoscale level,” said Yehezkeli. “Our goal is to blur the current boundaries between the different disciplines, and mostly between nanometer materials and biological systems such as bacteria. In our research, we use the unique properties of nanoscale particles on the one hand, and the tremendous selectivity of biological systems on the other, to create bionic systems that perform synergistically.”
Nanoscale semiconductor particles are usually produced in chemical processes that demand high temperatures and organic solvents. In the new Technion study, the researchers were able to create – using engineered proteins – an environment that makes possible the growth of nanometer particles under biological conditions and at room temperature. In turn, the grown nanoparticles can lead to light-induced processes of biological components.
“The use of engineered proteins for the self-growth of nanomaterials is a promising strategy that opens up new scientific horizons for combining inanimate and living matter,” added Yehezkeli. In the current study, the researchers demonstrated the use of engineered proteins to grow cadmium sulfide (CdS) nanoparticles that are capable of recycling nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) with light radiation.
“This is an essential electron donor in all organisms that provides the reducing power to drive numerous reactions, including those responsible for the biosynthesis of all major cell components and many products in biotechnology with light radiation. NADPH is crucial in many enzymatic processes and therefore its generation is desired,” Yehezkeli explained.
CdS nanoparticles have applications as an excellent photographic developer for the detection of cancers and other diseases, and in the treatment of cancer cells. The antibacterial and antifungal biological activity on various foodborne bacteria and fungi can also be studied with the use of CdS nanoparticles.
Enzymes are a common biological component involved in all living cell functions. Billions of years of evolution have led to the development of a broad spectrum of enzymes responsible for the many and varied functions in the cell, said Yehezkeli.
In their study, the researchers showed that NADPH could be produced (recycled) using the genetically modified protein made up of 12 repeating subunits that form a donut-like structure with a three-nanometer “hole” (three-billionths of a meter in diameter).
“This is a preliminary demonstration of the direct connection of inanimate matter [abiotic] with living matter [biotic] and a platform for its operation in a way that does not exist in nature,” concluded Yehezkeli.
“The technology we have developed enables the creation of hybrid components that connect these two types of materials into one unit, and we are already working on fully integrated living cells with promising initial results.
We believe that beyond the specific technological success in the production of NADPH and [various other] materials, there is evidence of the feasibility of a new paradigm that may contribute greatly to improving performance in many areas including energy, medicine, and the environment.”
“There is evidence of the feasibility of a new paradigm that may contribute greatly to improving performance in many areas including energy, medicine, and the environment.”
About one person in 50 – equally in men and women –will suffer from alopecia areata at some point in their life.
Haifa researchers have found a non-genetic cause for alopecia areata baldness, which triggered the surprising incident at the the 94th Academy Awards in which actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock after he joked about Smiths wife’s shaved head because of the autoimmune disease.
About one person in 50 – equally in men and women – will suffer from alopecia areata at some point in their life. The condition can develop at any age, although most people are diagnosed for thefirst time before the age of 30. In recent years, more and more research evidence has accumulated on the source of the autoimmune disease in an inflammatory process caused by cells that develop in patients with genetic predisposition that attack the hair follicle at its growth stage and results in the collapse of the immune system that characterizes it.
But a new study at the dermatology department at the Rambam Healthcare Campus and the skin research lab at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine has found evidence of another source – involvement of innate lymphoid cells-type 1 (ILC1) – that can cause its outbreak among people who do not belong to the high-risk group.
It has just published in the online journal e-Life under the title “Involvement of ILC1-like innate lymphocytes in human autoimmunity, lessons from alopecia areata.”
A common skin disease that breaks out when the immune system attacks and harms the hair follicles, after accidentally recognizing the body’s tissue as a foreign tissue, it causes baldness on largeareas of the scalp, and in more severe cases, there is body-hair loss on larger and other places, as well as itching and a feeling of burning in the affected areas. There is no cure, but last June, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a first drug to treat severe cases of the condition – baricitinib (Olumiant).
