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Toward a Cure for Cancer & Alzheimer’s?

 It’s About How Cells (Fail to) Take Out the Trash

By Shlomo Maital

Prof. Ido Amit

   Prof. Ido Amit is a scientist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, and heads an immunology lab there.  On his website, he writes:  “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by trying and falling over.”  

     In this weekend’s Haaretz magazine, science writer Asaf Ronel has a lovely cover article (in Hebrew) about a possible breakthrough by Amit, in treating cancer and even Alzheimer’s.

     I will try to explain it.

     In order for cancer cells to spread through our bodies, they have to evade and defeat our immune system – specifically, immune cells that attack and kill these foreign invaders.  But how exactly do cancer cells defeat our immune system?

       Amit’s lab has perhaps discovered how.  Cancer cells, it is claimed,  latch on to specific cells in the body, whose purpose it is to ‘take out the trash’ made by the body’s cells, as they consume energy and do their jobs.  Cancer cells transform those kidnapped ‘garbage truck’ cells and  turn them into cells that that deprive the body’s cells of energy ..basically, making the ‘garbage trucks’ collect energy from the body’s immune-response cells and not just the trash. 

       Immunotherapy helps the body’s immune-response cells to identify and destroy cancer cells. But cancer cells can neutralize those immune-response cells by using the ‘garbage truck’ cells to deprive them of much-needed energy. Without energy, the immune cells can’t do their job.

       Amit’s lab believes it has a way to neutralize the kidnapped ‘garbage truck’ cells and disable them, so that the body’s tissues get the needed energy – in particular, the immune-response cells.   Once the immune-response cells get the needed energy, they are able to successfully attack and destroy the cancer cells.

        Several Pharma companies are at work on finding drugs that implement Amit’s approach.    There is hope that as a result,  many of the 10 million persons who die worldwide annually of cancer may be saved.  

         But wait.  There is more.

         We know that Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia afflict 50 million people worldwide.  Alzheimer’s is linked to plaque that forms in the brain and ‘gums up the brain cells’, like putting sugar into someone’s gas tank (don’t try this at home) that gums up the carburetor or fuel injection. 

          Amit believes the cause may be the same ‘garbage truck’ cells in the brain, that somehow become unable to ‘take out the trash’ and get rid of the plaque and waste generated by brain cells (which generally work very hard every minute of the day).  As that trash accumulates in the brain, the brain ceases to function properly – more or less, like the streets of, say, Tel Aviv, when the garbage collectors go on strike and the trash accumulates in piles on streets and sidewalks..

       Amit says if we catch early-stage dementia, and repair the ‘garbage truck’ cells, maybe we can delay or prevent the disease’s onset and keep the brain cells trash-free..

        How soon will there be drugs that implement his finding?  Amit believes – two to four years

         Hang on there, Snoopy.  Help may be on the way. 

         To discover this, Amit had to invent new technologies that enable the study of individual cells.  He was told by experts that what he was attempting was impossible.  As with many breakthroughs,  he persisted. 

         I myself have survived prostate cancer, a close call,  and the only thing I really fear in this world is having my brain gummed up with plaque.  So I will follow Amit’s progress very closely.  A lot is at stake.    

How Israel Screwed Up: Anatomy of Catastrophe

By Shlomo Maital

This is the story of how Israel, and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, totally screwed up how it handled the pandemic. This, after congratulating itself for being a “model for all nations”. It is based on an article in today’s daily Haaretz by Ido Efrati. It will take me only 695 words. And they are almost too painful to write. Because it is my country, and it is unbearable to see what our leaders have done to it.

   According to the Israeli government press office: as late as on May 7, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today, participated in a conference of the leaders of the countries at the forefront of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, [whose leaders] sought to learn from the Israeli model for dealing with outbreak zones.”   Really??

