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BGU Professor Awarded 2007 Michael Prize for Epilepsy Research

BGU Professor Awarded 2007 Michael Prize for Epilepsy Research

July 14, 2008

Medical Research, Press Releases

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – June 26, 2007 – Prof. Alon Friedman of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) has won the prestigious 2007 Michael Prize for Epilepsy Research from the Michael Foundation of Germany.  The Michael Prize is awarded biennially, and focuses on scientists under the age of 45.

Through his work with patients, Friedman discovered that many who are at risk of developing epilepsy suffer leaks and tears in the blood-brain barrier.  These leaks can be the result of a stroke, head trauma, diabetes, or even epilepsy itself in some cases.

In his work over the past 10 years, he and fellow researchers at the Faculty of Health Sciences at BGU, together with Professor Uwe Heinemann from the Charite Medical University in Berlin and Professor Daniela Kaufer from Berkeley University, worked on determining the effects of this breakdown on the brain.  Today, they believe they have found not just the answer, but also a potential cure that they might be able to take back to patient bedsides one day.

In his research at Soroka University Medical Center, Prof. Friedman discovered that when the blood-brain barrier was disrupted, serum albumin, the most common protein in the bloodstream, leaks through tears in the barrier into the brain.

Serum albumin interacts harmfully when it comes into contact with specific brain cells.  This contact leads to a chain of molecular events (changes in the levels of specific brain proteins) that cause abnormal cell activity. The abnormal activity often takes the form of an epileptic seizure, and later causes brain cell degeneration.  Epilepsy can occur many years after trauma, so experiencing trauma in birth or early childhood might only trigger seizures much later in life.

By identifying the harmful interactions between serum albumin and brain cells that trigger epilepsy, Friedman believes that he can block the signal to prevent this disease from developing.

More than two and half million Americans are epileptics, and according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, and in the U.S. alone, more than five million people suffer from traumatic brain injury.  Friedman estimates that of this figure, some 20% go on to develop epilepsy, while 20% also develop cognitive impairment.

Although epilepsy has many causes, including kidney disease and genetic inheritance, stroke is a common cause of epilepsy for elderly people, while head trauma is a more likely cause in younger patients.

So far, Friedman and his researchers have carried out animal tests and have proven that they can successfully prevent epilepsy in most animals. Friedman’s research in experimental animals has led him and Dr. Ilan Shelef, the head of the MR Unit in Soroka University Medical Center, to a series of observations in human patients confirming the importance of the blood-brain barrier in causing neurological disorders.

In the future, Friedman hopes to follow up these observations with clinical tests. “At this stage, we are looking to carry out more animal and clinical studies. We need to follow patients to see if our hypothesis is correct. Then, we have to find the right drugs to make this possible.”

About American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion’s vision: creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University’s expertise locally and around the globe. Activities include showcasing BGU’s academic excellence and cutting-edge research through educational programs, events and informative communications. AABGU’s main purpose is to support Ben-Gurion’s vision and the university that bears his name by creating a community of Americans committed to improving the world tomorrow from the heart of the Israeli desert today.

Media Contact:
Andrew Lavin
A. Lavin Communications