In mice with active inflammation, suppressing the neurons that remembered it produced an immediate reduction in the inflammation.

Your phone pings. It’s a message from a friend you met for drinks last night, who just tested positive for Covid-19.

Your throat starts feeling scratchy. A short cough sputters out. Is your body temperature rising? You run to take a PCR test. When the results come back negative, you realize it was all in your head — a psychosomatic response.

Researchers from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa wanted to explore the connection between the brain’s perception of illness and the real thing.

They induced inflammation in mice, and after the inflammation subsided, the researchers triggered the neurons in the mice’s brains that were active during the initial inflammation.

The result was dramatic: The inflammation re-emerged in the same area as before. Simply “remembering” the inflammation was enough to reactivate it.

The researchers then wondered: If the brain can generate disease, can the brain also turn it off?

The answer was a resounding yes. In mice with active inflammation, suppressing the neurons that remembered it produced an immediate reduction in the inflammation.

MD-PhD student Tamar Koren, left, and Prof. Asya Rolls. Photo by Nitzan Zohar/Technion Spokesperson’s Office

There’s no guarantee this experiment would work in human beings. But it raises the possibility of a new therapeutic avenue for treating chronic inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.

The brain’s ability to bring on illness psychosomatically is more a feature than a bug, explained Prof. Asya Rolls, of the Technion’s Faculty of Medicine.

“The body needs to respond to infection as quickly as possible before the attacking bacteria or viruses can multiply,” she said.

“If certain activity – for example consuming particular foods – has exposed the body to infection and inflammation once, there is an advantage to gearing up for battle when one is about to engage in the same activity again. A shorter response time would allow the body to defeat the infection faster and with less effort.”

The research was led by Tamar Koren, an MD-PhD student in Rolls’ lab. Other participants included Dr. Kobi Rosenblum of the University of Haifa and Dr. Fahed Hakim of EMMS Hospital in Nazareth.

The study was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, the Allen and Jewel Prince Center for Neurodegenerative Disorders of the Brain, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Wellcome Trust.


Can our brain make our body sick? Likely yes, Israeli research shows

Technion scientists uncovered how neurons can trigger physiological responses in the body that translate in real illnesses but might also help treat them.

Insular neurons (in red) that were captured during colitis and reactivated (in green) upon recovery. Lower panel: Colon sections showing white blood cells (in red) present in the tissue of a mouse after insular neurons reactivation (Gq, right) and its non-activated control. (photo credit: NITZAN ZOHAR/TECHNION SPOKESPERSON’S OFFICE)

Can our brain trigger an actual illness in the body? New research by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology scientists conducted on mice suggests that the answer is likely yes.

Over the years, the intuitive idea that the brain exercises a significant influence on people’s physical well-being has been supported by increasing scientific evidence.

“Several years ago, we studied the mechanism behind the placebo effect, demonstrating that when people experience a positive expectation, their conditions improve in many ways,” Technion Prof. Asya Rolls said.

“We were able to show that by activating brain areas that are related to positive expectations, we would boost the immune response,” she said. “What amazed us was how precise this response was, and therefore we thought that the brain could not have such an exact control of the system without knowing what its status is.”

The researchers started to examine whether the brain is able to represent the status of the immune system.


The new study was led by Rolls and her MD/PhD student Tamar Koren and was conducted in cooperation with Dr. Kobi Rosenblum of the University of Haifa and Dr. Fahed Hakim of EMMS Nazareth Hospital. The results were published in the journal Cell on Monday.

The scientists checked which areas of the brain would be activated when mice experienced genetically induced colon inflammation. Among others, the insular cortex – which is responsible for sensations such as thirst, hunger and pain and other manifestations of the body’s physiological state – presented increased neurological activity.

“When we reactivated the same neurons afterward, we recorded the same inflammatory response,” Rolls said. “It was quite shocking.”

The results offer evidence that the brain contains a representation of the immune system, and it can reactivate it when presented with specific stimuli and possibly other forms of memories, the researchers said.

The brain does not cause the body to be reinfected by a pathogen, but it might potentially trigger a reaction in the body similar to the one caused by the original infection, they said.

“We have to remember that, many times, the damage to the body is not caused by the pathogen itself but, rather, by the immune system’s reaction to it,” Rolls said.

The mechanism may help explain what triggers psychosomatic disorders, which are health problems that appear without any apparent biological cause, the researchers found. Autoimmune diseases or other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, could also be based on a similar process.

It would be wrong to assume that the results obtained from the study on mice will translate in humans in the exact same way, Rolls said.