   Ten costly mistakes that cost lives:

  1. Very few nurses have been assigned to do contact tracing. And they are not well coordinated. A new contact tracing center does not yet operate – it hasn’t yet received the necessary authority. It now takes 6 days or more to trace a patient’s contacts – it has to be 24-48 hours to stop an outbreak.
  2. PM Netanyahu decided to open all schools fully for all grades in mid-May. He scrapped the previous system of ‘capsules’, and small groups.   And days later, the new Health Minister Y. Edelstein scrapped the requirement that kids wear masks. Too hot, he said. So much for getting adults to wear masks. Schools spread the virus and soon hundreds had to close and quarantine teachers and kids.
  3. It has taken many months for the Health Ministry to increase daily tests to 25,000. Only on May 31 did the Health Minister say that asymptomatic people should be tested, too, if they came in contact with someone infected. Only on June 22 did Dr. Sadetzki (Health Ministry official) order officials to test those quarantined within 48 hours. Result: Many carriers spread the virus widely before they were identified.
  4. Until a week ago, the Health Ministry used a strategy of declaring ‘red zones’ (local hotspots). But because the virus is now so widespread, this failed utterly. And under pressure, the Ministry backed down.
  5. Israelis are exhausted, hungry and jobless. After the PM and other leaders made empty promises and false claims, they no longer believe what they are told. Police are trying to enforce mask-wearing, with little success. Moreover, both the President of Israel and the Prime Minister of Israel broke quarantine laws during Jewish religious holydays, inviting relatives against then-strict lockdown rules – and the Press reported it. This infuriated many Israelis and led to widespread defiance. Now, only about a quarter of those who should be in quarantine actually do so, according to the Health Ministry.
  6. Five months after the pandemic broke out in Israel, critical information is missing. What proportion of Israelis are asymptomatic, with virus? We don’t know. How long does it take to trace patients’ contacts? We don’t know.
  7. Israel has a well-staffed professional experience organization that can best deal with the pandemic. It is the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front command. It has almost infinite manpower, able to call up trained soldiers for reserve duty. Yet the Prime Minister stubbornly refuses to mobilize the Home Front Command. The reason is transparent. Home Front is under the Defense Ministry, and Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz is Defense Minister. What if, heaven forbid, the Home Front succeeded? Gantz would get the credit. No way. It will not happen. As with Trump, Bibi is only, and totally, about Bibi, and not Israel or its wellbeing.
  8. “Israel’s decision making, from the earliest stages of the crisis, has been influenced by only a handful of professionals. …Many professional associations are furious that they can’t even get a foot in the door to influence decision-making.”
  9. “The coronavirus crisis has laid bare years of neglect in the public health system, including its diagnostic laboratories.” The country’s 37 diagnostic labs have for months relied on student volunteers to help. There are too few doctors and too few hospital beds.
  10. And the previous Health Minister, appointed in July 2015, allowed the healthcare infrastructure to degrade – believe it or not, while most civilized nations appoint doctors or veteran healthcare managers to head the Health Ministry, Israel appointed an ultra-Orthodox Hassid who once came to a key pandemic press conference wearing his bear-fur hat in celebration of the Jewish festival Purim. During the pandemic, while in office, he persistently fought against lockdown restrictions on the ultra-Orthodox – and partly as a result, they have suffered disproportionately many cases and deaths.  


COVID-19: Plasma DOES Help!

By Shlomo Maital

   Plasma is a component of our blood. Some 44% of our blood comprises red cells (that carry oxygen to and from the heart and the lungs and other organs), 1% are white blood cells that fight ‘invaders’, and 55% is plasma. It is the liquid part of the blood that carries cells and proteins throughout the body.

   There is a theory that plasma from patients who have had COVID-19 and recovered contain antibodies, that can be helpful for other patients in overcoming the illness – especially those who are very seriously ill.

     Research in Israel has provided serious confirmation. For those who are very seriously ill with COVID-19, many of them elderly with other serious preconditions, some 50% or so do not recover. When they are administered plasma, that contains antibodies generated by the body to fight the virus, drawn from recovered patients, he rate of recovery improves from about half to one-third, 33%.

