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For the first time: genetic mapping of all ALS patients in Israel

As part of the collaboration between the Technion, the ALS Research Association in Israel (IsrALS), and the medical centers in Israel that treat patients with this disease, and the New York Genome Center (NYGC), a genetic mapping of all ALS patients will be conducted for the first time ALS life in Israel.

ALS disease. Illustration: shutterstock
ALS disease. Illustration: shutterstock

ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) is an incurable disease resulting from damage to the motor neurons, through which the brain activates the muscles. Following the damage to these cells, the patient's ability to activate his muscles is progressively damaged, and damage to critical muscles such as the respiratory muscles may lead to his death. The mechanisms that cause the disease have not been deciphered to date.

As part of the collaboration, all ALS patients in Israel, over 600 in number, will undergo genetic mapping. The mapping, which will include patients from all ethnic groups in Israel, Jews and Arabs alike, is the first multi-ethnic mapping of the ALS patient population in Israel. The information collected will be analyzed against more than 3,000 genomic sequences in the Global ALS Consortium at NYGC. The purpose of sequencing and adding the information about the patients is a deeper understanding of the mutations that cause the disease, and this for the purpose of discovering new targets for developing drugs to cure it.

The project, which was first initiated by Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavi and Avihai Kramer - an ALS patient and long-time activist for the advancement of research into the disease, is coordinated and organized by the association for research and support of ALS patients in Israel - IsrALS - which was founded by the late David Cohen, who had the disease, and is headed by Efrat Karmi and its president is Research Professor Aharon Chachanover of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The complex part of the project - the work of collecting and organizing the clinical material of those affected by the disease - was done at the three disease treatment centers in Israel - at the Ichilov Hospital In Tel Aviv by Prof. Vivian Drury, in the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem by Dr. Mark Gutkin, and in the Ziv Hospital in Safed by Dr. Radi Shahin. The first donation to finance the project was given by Noam Lautman, whose late father Dov, who passed away from the disease, was the first president of the association.

Technion outgoing president Prof. Peretz Lavi said that "the genetic mapping of all ALS patients in Israel will provide invaluable information for understanding the causes of this difficult disease. Israel will be the only country in the world where data will be collected from all ALS patients living there. So far 85 ALS patients in Israel have been mapped, and we hope to raise additional donations to complete this ambitious project. We thank New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo who initiated the collaboration between the Technion and the NYGC - a connection without which the current project would not have been possible."

Cooperation between the two institutions was announced by Governor Cuomo already at the beginning of 2017. The connection between the Technion and NYGC is intended to harness the research and entrepreneurial experience of the Technion with the research power of NYGC and thus accelerate research in biomedicine, genomics, treatments and medical applications. These developments will give a significant boost to the life sciences industry and the employment market in this field. Prof. Lavi and Research Prof. Aharon Chachanover, who serve as advisors to IsrALS with their colleagues at NYGC - director of the Center for Genomics of Neurodegenerative Diseases of the Nervous System Prof. Hemali Phatnani and the CEO and Chief Scientist of the organization Prof. Tom Maniatis.

The person who accompanied Governor Cuomo in Israel is Eric Gertler, chairman of US News & World Report and the Zuckerman Institute and a member of the Technion's board of trustees. "The relationship between the state of New York and Israel is extremely important," he said during the visit, "the state of New York is one of the largest exporters to Israel, amounting to approximately 5 billion dollars a year. In addition, the state of New York helps Israeli start-up companies to develop in the United States through financial programs."

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