Search­ing for a cure for Park­i­son’s at Ichilov

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - THE LAW - • ALAN ROSEN­BAUM

For decades, pro­fes­sors Nir Gi­ladi and Avi Orr-Urtreger of Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Med­i­cal Cen­ter have har­bored a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble med­i­cal dream. They have been on a mis­sion to pre­vent the on­set of Parkin­son’s dis­ease and to ar­rest the progress of the dis­ease for those who have con­tracted it. Now, ac­cord­ing to the pair, this goal is fi­nally within reach.

Gi­ladi, chair­man of the hos­pi­tal’s Neu­ro­log­i­cal In­sti­tute and pro­fes­sor of Neu­rol­ogy at Tel Aviv Univer­sity, has been re­search­ing the causes of Parkin­son’s since 1990. Orr-Urtreger, di­rec­tor of the Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s Ge­net­ics In­sti­tute, and pro­fes­sor of Pe­di­atrics and Ge­net­ics at Tel Aviv Univer­sity, who holds both MD and PhD de­grees and who con­ducted re­search in med­i­cal ge­net­ics at Hous­ton’s Bay­lor Col­lege of Medicine, joined forces 12 years ago with Gi­ladi. In the course of their re­search, they made a star­tling dis­cov­ery, which has turned Is­rael into one of the world’s lead­ing ar­eas for the study of Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

Parkin­son’s dis­ease, a chronic, de­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, af­fects the parts of the brain that are as­so­ci­ated with move­ment and bal­ance. Symp­toms can in­clude tremors or shak­ing of the hand or other limbs while at rest, as well as rigid­ity and in­creased tone in the body’s mus­cles. Body move­ments are slowed, and pa­tients can have dif­fi­culty main­tain­ing bal­ance. Cur­rently, there is no cure, and treat­ments are di­rected at re­duc­ing symp­toms.

Gi­ladi and Orr-Urtreger dis­cov­ered that there is an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween Parkin­son’s and a gene mu­ta­tion found in Ashke­nazi Jews. Ashke­nazi Jewry is con­sid­ered ge­net­i­cally ho­mo­ge­neous, be­cause they have stayed to­gether as a group, mar­ry­ing within, and re­main­ing as a sep­a­rate group for more than 1,000 years. As a re­sult, ex­plains Orr-Urtreger, “Ashke­nazi Jews are an ex­cel­lent model to learn ge­net­ics.”

Gi­ladi says that due to the large num­ber of Jews of Ashke­nazi de­scent in Is­rael, “there are many more Parkin­son’s pa­tients in Is­rael than in other Western coun­tries. Un­til re­cently, Parkin­son’s was not con­sid­ered a ‘Jewish’ dis­ease. We are be­gin­ning to look at it as a Jewish dis­ease.” There are ap­prox­i­mately 25,000 Parkin­son’s pa­tients in Is­rael to­day.

GI­LADI AND Orr-Urtreger suc­ceeded in estab­lish­ing the world’s largest co­hort of pa­tients with ge­netic Parkin­son’s, due to known mu­ta­tions in the LRRK2 and the GBA genes, in the gen­eral Ashke­nazi sec­tor of the pop­u­la­tion in Is­rael. “There are about 250,000 peo­ple in Is­rael that carry this ge­netic mu­ta­tion as a pos­si­ble cause for Parkin­son’s,” says Gi­ladi. “This makes Is­rael a very in­ter­est­ing place for re­search, and makes it pos­si­ble to un­der­stand how the dis­ease de­vel­ops.” Adds Orr-Urtreger, “What we learn here can be for the ben­e­fit of the en­tire world.”

(Photos: Miri Gat­tenyo, Ichilov Spokesper­son)

PROF. AVI ORR-URTREGER, di­rec­tor of Ichilov’s Ge­net­ics In­sti­tute and pro­fes­sor of Pe­di­atrics and Ge­net­ics atTel Aviv Univer­sity.

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