     Many Israelis have volunteered to donate plasma, after recovering – especially among the ultra-Orthodox community, which has been heavily afflicted by COVID-19.

     Israel now has a special plasma bank, with many doses of such plasma, in the event that there is a second wave of the virus. Meanwhile, on May 18, there were only 16 new cases, and two deaths. In total Israel has suffered 278 deaths from COVID-19, a relatively low number, out of some 17,000 cases; of those, 13,435 have fully recovered. Only 50 persons remain in critical condition, on ventilators.


How Israel Solved the Ventilator Shortage:

Organizing Creativity

By Shlomo Maital

As the world seems to be slowly emerging from the pandemic, fears now turn to a possible second wave. So, we may still need ventilators, in large quantities.

     Here is how a creative Israeli team has attacked this problem, according to Rosella Tercatin, writing in the daily Jerusalem Post, May 10:

      “Manshema, a $200-a-piece open source technology created by an Israeli team, could solve the problem of the shortage of ventilators crucial to assist patients who contract the most serious forms of COVID-19 worldwide.

       “Around mid-March, a group of Israeli organizations – including the IDF, the Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod and Rafael Advanced Technology – engaged several hundreds of their affiliated experts in what they called a “COVID-19 sprint.” The participants were divided into 16 teams to work on finding solutions to a list of problems related to the pandemic. One of the teams decided to tackle the problem of creating a very simple but effective ventilator.

       “As explained to The Jerusalem Post by Mordechai Halfon, an officer at the Technological Division of the IDF Ground Forces, within two weeks a first working prototype of the machine was ready.

     “Our device does not intubate patients, no tube is inserted in their throat to push the air in, they can still breath on their own but the hard work is done by the machine,” he said. “It is catered specifically to COVID-19 patients, who required a very specific type of ventilation. This is why it is so simple, as opposed to regular ventilators which need to be suitable for many different kinds of needs.”

     “The Manshema team includes different kind of engineers, medical experts, product managers, who had never met before. Seven of them have been working on the project full time – Gil Bachar, Stav B., Elad Grozovski, Ronen Zilberman, Roi Galili Darnell, Ivry Shapira, Omri Mizrachi – others are contributing in different capacities.

   “At the beginning, the group worked on the task by themselves, meeting online when required. Afterwards, they started to meet at the Tel Aviv branch of Assuta.

     “The project is completely nonprofit and opensource, which means that all the relevant information is available to any manufacturer interested in producing them or medical center in using them all over the world.”





Coronavirus: Cheap Israeli technology may solve world ventilator shortage

The project is completely nonprofit and opensource.


MAY 10, 2020 17:

“Because we are talking about a world-wide pandemic, it was important for the ventilator to be cheap and easy to manufacture. We also wanted it to be disposable,” Stav B., a doctoral student at the Tel Aviv University, told the Post. “Quite at the beginning, we were selected by the Health Ministry as a pilot project and they supported us.”

Since the cost of production of every unit stands at about $200 and the time required at around two/three hours of work, while ventilators available to the market cost from several thousands to several dozen thousand dollars and have become harder and harder to find and purchase, the product could really revolutionize the fight against the virus even in the poorest countries.

“We have received a lot of support also from many companies here in Israel. We have found out that since nobody is involved in the initiative to make money, everyone has been very happy to help us in providing what we needed just for the goal of fighting the virus,” Halfon explained.

The product will undergo clinical trials at Assuta Medical Center in the next few weeks.

“In the first phase, we are going to test it on healthy volunteers, which should be easy to find, after on patients and critical patients. We are not sure how long it will take to complete the trial, but we are hoping that we are going to be ready before the next wave of the virus, if it comes,” the captain pointed out. “We believe that this machine can save a lot of lives.”

Halfon explained that when everything started, they did not think they would be able to arrive to this point.

“We worked through steps. First, we decided to dive into the actual requirements that the machine would need, then we focused on how the solution would look in a broader perspective and only then on how to build the machine,” he said.

“I think it is important to highlight two key elements in our work: the quality of the team effort and the will to do something good,” he concluded.