Olumiant is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor that blocks the activity of one or more of a specific family of enzymes, interfering with the pathway that leads to inflammation. It restored hair growth in 25% to 35% of patients but also causes side effects.
Rambam and Technion researchers found evidence of another source
In recent years, more and more research evidence has accumulated on the source of the autoimmune disease in an inflammatory process caused by cells that develop in patients with genetic predisposition, which attack the hair follicle at its growth stage and results in the collapse of the training that characterizes it. However, a new study common to Rambam and the Technion has found evidence of another source, which can cause the outbreak of the disease among people who do not belong to the risk group.
The conventional hypothesis is that CD8 cells are responsible for the disease. But in a study conducted by a team led by Prof. Amos Gilhar and in collaboration with researcher Dr. Aviad Keren and Professor Dr. Rimma Laufer- Britva , another group of cells was found that so much was unknown to its involvement in the disease. LC-1 constantly secretes a variety of proteins that usually attack external factors that invade the tissues they are in,” explained Gilhar.
Thus, the classic lymphocyte cells, those that used to be regarded as solely responsible for the onset of the disease, are not alone.
As part of the research experiments, the team transferred these cells to a healthy scalp and then transplanted on unique mice. Exposing hair follicles from a completely healthy source to ILC-1 cells caused the secretion of a high level of interferon gamma, a material known as a major part in causing hair loss leading to alopecia areata – so there is not a single route, in which genetics and classical immune cells play an exclusive role, but several pathways, said Gilhar.
The journal editor commented that the study provides “compelling evidence that injection of ILC1-like cells induces alopecia in a mouse model grafted with human hair follicle-containing skin and will be of interest to immunologists, skin biologists, and scientists interested in autoimmune disorders” and eventually leading to better treatment of alopecia areata.
Israel’s ophthalmologists are getting a boost from innovators developing solutions for eye diseases and eye health.
“I think we can see how this industry has matured in Israel, both on the management side, and in the sense of understanding what to develop, and how to develop it,” says Dr. Barak Azmon, a pioneering entrepreneur in the country’s ophthalmology industry.
Azmon is chair of the ophthalmology session at next week’s annual Biomed Conference in Tel Aviv, which showcases the latest developments in healthcare, and will be exhibiting some of these new ocular technologies.
“In Israel, there are around 70 startups in the ophthalmologic space. It’s probably more than in the Silicon Valley or any other region alone,” says Azmon.
“As we will show in this conference, we have a unique year where nine companies in the ophthalmology space have already launched new products or are expected to do so by the end of the year.”
NoCamels takes a look at some of the most innovative solutions in the field of eye health in Israel:
Orasis: Eyedrops For Better Vision
Many people over the age of 45 who have always had 20/20 vision find themselves suddenly needing reading glasses as their eyes age – a chronic inconvenience whose long-term solution is an invasive medical procedure.
But now new eyedrops developed by Orasis will be able to correct farsightedness (presbyopia) – albeit for a few hours.
“We aspire to make near vision clear again for people with presbyopia by empowering them with an unparalleled solution, an eye drop that will provide them with comfort and control of their near vision,” said Elad Kedar, CEO of Orasis.
The eyedrop improves patients’ vision by constricting the pupil, resulting in a “pinhole effect” and increasing their depth of field and ability to focus on nearby objects.
Presbyopia is a result of the natural aging process, and there are almost two billion people living with it globally. They experience blurred vision when performing daily tasks like reading a book, a restaurant menu or messages on a smartphone.
It cannot be prevented or reversed, and it continues to progress gradually. All existing treatment options are either inconvenient, like reading glasses and contact lenses, or invasive, like refractive surgery that changes the shape of your cornea and lens implants, which replace the lens in each eye with a synthetic one.
Orasis’ eye drops will be sold in the US by the end of the year.
CorNeat Vision: Synthetic Sight
Over two million people lose their vision every year due to a group of eye diseases known as corneal blindness.
