Israeli-developed ALS treatment reversing motor decline breakthrough

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You may recall friends and family dumping buckets of ice on their head to raise funds for treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating neuro-degenerative disease.

Current treatments are able to slow ALS’ progression but fail to maintain or restore motor movement. Now, multiple clinical trials conducted by an Israeli firm, Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics, show a first-ever reversal in expected decline for patients, likely to transform how we treat ALS.

“We showed a very strong improvement when we compare pre-treatment to post-treatment in the patients that were treated,” said Chaim Lebovits, CEO of Brainstorm, referring to the company’s advanced stem cell therapy treatment. “It means that it’s not even a slowdown of the disease, or a halt, but it’s a reversal of it. It’s unheard of in ALS, if we replicate this in a third trial.”

BrainStorm announced on Monday that its first patients had enrolled in a phase three clinical trial for its treatment of ALS at two American hospitals. The research will occur at Massachusetts General Hospital, UC Irvine Medical Center in California and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota — and it will include some 200 patients, half of whom will be given a placebo.

The company expects that if the stage three trial goes well, that the US Food and Drug Administration may give regulatory approval for mass use among doctors and patients. The trial will be measured by the ALSFR-S score responder analysis and final data is expected by 2019.

BrainStorm’s first two clinical trials of its stem cell therapy treatment, called NurOwn, were conducted at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital and also in the United States.

During the treatment process, doctors extract cells from the bone marrow of from patients with ALS, and the cells are multiplied and matured, then prepared for injection back into the patient. During the maturation process, the cells from the bone marrow are manipulated into behaving like brain cells, in that they produce materials that are the building blocks of the brain. When these modified cells are put back in patients, the building blocks circulate in the spinal fluid and help repair the damaged brain.

Since the cells are taken directly from the patient, that avoids the need for patients to be immunosuppressed so their bodies don’t attack a foreign substance.

“This is unprecedented, I’m not aware of another treatment program where the potential to alter or improve ALS is as great. We’re very encouraged by the promising results seen so far, and the changes in biomarkers that measure the building blocks of the brain — they suggest that the delivery of these substances is having an effect… we’re confident that we’re on the right track,” said Ralph Kern, MD, Brainstorm’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Medical Officer.

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Israel believes rocket fire from Syria may have been deliberate

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Israel believes five rockets fired across the border from Syria early Saturday morning may have been deliberately launched at Israel, rather than constituting errant spillover from clashes in Syria, military sources said late Saturday.

Israel fired back into Syria, hitting three rocket launchers, in response to the rocket fire, and warned that further fire would prompt a more intensive response.

Syria, in turn, claimed that Israel had “coordinated” with terror groups, inviting them to fire into Israel as a pretext for the IDF response, and it sent letters of complaint to the United Nations.

The Israeli army said five projectiles were fired at around 5 am, and that four of them fell relatively deep inside Israeli territory. The rockets set off alarms in several locations. They landed in open ground, and caused no injury or damage. One of them landed close to an Israeli residential area.

Channel 2 news reported that although the IDF officially referred to “spillover” fire in its statements Saturday, there was “a growing sense” in the army that the Syrian fire was deliberate.

There was no fighting going on in Syria at the time of the fire, the TV report said. It added that the area from which the rockets were fired is under the control of the Syrian army. And it noted that the projectiles fell deep inside Israeli territory on the Golan Heights, one after the other, rather than close to the border.

Tensions have been particularly high on the Israeli-Syrian front of late.

Concluding a visit to Syria on Saturday, the commander of Iran’s armed forces signed a memorandum of understanding with Syrian officials in which the two allies announced plans for tighter military cooperation and coordination — notably against Israel. The sides agreed to expand cooperation on intelligence, training, technology and against what they called “Zionist-American schemes,” the Ynet news website reported.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, Iran’s chief of staff, has spent several days in Syria, touring war zones and meeting with high-level officials, including President Bashar Assad.

Read More: Times of Israel

Breathtaking 1,700-year-old Lod mosaic to finally have a floor to call home

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After touring the world, Israel’s most impressive mosaic will finally have a port of its own. Before dropping anchor at the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center upon its projected completion in 2019, the massive mosaic, decorated with seafaring motifs, had an adventure of its own.

The richly colorful mosaic was discovered accidentally during salvage excavations in 1996 at a central city square in Lod. At a ceremony on Thursday, the cornerstone of the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center was laid at the site of its discovery by Lod Mayor Yair Ravivo, Israel Antiquities Authority director Israel Hasson, and the center’s main donor Shelby White.

After identifying the importance of the late third century-early fourth century Roman period piece, the IAA was left with a difficult decision. While glorious and mostly extant, without a budget and the means to conserve and display it, its glory would be lost. At the end of the 1996 dig, it was again covered with earth until a donor could be found.

In 2009, when funding was found through the Leon Levy Foundation and Shelby White, the mosaic was again uncovered. It began its travels in the world, and was viewed in Paris, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and elsewhere as plans were slowly drafted for the Lod archaeology center.

Relating to the lengthy process preceding this groundbreaking, IAA director Hasson said on Thursday, “It gives us great pleasure to be able to provide visitors from around the world to enjoy a 2,000-year-old cultural treasure waiting patiently to be unveiled and appreciated.”

This summer, in its first Israeli showing to the broader public, a section depicting sea vessels, fish and sea monsters is on display at the Israel National Maritime Museum in Haifa. It will remain there, along with models of boats based on the mosaic, through April 2018.

Upon its projected opening in 2019, tourists will have the opportunity to view “a world class find in situ, within a modern complex relating to the villa where this mosaic was found,” said the IAA.

The Lod mosaic was discovered in what appears to be a large Roman villa from the Byzantine era. Made up of several panels, it is 17 meters long and 9 meters wide — approximately 180 square meters in area (some 1,940 square feet). Among the colorful illustrations found on the mosaic are animals including elephants, lions, birds, fish, and crustaceans. There is also plant life and flowers, boats, and geometric patterns.

Read More: Times of Israel

German officials: Iran working to build nuclear-armed missiles

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German security officials have accused the Iranian regime of pursuing its goal to build missiles armed with nuclear warheads, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegelreported.

“Despite the nuclear agreement [reached with world powers in July 2015], Iran has not given up its illegal activities in Germany. The mullah regime also made efforts this year to obtain material from [German] firms for its nuclear program and the construction of missiles, said security sources,” Der Tagesspiegel wrote on Friday.
The paper added, “Iran has [according to the security sources] clearly not given up its long-term goal to become an nuclear power that can mount nuclear weapons on rockets.”

The article by the paper’s security correspondent Frank Jansen cited Iran’s proliferation activities in North Rhine-Westphalia and the drop in acquisition attempts from 141 in 2015 to 32 in 2016. The majority of Iran’s procurement activities in the state were for its ballistic missile program.

Jansen, who is a one of Germany’s most prominent journalists covering counterterrorism, radical Islamism and neo-Nazism, wrote in his Tagesspiegel article: “Security experts say Iran is very interested in equipment to extend the range of missiles. Disagreements within the mullah regime, explained security sources, [resulted] in the decline in attempts to acquire nuclear technology. State President Hassan Rouhani wants to slow down [the nuclear program], however, the Pasdaran, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards, want to continue the nuclear program at all costs.”

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