Emerging from Virus:

Academics Step Up

By Shlomo Maital

   Public health officials, who are in control in most countries, have their hands full, dealing with the medical crisis. So it is up to us, academics and others, to begin weighing options for emerging from the lockdown.

 An interuniversity team led by Tel Aviv U. President Ariel Porat and Weizmann Institute President Alon Chen, have prepared an excellent 27-page plan. Details are reported by Haaretz journalist Meirav Arlosoroff.

  (Suggestion to other countries:   why not set up a similar team? Include epidemiologists, virologists, economics, psychology, law, computer science, even quantitative physics, and of course public health).

   Here are the options the experts present. Option One: Maintain the strick lockdown. Option Two: the opposite, speed up the rate of infection among Israel’s non-vulnerable population (is there such a thing?) to achieve ‘herd immunity’ (VERY bad term – we are NOT a herd…   why not population immunity? Or mass immunity?). Under the second option, the elderly would remain in isolation for their protection.

   Neither are very attractive, are they? There is a missing link – widespread testing, to provide detailed data. The required number of tests is not available.

    So the committee suggests a third option — a “gradual lifting of the lockdown while officials carefully monitor numbers related to the pandemic. Divide Israel into equally sized ‘risk zones’ based on how far and wide the coronavirus has spread. Red zones would maintain total lockdown. Yellow zones would be where people are allowed to leave their homes for work, provide they stay inside the yellow zone!  In Green Zones residents are free to go to their jobs, including jobs outside their zone. Those showing symptoms remain in quarantine in all three zones. Those shown to be immune are free to go wherever they please. (A key here is a serological antibody test, not yet widely available) Places of work would reopen, subject to strict rules on hygiene and social distancing. Workplaces would be graded, according to how risky they are for a ‘second wave’ outbreak. Workplaces barred from opening would be exempt from rent.

The committee also recommended tax incentives to encourage work from home.

Division into red, orange, green zones is based on sophisticated mathematical models that predict the epidemic’s spread – along with high levels of testing. Sampling tests that show less the 2-3% infection rates would enable ease of the lockdown. Green zones are where the number of serious cases doesn’t exceed 100 and the infection rate is less than 8 %. Technologies like location technology and artificial intelligence will be used to predict the possible rate of contagion.

Since test kits are in short supply, a model for sampling should be used, for each cone, including children, so schools can reopen.

The Committee says that a measured exit from the lockdown can and should already begin. It calls for allowing between 900,000 and 1.5 million workers to return to their jobs. This is between one quarter and a third of Israel’s work force.

“Data from the math models shows that the virus’ high infection rate does not allow for complete release from lockdown, even for Green zones”, they note. Social distancing still is the main tool, to reduce infection parameters by a factor of 2 to 3. Areas of especially high infection must receive special treatment, such as the ultra-Orthodox areas.

I believe that each country needs its own inter-University committee of this sort, because each country has its own culture and unique circumstances. It needs to be a non-governmental civilian effort, because governments are simply focused on the day-to-day.

Emerging from Plague: Thinking Ahead

By Shlomo Maital

With many nations still weeks from the ‘apex’ (the peak number of COVID-19 cases), it seems premature to discuss what the press and experts call ‘exit’ strategies – the period AFTER the plague. The word itself is wrongheaded. Exit strategies are what startups do, when they succeed in creating value and need to capture the wealth and return it to their investors and founders. Usually, by acquisition or issuing shares and selling them.

We do not seek an ‘exit’ strategy. We need an ‘emergence’ strategy, when we come out of our tunnels and rabbit holes and resume our regular lives. Words matter. There is no ‘exit’ from COVID-19, because it will remain endemic for a long time. There is ‘emergence’…with great caution.

How best can this be done? How should our governments be planning emergence?

Here are some wise thoughts by Prof. Ron Balicer, a person with whom I’ve worked, Chief Innovation Officer at Israel’s Clalit Health Services (a large HMO) and a member of the Health Ministry’s Epidemic Management Team. His article was published in the daily Haaretz newspaper.