The only effective treatment available is a cornea transplant – the clear, front part of the eye that absorbs light, which is later translated by the retina into the images that we see.
Problem is, there’s a shortage of cornea donors worldwide. In China, for example, there are five million patients with corneal blindness, but only 5,000 possible transplants a year.
Furthermore, artificial corneas are not effective for more than a few months as the immune system sees them as something foreign that needs to be dissolved or expelled.
But startup CorNeat Vision says it has developed a synthetic cornea that can fully rehabilitate corneal blind patients and integrate into their eye tissue.
The “skirt”, or rim of the lens, is made of a patented plastic that stimulates the cells to accept it and incorporate it into the eye tissue.
“There’s no other material that seamlessly embeds itself with live human tissue for life,” says Almog Aley-Raz, CEO.
“When you implant anything, it triggers a foreign body response, and our immune system will work to degrade and eventually absorb it or, in case it is non-degradable, it will encapsulate it with a granuloma (a cluster of white blood cells and other tissue), isolating it from the body.”
It uses the electrospinning technique – an existing method of creating tiny polymers and metals – to fabricate a rim for an artificial lens, which until now has been seen as an engineering challenge.
The CorNeat KPro is currently undergoing clinical trials, and is expected to be approved for marketing late in 2024.
NovaSight: New Way of Testing
We are all familiar with the ubiquitous eye chart to test our vision, and while it may be effective for adults and adolescents, that isn’t the case for children.
They often don’t cooperate or are simply incapable of taking the test because they’re too young.
NovaSight has developed an eye exam that tracks the position and gaze of the eye to assess their vision.
All the patient needs to do is watch a video on a tablet that is mounted with an inconspicuous eye tracker called the EyeSwift.
The video shows dots that are constantly moving across the screen, and its resolution gradually reduces over time, becoming more and more foggy.
The company’s algorithms then determine the patient’s level of eyesight once their eyes can no longer follow the target. Its creators say it is simple, accurate and more accessible for both children and adults than traditional eye exams.
“We see when the kid or the adult is not able to track this moving target anymore, just by looking at their eyes,” says Ran Yam, CEO of NovaSight. “We know exactly what their threshold vision is without asking them anything, and without them saying anything.”
Until now, eye tracking has mostly been used for gaming or in expensive medical devices such as those used for people living with ALS (an incurable disease of the nervous system) and not in eye care.
“The technology became more affordable over time, so we took that opportunity in order to integrate it into medical devices for vision care,” Yam explains.
The EyeSwift also offers a variety of vision tests, including for color blindness, reading performance, stereoacuity (a person’s ability to detect differences in distance) and more. The same technology also powers the company’s treatment for lazy eye.
NovaSight is this month launching a commercial pilot with Opticana, one of Israel’s leading optical chains.
Notal Vision: Speedy Home Diagnosis
Worsening eyesight is an unfortunate part of aging. For 200 million people worldwide, it comes in the form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a treatable but recurring disease where the central part of a person’s vision becomes blurred or distorted over a period of days or weeks.
If the condition worsens, the person may struggle to see anything in the center of their field of vision, and a lack of regular oversight by a physician could mean that their eyesight has irreparably deteriorated.
Notal Vision provides these patients with a daily home monitoring device using artificial intelligence that within three minutes identifies the onset or reactivation of AMD, thereby offering better, faster and more personalized care.
“The patient puts their head into a viewer where they watch stimuli, and use a computer mouse to click on a location where they spot distortions,” explains Dr. Kester Nahen, CEO of Notal Vision.
“After our AI algorithm analyzes the data, their physician is notified through our monitoring center that provides the service, and a decision can be made to bring the patient into the office for further imaging.”
Notal Vision says a study showed that 81 percent of patients whose AMD progressed and were using their ForeseeHome device maintained 20/40 (or better) vision, compared to only 32 percent of patients whose diagnosis was at a routine eye exam or a medical consultation triggered by symptoms.
