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News From The Institute
Weizmann League Update - February 2019

You're probably aware that the Weizmann Institute is no stranger to innovation. Curiosity and out-of-the-box thinking have led to some game-changing discoveries. To boot, Weizmann young professionals have been busy with exciting innovation-themed events nationwide.

Your Very Own, All-Natural, Pain Therapist

What if we told you that there is a recently discovered “switch” in the human body that is “flicked” when there is nerve damage? And what if, when flicked, that switch could promote nerve regeneration? You’d probably say: “that sounds pretty good to me!”

…And you’d be right. This next Weizmann discovery is especially good for people with nerve damage or injuries. Researchers discovered an IncRNA gene that helps in nerve repair – kind of like a personal pain therapist!

Quick lesson: an IncRNA is a gene that doesn’t encode proteins and is considered a dedicated specialists that is expressed in specific tissues under specific circumstances. Since the lncRNAs don’t provide recipes for making proteins, they had been ignored for years, until now…

Team leader, Dr. Igor Ulitsky and his team wanted to see if IncRNAs could help determine why after nerve injury, neurons in the legs, arms and rest of the peripheral nervous system regenerate easily, but neurons in the central nervous system don’t.

The team performed a genetic analysis on mice with sciatic nerve injuries and pinpointed a gene – Silc1 – that activates a sciatic nerve regeneration program. Kind of like a personal trainer!

After further experimentation, the team found that Silc1 is an excellent regeneration specialist! Don’t take our word for it…take Darwin’s: It is one of a handful of lncRNA genes that have survived evolution in all mammals, including mice, rats and humans.

For a more in-depth look, click here

The Human Brain is Like a High-Tech Washing Machine…It’s Breakable

Our bodies are like advanced machines. Similar to the latest tech gadgets, as we evolve and get “updates” the chance for errors or complications grows.

In fact, Weizmann researcher, Dr. Rony Paz, compares the human brain to a modern washing machine, fitted with all the latest IoT and smart home technology, but also more vulnerable to breakdown and errors…and maybe even a hack from a rogue nation (ok, maybe not).

Paz’s team of researchers compared the neural code in humans and primates and discovered that as the neural code gets more efficient, the ability to prevent errors is reduced. A classic catch 22! What’s a neural code, you ask? Good question! Here is an educational video explaining the term.

Paz found that the neural code in the “more evolved” pre-frontal cortex is more efficient than the amygdala, both in humans and monkeys. But the higher the efficiency of a particular neural code, the less it can prevent errors. Paz compares the amygdala to the washing machine drum: “It’s not highly sophisticated, but it is less likely to fail – which is important to animals’ survival.”

Here’s why what they did is important.

The findings from Paz’s team can help explain why it’s common to see disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, depression and PTSD, and autism in humans.

For more information about Dr. Paz’s discovery, visit here.

A “Genetic Microscope” to Fight Cancer

Don’t just look at Weizmann researchers as lab creatures in white coats. They are far from it. In fact, you can see them as fighters on the front lines of the war against cancer. At least, that’s what you can say about Prof. Ido Amit and his team of researchers in Weizmann’s Immunology, Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Departments who recently made advancements in the development of new, more targeted immunotherapy treatments.

The team created a “genetic microscope” that enabled them to create a profile on each individual immune cell within and around tumours. This is an especially powerful approach that helps identify cell profiles that are necessary for the immune response to the cancer.

These T cells are the body’s main line of defence against cancer by identifying and fighting it. The problem is, many T cells experience so-called “fatigue,” which is a crack in the body’s armour that prevents the cancer from infiltrating.

Amazingly, after scanning thousands of immune cells from tumours and applying a data analysis, the team found that the fatigued cells were, in fact, not fatigued at all. With this new discovery, the team’s thinking will now focus on how they can activate these cells, what cells to target for treatment and how we can prevent cell fatigue in the first place. This could lead to the development of new drugs and treatment.

For more on Weizmann’s fight against Cancer, click here

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