“Mathematical models and past experience show that the spread of infection in communities living in overcrowded conditions can spark a renewed and serious outbreak among all segments of society. From an epidemiological perspective, Israel’s population (as well as, to a large extent, that of the Palestinian Authority) constitutes interconnecting “communicating vessels” with immediate collateral impact.

“In the current setting, the most stable and reliable marker of population-based trends in disease dissemination is the trend in the numbers of severely ill and respirator-aided Covid-19 patients. However, this marker lags behind the real-time spread by several weeks. If we continue to see that this marker is stabilizing – a collective sigh of relief will be heard. In the meantime, we must not wait for absolute certainty before planning the next phase of contending with this crisis and its attendant closure: the exit strategy.

“I propose two preconditions for initiating this strategy:   The first is a significant halt in the exponential rate of the disease spread, and the availability of a substantial number of free beds in intensive care units, which will serve as the buffer and allow a margin of error to prevent a collapse should easing of the lockdown spur a sudden increase in infections.   Let’s use some numbers as an illustration: In the optimistic scenario in which there are up to 100 seriously ill or respirated people in Israel on the eve of Passover, the distance between where we are now and the point of health system insufficiency is 4-5 doublings of the number of people needing artificial respiration. In recent weeks we’ve seen that the doubling time is three days, with faster rates in some localities.

“The second condition required before embarking on that strategy is to obtain a real-time intelligence assessment, detailed and updated, regarding the rates of infection among different communities. This is a precondition for resorting to a rapid intervention vis-a-vis every new patient, as is happening in countries that have managed to successfully curb the epidemic to date.

       “In other words, there needs to be an efficient system of conducting lab tests for Covid-19 among a wide swathe of the population, in order to exercise an effective exit strategy. To that end, Israel is hopefully gaining what will be an exceptional per-capita testing capacity, even in comparison to the advanced countries. The 30,000 daily tests we hope to be able to conduct in a few weeks’ time should be conducted dynamically and judiciously in order to facilitate this intelligence assessment.

“An exit strategy requires a change: a transition from social distancing and full lockdown enforced on the entire population in a sweeping and non-selective manner, to a new status quo. This new routine could be based on three components: a fast and focused effort to locate and tackle infected individuals; a differential and dynamic lockdown policy among targeted communities; and designated policies for allowing recovered immune patients to return to normal life and take a continuously increasing role in sustaining the economy.

“All this needs to be done while adapting the economy to working remotely with strong delivery services, to daily conduct based on social distancing and environmental hygiene in every workplace, and to continued construction of medical infrastructure, with maximal protection of medical teams.

“As part of the new status quo, the older population will remain as isolated “islands” within each community for a longer period, having its physical, emotional and social needs met on a daily basis.

[“There are several components –] The first component involves the efficient and determined tracking down of newly infected people and their rapid removal from the infective pool. This demands a rapid “closing of the circle” capacity. The multi-stage process of locating people suspected of being infected and having them tested for Covid-19, the rapid quarantine of sick people removed from home, an epidemiological investigation and a quick isolation of their contacts – all this must be accomplished with speed and precision. Moreover, it must be done in large numbers of cases and contacts.

For this condition to be met, a combination of capabilities – which at present are suboptimal – must be achieved. These include extensive and carefully thought-out testing of all people who have been in contact with the new cases; the ability to obtain results quickly for those who tested positive, and their removal from their families to hotels or other facilities; both manual and electronic epidemiological investigation, contact tracing and their quarantine; and firm enforcement of social-distancing instructions, among all segments of society.

“The second component is a geographically differential lockdown/quarantine policy, dynamically updated according to the available data. Communities in which there is persistent transmission of the virus, and those with individuals who are particlarly vulnerable, must remain under a stricter lockdown, whereas communities in which transmission has effectively been mitigated can enjoy a continued easing of restrictions.