The company’s new device, the Home OCT system, will help physicians monitor the symptoms and progression of patients with wet AMD, a more serious form of the disease, and offer personalized treatment. It is expected to be in use in the United States by the end of the year.
The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology is teaming up with Toronto University on the use of artificial intelligence in the field of medicine.
The collaboration sees the faculty and students from Technion’s Artificial Intelligence Hub (Tech.AI) and the Canadian university’s Center for AI in Medicine (T-CAIREM) teaming up to develop working practices for “the medicine of the future,” based on commonly shared challenges.
The new partnership was inaugurated this week in a joint tree-day workshop in Ein Gedi in southern Israel, which was attended by dozens of scientists and research students from the two schools. On the agenda were existing capabilities in the field of AI medicine, avenues for growth, advancing education on the subject and joint projects.
The partnership was welcomed by the two institutions.
“The Temerty Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research and Education in Medicine (T-CAIREM) of the University of Toronto is very excited to work with the excellent clinicians and researchers from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology on this highly collaborative and interdisciplinary initiative,” said Prof. Muhammad Mamdani, director of T-CAIREM.
“Our goal is to advance innovative research in AI in medicine that will serve as the foundation for transforming medicine and delivering the best possible care for the patients we serve.”
Prof. Shai Shen-Orr of the Technion said: “We are laying down another broad foundation for the Tech.AI.BioMed activity that promotes the use of AI in medicine. We are certain that this collaboration will add depth and richness to our toolbox for creating new responses that will shape the medicine of the future.”
Last month the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology synthetic biology team took off for theInternational Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, held in Paris. The students in the group were engineering special bacteria that will produce an industrial substance that deters hair loss, and which can be added to regular shampoos and other haircare products.
This year, the iGEM team from the Technion included 12 students from across the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, the Henry and Marilyn Taub Faculty of Computer Science, the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, and the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. The team recently received a special Impact grant given to only a small number of the teams participating in the global competition based on their projected benefits to humanity.
Every year, the team chooses an innovative project in the field of synthetic biology, and this year, it involves substances that inhibit hair loss caused by chemotherapy. One of the most common cancer treatments, chemotherapy causes damage to healthy, living tissues and oftentimes hair loss, among other severe side effects.
The Technion team set to compete in iGEM worked on proving the feasibility of lab production of Decursin, a hair loss deterrent, and its possible incorporation into preparations including shampoo, cream, and more. Decursin is a major component of Angelica gigas Nakai (AGN) root extract. It has many beneficial properties including the abilities to suppress inflammation, repress cancer, and prevent apoptosis – or programmed cell death, which includes hair cells.
Today, the molecule is produced from a rare seasonal flower grown in Korea in an expensive and inefficient process. The student team is engineering bacteria that will produce Decursin industrially.
The prestigious iGEM competition was founded in 2004 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to give students, mainly undergraduates, a chance to experience scientific and applied research in the world of synthetic biology. Since its inception, the competition has been held in Boston. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held online for the past two years.
This year, more than 300 teams from around the world will participate in the competition, including three Israeli teams – one from the Technion, one from Tel Aviv University, and one from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The first Israeli iGEM team was established at the Technion in 2012 under the guidance of Professor Roee Amit, a faculty member in the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering. He guides the Technion team to this day.
Over the years, teams from the Technion have won multiple gold medals in the competition. But according to Prof. Amit, “Beyond participation and winning, it is important to understand that some of the developments by the Technion teams have already been turned into applied and commercial tracks and have a real impact in the world. One of the most prominent examples is Koracell, which was founded on the basis of the technology developed by our students in preparation for a competition iGEM in 2019. The group developed an innovative technology for the production of honey without bees using a genetically engineered bacterium. This technology allows the honey’s texture and taste to be precisely designed, and it is also a platform for simulating other natural metabolic processes.”
OrCam Technologies, which has been around since 2010, is continually coming up with new innovations
As we approach World Sight Day, one Israeli company is ensuring it continues to deliver groundbreaking solutions for the visually impaired.