However, there is hope that the research can contribute to understanding better how certain diseases work and how to treat them, possibly by inhibiting the neurons from activating and triggering the inflammation.

“There are many ways we can control neuronal activities in the human brain, for example, through magnetic or electrical stimulation or by neurofeedback when a person learns how to control their neurons on their own,” Rolls said.

“We know that we can do it because we know the power of a psychosomatic effect,” she said. “For example, during the clinical trial of the COVID vaccine, many people who received the placebo experienced very similar side effects to those who received the actual vaccine. Clearly, this was caused by some mental process resulting in a physiological response.”

Israeli scientists from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have developed an artificial molecule that could inhibit the development of Alzheimer’s disease, conceivably paving the way for better treatment of the disease.

The Technion scientists collaborated with The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CRNS) and published their findings in the weekly peer-reviewed Angewandte Chemie scientific journal published on behalf of the German Chemical Society.

The study was led by Professor Galia Maayan and doctoral student Anastasia Behar from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry at the Technion, in collaboration with Prof. Christelle Hureau from the Laboratoire de Chimie de Coordination du CNRS, Toulouse, France.

Professor Galia Maayan of the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Courtesy.

The findings showed that an accumulation of copper ions, when interacting with the amyloid beta (Aβ) can lead to cell toxicity, causing dangerous conditions, including degenerative diseases of the brain, like Alzheimer’s. This accumulation of copper disrupts the removal of the Aβ , a peptide linked to the plaques that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

A 2013 study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal written by a group led by Rashid Deane, a research professor in the University of Rochester’s Medical Center department of neurosurgery, said that copper accumulation in the body increases the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by preventing toxic proteins from leaving the brain. More specifically, copper ion interaction with the Aβ promotes ROS, or reactive oxygen species, highly reactive chemicals formed from oxygen. The production of ROS due to metal ions, like copper, leads to oxidative damages to the Aβ peptide and the potential formation of amyloid plaque.

Researchers have learned that the breakdown of the copper- Aβ complex and the removal of copper from the amyloid, prevents cells’ death and inhibition of the disease. The extraction of copper is done by a process called chelation or using molecules that bind the copper ions and extract them from the amyloid.

Developing the foundation

Technion Chemistry Professor Galia Maayan did not begin her career by studying copper ion accumulation and its impact on degenerative diseases. Instead, she simply focused on the molecule.

“I’m a chemist. So I look at a molecule and I said, ‘Oh I have this molecule, I have this metal ion, in this case, copper, how can I design something that is selective for copper?’ And then I will think about other applications,” she tells NoCamels, “When I did my postdoc at NYU, I learned a lot about these peptide mimics or peptoids. I developed chelators that are not selective [to specific metal ions.]”

Doctoral student Anastasia Behar of the Technion. Courtesy.

Prof. Maayan developed the foundation for copper and zinc-binding of peptoids and investigated how peptoids bound them — something she says no one had ever done up to that point — but it wasn’t until she met her first PhD student, Maria Baskin, (another author of the paper), that she understood that the molecules could be good for chelating metal ions related to specific diseases.

“We discussed copper, and then we started to think about Alzheimer’s,” she says, “and then we started to work on it.”

Prof. Maayan and Baskin developed the first generation of chelator molecules selective to copper. But they were not water soluble, she explains. “In order to start making the drugs you want to develop, you need your molecule to be, at least to a certain extent, water soluble.”

The Technion researchers developed their own method of making the molecule water soluble, without changing its shape or organization and patented the result. Thus, a water soluble peptoid chelator was created that could still selectively bind copper. Meanwhile, Anastasia Behar, who joined Prof. Maayan’s lab while completing her Master’s in Chemistry at the Technion, was sent to France for three months to work with CRNS after Prof. Maayan made a connection with Prof. Christelle Hureau.

Behar tells NoCamels that in France, the researchers created targeted environments where they could simulate processes in the brain where the accumulation of metals bound to Aβ was happening.

“Then we added our molecule and tested if it can interact with the amyloid-beta, take out the copper, and stop the radical production, which the molecule did eventually,” she explains.

“While working on the molecule, Nastia [Anastasia] learned how to do biochemical experiments to show the biology that the molecule can do. All of the things that we think can lead us toward future development of peptoids as drugs for Alzheimer’s,” Prof. Maayan said.

The Technion researchers developed their own method of making the molecule water soluble, without changing its scaffold or the way it was organized. This was tested in France. The water soluble peptoid chelator, a synthetic molecule dubbed P3, was able to perform its task selectively. It strongly binds copper and forms CuP3, extracting the copper from the amyloid. By doing this, it inhibits and even suppresses the formation of harmful oxidizing agents, without creating new processes, which neutralize amyloid toxicity.

Prof. Maayan says it’s important to note that the molecule that the researchers established is not the actual molecule they would like to be used when creating drug treatments for Alzheimer’s.

“It has solubility issues, stability issues. This is not a molecule we’re going to develop. This is just a base,” she tells NoCamels, “We are going to take it further and develop more and more molecules that will be better. Right now we’ve just put down the foundation and this is the breakthrough. We will make molecules that are more feasible later on.”

The next step, Prof. Maayan explains, is to go beyond the mimicking of an environment of a cell or of the brain in terms of a PH solution and to do more in-vitro experiments, or experiments with cells.

“We’ll do some in vitro experiments, then we will optimize the chemistry again, and then go back to in vitro until we are ready to go in vivo [with a living organism.],” she says, “It’s a long process. It can take several years, but we see the way so it’s not vague. We see the way and we now know what we need to do.”

Since the new algorithm was introduced, Maccabi health fund doctors have treated tens of thousands of UTI cases, and there has been a drop of around 35% in the need to switch antibiotics following the development of bacterial resistance to the drug prescribed.

Doctors at Israel’s Maccabi national health fund have recently begun working with an Artificial Intelligence-based predictive algorithm that advises doctors in the process of deciding on personalized antibiotic treatment for patients.

The new algorithm was developed by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology together with KSM (Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi), the Maccabi Research and Innovation Center.

Maccabi chose to focus its first diagnoses on urinary tract infection – the most common bacterial infection among women. Around 30% of females suffer from the infection at least once during their lifetime, and up to 10% experience recurrent infections. Until now, in most cases, general treatment has been administered based on clinical guidelines and medical judgment. Sometimes, the bacteria prove to be antibiotic-resistant, resulting in the need to change the treatment plan.

Since the new algorithm was introduced, Maccabi doctors have treated tens of thousands of cases, and there has been a drop of around 35% in the need to switch antibiotics following the development of bacterial resistance to the drug prescribed.

This is significant because accuracy in the choice of antibiotics is far greater thanks to the new technology. In light of the success of this new development in the treatment of UTI, Maccabi has begun working on the development of additional detection systems that will help to contend with other infectious diseases that require personalized treatment with antibiotics.

Prof. Roy Kishony of the Technion Faculty of Biology (Technion)

The automated system works by recommending the most suitable antibiotic treatment for the patient to the doctor, based on clinical guidelines and other criteria such as age, gender, pregnancy status, residence in an assisted living facility, and personal history of UTI and antibiotics administered.

The unique algorithm was developed by Prof. Roy Kishony and Dr. Idan Yelin of the Technion Faculty of Biology, in cooperation with KSM, headed by Dr. Tal Patalon, and was introduced and implemented among Maccabi’s doctors by the health fund’s Medical Informatics team and Chief Physician’s Department.

“The algorithm we developed together with Maccabi’s experts is a major milestone in personalized medicine on the way to AI-based antibiotic treatments, which are personally tailored to the patient according to the prediction of treatment response and mitigate the development of resistant bacteria,” said Kishony.

Dr. Shira Greenfield, Director of Medical Informatics at Maccabi, said: “The significance of administering personalized antibiotic treatment is that it lowers the risk of antibiotic resistance developing – a global problem which all healthcare entities are working to solve.”

Overall effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines has not dropped much yet for most vaccinated Americans, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine advisers were told Monday.

CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met Monday to discuss the potential eventual need for booster doses of coronavirus vaccine — although they did not vote. The White House has said it’s planning to offer booster doses at the end of September, although it’s up to the US Food and Drug Administration and the CDC to decide on this.

So far, in data that goes through July, the vaccines still appear to provide strong protection, the CDC’s Dr. Sara Oliver told ACIP Monday.

“Since the introduction of the Delta variant, VE against infection ranges from 39 to 84%. VE against hospitalization, though, remains high from 75% to 95%,” Oliver said, citing global data.

“Regardless of the vaccine evaluated, all vaccines remain effective in preventing hospitalization and severe disease. But they may be less effective in preventing infection and mild illness recently,” Oliver added. “These reasons for lower effectiveness likely include both waning over time and the Delta variant.”

One US study showed vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization in adults 65 and older may have decreased, but only slightly, over time, she said. Unpublished CDC data shows vaccine effectiveness remains very high, at 94% or higher in adults 18 to 74, she said.

“Preliminary VE against hospitalization in adults 75 years of age and older … decreased in July but still remained over 80%,” Oliver said.

Vaccine efficacy has fallen from 75% at first to just over 50% among long term care facility residents, Oliver said. These were the first people vaccinated after the shots became available in December and January.”