“The country can be divided into sub-regions. Imagine that one day the radio announces that areas A, B and D can go to work from now on, whereas area C (i.e., Jerusalem or Rahat) is still to be confined to home. On another day, area A might be asked to reinstate a four-week lockdown, in view of ensuing infection. Obviously, such a policy won’t completely prevent “leakage” between areas and communities, but it will significantly head it off, and with the other components in place, this may be sufficient.

“In order to facilitate and supervise such a policy, an ongoing process of real-time intelligence-gathering must be established, including the continual monitoring of self-reported symptoms and continuous screening for infected people, in order to detect potential outbreaks as early as possible.

“The third component: Once serologic blood tests will become largely available, we will be able to conduct mass testing and define a growing number of recovered immune individuals. This group will assume an increasing role in re-operating businesses with few restrictions. Moreover, older people who got sick and recovered could also return to a “new normal” routine.

“In my view, easing of the closure will take place as a continuous, gradual process of experimentation and re-assessment, in cycles of several weeks each. In each cycle, significant restrictions will be lifted, followed by a tense watchful waiting period of several weeks, required to evaluate its impact on the dissemination rates. If the doubling time does not accelerate significantly, and the safety margin of available intensive care beds has not been reduced to the danger level, further easing of measures can be then implemented.”

A Vaccine Is On The Way – Soon?

By Shlomo Maital

Today’s Jerusalem Post daily paper, published in Jerusalem, brings some much-needed good news about progress in creating a vaccine against COVID-19.

The report notes:

A team of Israeli researchers says that they are days away from completing the production of the active component of a coronavirus vaccine that could be tested on humans as early as June 1. “We are in the final stages and within a few days we will hold the proteins – the active component of the vaccine,” Dr. Chen Katz, group leader of MIGAL’s biotechnology group, told The Jerusalem Post.   In late February, MIGAL [The Galilee Research Institute] committed to completing production of its vaccine within three weeks and having it on the market in 90 days. Katz said they were slightly delayed because it took longer than expected to receive the genetic construct that they ordered from China due to the airways being closed and it having to be rerouted.”

     (Note: the ‘genetic construct’ from China, is simply the RNA ribonucleic acid that defines COVID-19 — shame that cancellation of flights from China to Israel caused the delay – every day counts!).

   “As a reminder, for the past four years, researchers at MIGAL scientists have been developing a vaccine against infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), which causes a bronchial disease affecting poultry. The effectiveness of the vaccine has been proven in preclinical trials carried out at the Veterinary Institute.”

   Amazing that chickens, maybe, and their vaccine can help save human lives?

   The report continues:   “Our basic concept was to develop the technology and not specifically a vaccine for this kind or that kind of virus,” said Katz. “The scientific framework for the vaccine is based on a new protein expression vector, which forms and secretes a chimeric soluble protein that delivers the viral antigen into mucosal tissues by self-activated endocytosis, causing the body to form antibodies against the virus.”

   What does this mean? Basically: The vaccine helps the body produce a key protein able to penetrate the cells infected by COVID-19 in the throat and lung mucous. How does it penetrate?   Endocytosis is “the process of actively transporting molecules into the cell by engulfing it with its membrane.” This helps the cell produce antibodies that kill the virus, before it can kill the cell and reproduce, creating millions of new viruses that spread through the lungs.

     “In preclinical trials, the team demonstrated that the oral vaccination induces high levels of specific anti-IBV antibodies, “ a MAGAL expert said.

     A worldwide race is on, to develop an effective safe COVID-19 vaccine.   Whoever wins, humanity will be the big winner.   This is one race that can benefit everyone, even the spectators.

New Thinking on Alzheimer’s: Time for a Paradigm Shift?

By Shlomo Maital

Scientific breakthroughs come from iconoclastic researchers who are not afraid to smash consensus paradigms. Take, for instance, Prof. Michal Schwarz, of Israel’s Weizmann Institute. Here is what she told this week’s Haaretz (Hebrew) reporter:

           The puzzle I pieced together is correct, and now I see the whole picture – how my research approach,  for years against the consensus, has become one of the central focal points for research on all degenerative (neural) diseases.