OrCam Technologies, whose Vice President of Research & Development, Nir Sancho, is a Technion alum, has recently launched OrCam Learn – an interactive assistive solution that empowers students with learning challenges, such as dyslexia.
The handheld assistive device is compact and wireless with an intuitive point-and-click operation that reads out loud any text that has been captured by a student. It will then listen to and provide feedback on the student’s reading comprehension, using a variety of metrics such as text difficulty level, fluency, accuracy, reading rate and total reading time.
It works across a range of formats, including books, screens or paper handouts.
Its technology supports both teachers and schools and results in enhanced comprehension, reading fluency and improvement of overall confidence in an education setting.
There are currently over 50 schools in the UK currently using OrCam Learn.
The innovation is just the latest in a long line for the award-winning company. At the beginning of the year, it won a CES innovation award for its MyEye Pro device, which aids the blind and visually impaired by reading out printed and digital text, as well as recognising people and helping to identify products.
The MyEye Pro is mounted onto a pair of glasses to communicate visual information. Its new ‘Smart Reading’ feature, which helps users find specific information – much like the Ctrl-F (Find) functions on a computer – helped sway the judges, along with its voice assistant, which “enables control of all device features and settings hands-free, using voice commands.”
Meanwhile, OrCam Read – the handheld digital reader – won Best Consumer Edge AI End Product at the 2022 Edge AI and Vision Product of the Year Awards.
Launched in 2020, it supports people with mild to moderate vision loss, as well as those with difficulty reading, using a ‘point and click’ function that allows the device to read text from print or screens.
Kidney failure, Multiple Sclerosis and stroke are all being targeted
Two Technion master’s degree students have created a way to accurately predict whether a person is likely to have a stroke.
Working under the supervision of the head of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Medicine, Shany Biton and Sheina Gendelman worked with more than one million ECG recordings from more than 400,000 patients to create a machine-learning algorithm to assess the likelihood of developing an irregular heart rhythm atrial fibrillation (AFib), which causes one in seven strokes.
Only 5% of the 60% predicted to develop AFib did not go on to develop the condition.
It means countless lives could be saved as those at risk are notified in advance, enabling them to make necessary lifestyle changes to either prevent or delay the condition.
Professor Behar, who led the study, said: “We do not seek to replace the human doctor. We don’t think that would be desirable. But we wish to put better decision support tools into the doctors’ hands.”
Meanwhile, two Technion-led startups are changing the way we treat some of the most common health conditions.
CollPlant Biotechnologies – led by alum Yechiel Tal – is working with United Therapeutics Corporation to manufacture artificial kidneys using a former tobacco plant. The process includes growing small plantlets from the seeds of engineered tobacco plants to create the collagen required for the 3D printing of human organs.
“Organ shortages are an unmet global health need, [and] by partnering with United Therapeutics, we have made significant progress with this pivotal organ manufacturing initiative,” Tal said. “We remain committed to exploring new innovative applications in the fields of medical aesthetics and 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs.”
NeuroGenesis – whose COO is a Technion alum – is another Israeli company making giant strides in healthcare thanks to its stem cell therapy which hopes to regenerate the brain of MS sufferers.
Of 15 patients who received spinal injections from their own bone marrow, nine experienced a drop in levels of neurofilament light chain – a protein heightened as the disability progresses – and eight went on to have improved disability scores, even after a year.
The peer-reviewed study has been published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.
If thinking you’re sick can make you feel sick, is there a way to train your brain — and your body — to reverse that process and restore you to health?
That’s the central question that Tamar Koren, an MD-PhD candidate at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa focused on psychosomatic illness, is researching.
Professor Shai Shen-Orr, head of the school’s Systems Immunology & Precision Medicine Laboratory, is mapping how the immune system ages as people age — to the point of being able to calculate the age of someone’s immune system based on cellular data.