The data we have seen today has demonstrated that Covid vaccines continue to maintain high protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death. Protection against infection, including asymptomatic and mild infection, appears to be lower in recent months,” she said.

All three companies making vaccines for the US market — Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are evaluating the effects of booster doses, she said.

The major questions are whether booster doses are safe and work to improve protection, she said.

“Will booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines reduce Covid-19 incidence, hospitalization and/or mortality?” she asked.

ACIP will meet in the coming weeks to discuss data about vaccine efficacy in August, Oliver said. “We will announce meetings as soon as we have dates,” the CDC’s Dr. Amanda Cohn said at the end of Monday’s meeting.

The CDC and FDA endorsed the use of boosters in certain immunocompromised people earlier this month. While the White House has pressed for booster doses to be offered more widely, the CDC and FDA are waiting for more information from the companies.

But White House officials say they’re looking at data from Israel as well as from the US, and want to be sure to be ahead of any changes in the pandemic.

On Monday, Israel started offering a booster to everyone 12 and older who had been vaccinated at least five months ago.

Researchers in Israel reported Monday that people who chose to get a third dose of vaccine had a much lower risk of becoming infected, even as the more transmissible Delta variant swept across the country.

“Conclusions: In conjunction with safety reports, this study demonstrates the effectiveness of a third vaccine dose in both reducing transmission and severe disease and indicates the great potential of curtailing the Delta variant resurgence by administering booster shots,” Yair Goldberg of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and colleagues wrote in their report, posted online by the Israeli government.

The researchers noted that it is difficult to account for differences among people in a real-world study. People who choose to get a booster dose may be different from those who choose not to, and people behave differently after they’ve received a shot.

One major difference: recently vaccinated people are less likely to be tested for coronavirus infection, which means fewer infections would be detected in that group. Recently vaccinated people may also take more care to prevent infection.

Doctoral researchers Ramesh Nandi (right) and Yuval Agam (courtesy: Doron Shaham-marcus, Technion Dropbox)

These biopolymers can be used for solar energy generation, medicine, biomedical engineering and more. * They are affordable and are a viable alternative to petroleum-based polymers.

The new Technion-made biopolymer above an oleander shrub. (photo credit: TECHNION)
The new Technion-made biopolymer above an oleander shrub. (photo credit: TECHNION)

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have been advancing a groundbreaking technology that allows for converting food byproducts into energy-conductive biopolymers.

These biopolymers are, essentially, based on recycled food industry byproducts that would otherwise have been thrown away as waste. However, it is possible to convert them into biopolymers that can be used for solar energy generation, biomedical engineering and more.

The Technion’s approach is a combination of two main approaches, environmental chemistry and sustainable chemistry. The former deals with creating environmentally friendly materials and the latter uses available degradable materials and an energy-efficient process.

Essentially, what the researchers did was use an environmentally friendly production process for the purpose of creating environmentally friendly materials and products, specifically polymers.

Polymers themselves are long chains of various different building blocks, which are, fittingly, called monomers. These can be formed naturally, such as silk and cotton fibers, and synthetically, such as nylon. 

But conductive polymers are a specific subgroup that have a vast number of possible applications, ranging from electronics to fuel cells to medicine and more. However, creating them is very costly, and having to use derivatives of gas, oil and fossil fuels means they also cause pollution.

But the Technion researchers have found an alternative with their focus on using food industry byproducts, which they have dubbed protein polymers.

“The inspiration to use proteins to create conductive polymers originated in the unique function of proteins in nature – they are exclusively responsible for transporting various charge carriers in flora and fauna; for example, in cellular respiration or in photosynthesis in plants,” lead author Prof. Nadav Amdursky of the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry said in a statement.

The transparent biopolymer films created by the researchers have a high degree of conductivity. As they are natural and non-toxic, it can be used for biological and biomedical applications. It can be stretched to around 400% of its original length without significantly impacting its electrical properties, and its conductivity is some of the highest found in biological materials.

“The production of the film in our research was a one-pot process, spontaneous, inexpensive, fast, energy efficient, and nonpolluting,” Amdursky explained. In their study, which was published in the academic journal Advanced Materials, “we demonstrate the use of the film as ‘artificial skin’ that noninvasively monitors electrophysiological signals. These signals play a meaningful part in brain and muscle activity, and therefore their external monitoring is a highly important challenge.”

These findings are significant not only for the scientific and environmental implications of this method, but also the economic aspect.

The method is affordable, and has a low production cost, something that Abdursky emphasized as being important as it allows the product to be something that can viably compete on the market with the petroleum-based polymers that currently dominate the field. That way, with the technology more accessible, it can become more widespread and help reduce pollution.