     The paradigm shift Schwarz has helped bring about is simple.   Many researchers follow the “I dropped a coin” model – they look for it under the corner streetlight, instead of in dark corners, where it fell, because…. “that’s where the light is”.   Alzheimer’s? Gooey proteins gumming up the brain and causing death?   Look for cures that eliminate or prevent the protein directly, in the brain.  Under the light.

       But Schwarz?     Let’s help the body’s own anti-immune system, outside the brain, fight those plaque accumulations that damage the brain. Last year the Daily Telegraph quoted Dr. Doug Brown, a leading Alzheimer’s researcher: “Repurposing drugs that already work for other conditions could provide us with a shortcut to new dementia treatments, and is a key aspect of our Drug Discovery programme.”  

         Here ‘s how the Daily Telegraph described Schwarz’s paradigm shift, in 2016:   “The drugs, known as PD-1 blockers, effectively prevent the immune system from switching off, allowing a continuous cascade of soldier cells to fight disease and clear out damage in the body. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease sticky amyloid plaques build up which stop brain cells communicating with each other. But when mice, engineered to have Alzheimer’s symptoms, were given injections of the drug the amount of amyloid in their brains halved, and the animals were able to complete a maze task in the same time as control mice.  Last year the first PD-1 blocker drug Keytruda was approved for use on the NHS by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence so it is already known to be a safe treatment.

        “Lead author Prof Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, said that in Alzheimer’s a weakened immune system could be preventing the body from repairing itself.    “We are extremely excited about our new study, we believe it is a game changer both conceptually and therapeutically,” she said.

      Her research was published in the leading journal Nature Medicine.

       Prof. Schwarz added: (in Hebrew):   “In contrast to veteran old-time researchers, students have no history of believing dogma (existing paradigms)…they are fresh ears and eyes, without preconceptions. They were especially excited, with me, at our results, and joined my research and contributed to moving it forward, and some of them are continuing in my wake.”

         As a (very) senior citizen, I have deep interest in breakthrough research on Alzheimer’s – half of those over 85 have it, at least early versions.   Congratulations to Prof. Schwarz for becoming a woman scientist and for leading a paradigm shift that may help millions – including those in countries that despise Israel.


National Happiness – 2013 Rankings

By Shlomo   Maital


  Three eminent economists – Richard Layard, John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs – combine to prepare an annual World Happiness Report.   Their measure is based on self-assessed happiness, interpreted as “satisfaction with life” together with the perceived emotion of wellbeing.  In their latest report,   for the years 2010-12,  (see above), Scandinavian and Northern European countries rank highest, along with Canada, Austria, and surprisingly,  my country Israel (11th), despite the Mideast conflict,  and Costa Rica, a relatively poor but serene and beautiful country.  Note that Mexico, at 16th, ranks above the United States, despite the latter’s $50,000 GDP per capita.

Why?  The answer is simple.  Happiness, note the authors, is driven in part by the standard of living (per capita GDP), but also by life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, and generosity.   This is why Qatar, the wealthiest country in the world by far, with per capita GDP of nearly $100,000, ranks only 27th, because it is a rigid autocracy.

   I am amazed at how poorly individuals and whole nations practice the simple art of best-practice benchmarking.  If you are a political leader, and if your avowed goal is to improve the wellbeing of your citizens, the ones who elected you, would you not explore the world and visit the places in which people are the happiest, and try to find out why?   And would you not try to bring home some of the “recipes”  they use – income equality, social support, generosity, social cohesion?

     I get this response very often when I make this argument:   Israel is not Denmark. Followed by all the excuses.  And my response is:  Well – why isn’t it?  Can we make it so? 

     There is a lesson for individuals in this Report, not just for countries.  True, you do need a basic level of income to be happy. But you also need the love and support of family, the generosity of others, and good health (supplied, as a public good “health care”, by good governments, or at least they should).  Even if you have high income, if you lack the other ingredients, the income may not help much.  Keep this in mind.  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital