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Prof. Michel Rebel: The issue of biotechnology and bioinformatics in Israel is essential for the economy

Prof. Michel Rebel spoke about Israeli biotechnology at a review evening of the Bioinformatics Division of the Tel Aviv Yafo Academic College, held at Beit Ariela in Tel Aviv on the topic: drug development, human genetics and embryonic stem cells: achievements and challenges for science, industry and ethics

"Nowadays it is possible to discover a connection between complex diseases and a number of genes (multigenes), such as for Dogge in the disease of schizophrenia. Diseases in which there is a complex interaction between the environment, nutrition and genes"

"The subject of biotechnology combined with bioinformatics in Israel is a subject with a message of hope, which combines mathematics and computer sciences with life sciences and enables research progress, including the study of embryonic stem cells"

Prof. Michel Rebel, recipient of the Israel Prize in the field of medical research for 1999, from the Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science and Chief Scientist of "InterPharm", spoke in a lecture on the topic: "Israeli biotechnology - drug development, human genetics and embryonic stem cells: achievements and challenges for science , for industry and ethics", as part of a study evening initiated by the bioinformatics division of the Tel-Aviv Jaffa Academic College.

In Prof. Rebel's opinion, biotechnological research in the combination of bioinformatics and utilizing the abundant information on the human genome, will make an important contribution to the development of the biotechnological industry and the country's economy. The progress in the field will affect the way of life of the person and therefore we would do well if we ensure the preservation of humane values.

At the beginning of his speech, Prof. Rebel defined the concept of biotechnology - the use of living systems in order to produce products for medicine, food and the environment. And stated that the most important combination in his opinion is biology and bioinformatics for the discovery of new genes and new drugs.
Today, 160 companies operate in the field of biotechnology in Israel with an estimated annual sales volume in 2003 of approximately 1,700 million dollars.

In his lectures, Prof. Rebel gave an overview of the achievements of the Israeli biotechnology industry: he opened and described the activities of the Interpharm company responsible for the production of interferon-beta. One of the first human genes to be isolated and turned into a medical product is interferon-beta intended for the treatment of multiple sclerosis - an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system. The Interfarm company - a subsidiary of the SERONO parent group from Zenva manufactures and markets the interferon and its sales have reached 550 million dollars.

Prof. Rebel also mentioned other Israeli achievements in his review:
COPAXON copolyliner - from Teva.
Growth hormone from the "General Biotechnology" company.
The focus of the "Pharmos" company PHARMOS - on the treatment of trauma reduction in brain injuries as a result of car accidents.
PEPTOR diabetes vaccine.
Antibodies to hepatitis B, C from the XTL company.
Development for epilepsy by D-PHARM.
Development of a method to restore nerves in the spine - by the PRONEURON company.

Another branch that is developing in the field of biotechnology is DRUG-DESIGN
which focuses on developing medicines and adapting them to patients according to their genetic background, using bioinformatics techniques. In addition, there are companies that specialize in finding genes and markers for diseases, according to population analysis, such as the IDGENE company.

Another central and interesting topic that came up in Prof. Michel Rebel's lecture - human genetics and embryonic stem cells.
Prof. Rebel explained: The differentiation of embryonic stem cells into different tissues, and their transplantation into patients will allow significant progress in curing diseases for which an answer has not yet been found, such as brain cell transplantation in Alzheimer's patients, or as a replacement for damaged pancreatic cells in diabetes patients.

So far they have succeeded in producing mouse embryonic stem cells, which produce insulin and can cure diabetes, in the future it will be possible to produce heart muscle cells - in order to transplant them and prevent heart attacks.

In fact, the field of human genetics is developing in several directions:
In the field of pharmacogenetics - it is possible to discover a relationship between complex diseases and a number of genes (multigenes), such as in schizophrenia, the IDGENE company was able to isolate and identify a marker for the gene involved in the disease.
Biotechnology of human tests (PGD) - deals with the analysis of embryos, it is possible to detect changes in the DNA molecule - at an early stage, before the embryo is implanted in the uterus. However, bioethical considerations are crucial, so that we do not end up in a situation where we find ourselves choosing the sex of the newborn or dealing with the production of an ideal baby.
In the field of genetics of behavior, it is indeed possible to isolate genes responsible for violence, crime, intelligence, homosexuality, but it must be taken into account that the effect of genetics on behavior is smaller than the effect of the environment and diet, and is considered a predisposition only and not deterministic.

Prof. Michel Rebel lingered in his lectures on the ethical issue.
. Is it ethically permissible to cure diseases by taking cells from an embryo, thus ending the life of the embryo?
According to the Catholic view, man is created from the moment of the meeting between the egg and the sperm, on the other hand, the Jewish view expressed in the Torah and Talmud, holds that the human status occurs in the development of the pregnancy - according to the Halacha up to 40 days similar to what passes into the water, the egg and the sperm do not yet have legal status - as long as it is fail.
Therefore, Jewish law permits the use of embryos originating from the fertilization process, in order to save human life, but prohibits the production of embryos only for research purposes.
Prof. Michel Rebel believes that it is forbidden to make genetic changes that pass from generation to generation, because we still do not know what the consequences are for future generations. Therefore, it is very important to have guidelines and legislation based on the work of the bioethics committees - which define what is permitted and prohibited, and the national organizations that educate and supervise in the field.

Prof. Michel Rebel, winner of the Israel Prize in the field of medical research for 1999, from the Department of Molecular Genetics,
Weizmann Institute of Science and Chief Scientist of "Interfarm" company.

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