Israel: A Blessing to the Nations

Cover of a brochure about the 2017 Kaye Innovation Awards (Credit: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Barbara Dingle (left) with Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Kaye at Hebrew University

Saving Lives With a Simple Test to Identify Diseases

During the recent Hebrew University Board of Governors, Jerusalem Channel’s Barbara Dingle attended the prestigious Kaye Prize Award ceremony.

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. Goal: 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.

However to date there is no single diagnostic test that fulfills this function. Hebrew University’s Prof. Yuval Dor and Dr. Ruth Shemer received a Kaye Innovation Award for developing a way to detect specific tissue damage from a blood sample.

To solve this problem, Prof. Dor and Dr. Ruth Shemer (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 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.

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.

The Kaye Innovation Awards 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.