Hashem took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.

Genesis 2:15 (The Israel BibleTM)
Doctoral researchers Ramesh Nandi (right) and Yuval Agam (courtesy: Doron Shaham-marcus, Technion Dropbox)
Doctoral researchers Ramesh Nandi (right) and Yuval Agam (courtesy: Doron Shaham-marcus, Technion Dropbox)

A tremendous amount of packaging waste is thrown out by the food industry all around the world and in Israel as well. But they can – and should be recycled for reuse. 

Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have just published details in the journal Advanced Materialsunder the title “A Protein-Based Free-Standing Proton-Conducting Transparent Elastomer for Large-Scale Sensing Applications” about their success in creating conductors that can be used for solar energy generation, biomedical engineering and more using by-products of the food industry. 

The technology they presented makes possible the simple, fast, cost-effective and environmentally friendly production of biopolymers, which include application for electrophysiological signal sensing.

Polymers are materials made of long, repeating chains of molecules an d have unique properties depending on the type of molecules being bonded and how they are bonded. Synthetic polymers include plastics, that use costly processes that cause pollution because they are made from derivatives of oil, gas and fossil fuel.

Biopolymers are natural polymers produced by the cells of living organisms. Among the natural ones are collagen, fibrin, starch, hair, fur, nails, cotton, gelatin, natural rubber, cellulose, wool and silk (created by silkworms).  

Polypeptides such as collagen and silk are inexpensive biocompatible materials that are being used in groundbreaking research, as these are easily attainable materials. Gelatin polymer is often used on dressing wounds as an adhesive. Scaffolds and films with gelatin allow for the scaffolds to hold drugs and other nutrients that can be used to supply to a wound for healing.

Another widely used biopolymer is chitosan derived from the exoskeleton of crustaceans and insects, it can biodegrade which can eliminate a second surgery for implants, can form gels and films/ Ot cam also be used to improve drug absorption and stability and for gradual release of anti-cancer drugs. 

In the food industry, biopolymers that are transparent. Biodegradable and water resistant are being used not only for packaging but also for edible encapsulation films and the coating of foods. 

The Technion study was conducted in the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry under the leadership of Assistant Prof. Nadav Amdursky, head of the biopolymers and bioelectronics laboratory, and doctoral students Ramesh Nandi and Yuval Agam. “The current global green trend has not bypassed industry, and numerous groups worldwide are working on new solutions that will limit the pollution caused by the production of synthetic materials and by their very presence,” explained Amdursky. “One of the options is, of course, the use of natural materials, and the big challenge is to adapt them to meet needs.”

The two main approaches in environmentally conscious chemistry are environmental chemistry (the creation of environmentally friendly materials) and sustainable chemistry (production based on available degradable materials and energy-efficient processes). The new research integrates the two approaches in an environmentally friendly production process that yields environmentally friendly products in the context of conductive polymers.

The protein polymers used by the Technion researchers are by-products of the food industry that would otherwise be thrown into the garbage. “The inspiration to use proteins to create conductive polymers originated in the unique function of proteins in nature – they are exclusively responsible for transporting various charge carriers in flora and fauna; for example, in cellular respiration or in photosynthesis in plants,” he continued. 

The researchers created transparent polymer films with high conductivity. This film is suitable for biological and biomedical applications since it is non-toxic and can be stretched to approximately 400% of its original length without significantly impairing its electrical properties. Its conductivity is among the highest detected in biological materials.

The team used bovine serum albumin (from cows), one of the most affordable proteins that results in the ability to create large-scale materials at a low cost. Due to the inherent biodegradability and biocompatibility of the elastomer, it is promising for biomedical applications, he said, and it can be used immediately as a solid-state interface for sensing electrophysiological signals,

“The production of the film in our research was a one-pot process, spontaneous, inexpensive, fast, energy efficient and nonpolluting,” said Amdursky. “In the article, we demonstrate the use of the film as ‘artificial skin’ that noninvasively monitors electrophysiological signals. These signals play a meaningful part in brain and muscle activity, and therefore their external monitoring is a highly important challenge.”

He stresses that since this technology is designed for application and commercialization, “the economic consideration is key, and consequently, it is most important to lower the costs of production processes so that they will yield a product that is competitive, also in terms of price, with petroleum-based polymers, and happily, we have succeeded. This is in addition to the reduction in environmental damage in the production phase as well as during use. The new polymer is fully biodegradable in less than 48 hours, as opposed to synthetic polymers, which are not biodegradable and as result, pollute our planet.”