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A simple test to identify diseases from dying cells could save lives; earns Kaye Innovation Award


Prof. Yuval Dor and Dr. Ruth Shemer receive Kaye Innovation Award for developing a way to detect specific tissue damage from a blood sample

One of the holy grails of medical research is the development of a simple non-invasive test that can detect a variety of diseases with high accuracy. However to date there is no single diagnostic test that fulfills this function.

To solve this problem, Prof. Yuval Dor and Dr. Ruth Shemer  at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (together with Prof. Ben Glaser, Head of the Endocrinology Department at the Hadassah Medical Center) developed a new blood test that looks for the remnants of dying cells cast off by specific tissue types throughout the body.

When cells die, they release DNA fragments into the circulatory system. The DNA of each type of dying cell carries a unique chemical modification called methylation. By detecting the unique methylation signatures of DNA from the fragments of dying cells, Prof. Dor and Dr. Shemer have established a way to detect multiple disease processes —including diabetes, cancer, traumatic injury and neurodegeneration — in a highly sensitive and specific manner.

Prof. Dor and Dr. Shemer are researchers at the Institute for Medical Research-Israel Canada (IMRIC) in the Hebrew University's Faculty of Medicine. Both earned their PhDs at the Hebrew University.

Developing a rapid blood test to assess multiple diseases simultaneously

A test that accurately pinpoints tissue damage from dying cells’ DNA fragments could hold the key to a variety of medical advances — from a deeper understanding of human tissue dynamics, to earlier detection of life-threatening illnesses, to more efficient monitoring of responses to medical therapies.

Prof. Dor and Dr. Shemer envision a future where the continued research and refinement of their new technology will lead to a universal, rapid, sensitive and quantitative blood test for tissue-specific cell death. This blood test could be used to assess multiple pathologic conditions simultaneously, equivalent to standard blood chemistry panels in use today.

Their paper describing the method and its applications was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in 2016, drawing considerable interest from the scientific and popular media.

Aurum Ventures MKI Ltd., the technology investment arm of Morris Kahn, provided Yissum, the Technology Transfer arm of the Hebrew University, with $1.2 million of funding for research and development of this new diagnostic approach. Earlier this year, OnTimeBio was founded to make Prof. Dor’s and Dr. Shemer’s vision become a reality.

2017 Kaye innovation Award

In recognition of their work, Prof. Dor and Dr. Shemer were awarded the Kaye Innovation Award for 2017.

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

About the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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

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A simple test to identify diseases from dying cells could save lives; earns Kaye Innovation Award

Columbia University Awards Top Honor to Hebrew University & NIH Epigenetics Pioneers

Research led to the new field of Epigenetics, yielded insights into how cells and embryos develop

Research led to the new field of Epigenetics, yielded insights into how cells and embryos develop

Columbia University has announced that its top honor for achievement in biological and biochemical research will be awarded to two researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a colleague from the United States.

The 2016 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize will be presented to Prof. Howard Cedar and Prof. Aharon Razin of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Gary Felsenfeld of the National Institutes of Health.

Since the Horwitz Prize was first awarded in 1967, 43 of the 94 winners have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, most recently in 2014.

The researchers will be awarded for their fundamental work on how molecules regulate the structure, behavior, and activity of DNA without modifying its genetic code. Their research has yielded key insights into how cells and embryos develop, and led to the formation of a new field of biology called Epigenetics.

Among the innovations attributed to Profs. Cedar and Razin is the concept of epigenetic reprogramming, a key process in development that erases and re-establishes the ability of cells to transform into different types.

The awards ceremony will be held in New York on November 22, 2016, following the 2016 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize Lectures. The Columbia University announcement is at http://newsroom.cumc.columbia.edu/?p=37120.

  • Howard (Chaim) Cedar is an emeritus professor of molecular biology, and the Edmond J. Safra Distinguished Professor (Emeritus), at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine.
  • Aharon Razin is an emeritus professor of biochemistry, and the Dr. Jacob Grunbaum Chair of Medical Science (Emeritus), at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine.
  • Gary Felsenfeld is a senior investigator of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, and an NIH Distinguished Investigator.

“These three scientists have advanced our understanding of how gene regulation works and what happens when the processes go wrong,” said Lee Goldman, MD, Harold and Margaret Hatch Professor of Columbia University, dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, and chief executive of Columbia University Medical Center. “These are fundamental medical discoveries that may lead to innovative treatments for a range of diseases.”

“These researchers laid the foundation for an important new field of study,” said Gerard Karsenty, MD, PhD, chair of the Horwitz Prize Committee and chair of the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Medical Center. “As our cells divide and become more specialized they need instructions on which genes to use and which to ignore. Epigenetics adds these annotations to our biological textbook; it’s a process that is crucial to our development and continues throughout our lives.”

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize was established under the will of the late S. Gross Horwitz through a bequest to Columbia University. It is named in honor of the donor’s mother, Louisa Gross Horwitz, who was the daughter of Dr. Samuel David Gross (1805–89), a prominent Philadelphia surgeon who served as president of the American Medical Association and wrote Systems of Surgery. For more information, please see the Columbia University website at http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/research/horwitz-prize.

About the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine

The Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine is a comprehensive training and research institution. Its mission is to educate Israel's finest medical personnel and deliver biomedical research breakthroughs that alleviate human suffering and improve healthcare throughout the world. The Faculty encompasses five schools: in addition to the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, Occupational Therapy and the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine provide the training that enable graduates to deliver the highest standards of research and treatment in Israel and around the world. At two major Institutes, the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) and the Institute of Drug Research, the Faculty of Medicine conducts fundamental and applied research essential to understanding and finding therapies for the illnesses that challenge medical science, among them cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and infectious diseases.​ For more information, visit https://medicine.ekmd.huji.ac.il/En.

Columbia University Awards Top Honor to Hebrew University & NIH Epigenetics Pioneers
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