Professor Ron Kimmel, founder of the Geometric Image Processing Lab in the Technion’s Henry and Marilyn Taub Faculty of Computer Science, is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to train computers to analyze biopsy images of human tissue in order to determine not only whether a tissue is cancerous, but also what type of mutation it is and how much it has metastasized.
All three projects are examples of the kind of research being cultivated under the Technion’s new Human Health Initiative (THHI) — a recently announced effort to bring together teaching hospitals, different Technion departments and commercial companies to focus on solving specific health-related challenges.
“This initiative addresses world challenges that require multidisciplinary solutions,” said Shen-Orr, who is also the cofounder of CytoReason, a pharmaceutical artificial intelligence company. “We’re moving from research based on departments and faculties to being goal oriented. In addressing problems of human health, it doesn’t matter where people sit. They need to work together.”
The THHI is focused on six areas: staff and student engagement, new undergraduate and graduate educational programs, recruitment of top-notch researchers, funding, shared office and lab space for “essential meeting of minds,” and acquisition of cutting-edge lab equipment and other research infrastructure.
The new initiative dovetails with other Technion projects with outside partners, such as the university’s Bridge to Next-Generation Medicine program with Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center. That project aims to revolutionize pediatric medicine by combining the Technion’s technological prowess, including world-renowned expertise in computational science and artificial intelligence, with doctors and scientists focused on understanding and treating childhood diseases.
“The Technion believes that the time is ripe for taking the next quantum leap: addressing human health in a comprehensive, institute-wide manner,” Technion President Uri Sivan said. “The THHI represents a major intellectual and cultural undertaking in this direction. No other university in the country, and only a handful around the world, are positioned so well to take this leap.”
The idea behind the THHI is to pull people out of their comfort zones and create collaborations across units and disciplines.
“Rather than telling our investigators what they should be doing, the best way is bringing them together, and the magic is guaranteed to happen,” said Noam Ziv, who is spearheading the THHI project.
Ziv said the Technion’s prime advantage is that it’s one of the world’s few technical universities that also has a medical school.
“I don’t think you have to convince anybody that human health is a huge challenge,” Ziv said. “Our population is expanding, average age is increasing and the number of challenges associated with human health seems to be growing all the time. The coronavirus is a prime example of how things that affect one part of the world quickly affect other parts.”
During the height of the pandemic, for instance, Technion data scientists raced to improve the efficiency of PCR tests using algorithms. Biologists worked to create rapid testing kits that wouldn’t need sophisticated machines to yield quick results. Still others aimed to devised a sticker, which when placed on a mask, neutralizes viruses on contact.
The THHI extends to researching mind/body interactions.
To prove their hypothesis about psychosomatic illness, Koren and her team induced colitis in lab mice and waited for them to recover. Researchers then artificially stimulated the neurons in the brain that had become active during the bout of colitis. Inflammation re-emerged in the exact same location even though there was no infection. Likewise, suppressing memory neurons reduced the inflammation in mice who were sick with colitis.
“If, for example, you receive a text message from your friend that he has COVID and you just saw him last night, you immediately start to envision that you’re also sick. And you start to manifest physical presentations of a very similar disease: your throat itches, you start coughing, you feel weaker,” Koren said. “Studies have shown that stress or emotional triggers can initiate disease, or sometimes exacerbate a disease that’s already been diagnosed.”
Koren’s research represents a joint effort among neurosurgeons, neurologists and immunologists — the kind of collaboration THHI seeks to cultivate and which is different from traditional approaches to research.
“These kinds of collaborations have already started to develop,” Koren said. “The fact that it’s both basic science and clinical research is a novelty.”
Eventually, Koren said, her team’s work could lead to a variety of new therapies for diseases that currently have no cure, in the form of magnetic stimulation or other non-invasive therapies for patients with rheumatic arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and other disorders.
“What we’re suggesting is not drugs, which also have adverse effects,” she said, “but regulation of brain activity that can alleviate their symptoms and improve their quality of life.”