The Jewish Post and News reviews The Hebrew University Presentation at Limmud Winnipeg
“Limmud” – the “Festival of Jewish Learning” - was held at the Asper Campus (primarily in classrooms in the Gray Academy) the weekend of February 25-26, 2012.
By Bernie Bellan
One of the excellent presentations at Limmud was a medical-oriented one, with faculty from the University of Manitoba and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem presenting reports on research projects that involve both schools.
With Dr. Brent Schacter serving as moderator, three researchers gave fascinating insight into new developments in two fields of study: HIV, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
During his opening remarks, Schacter noted that the Hebrew University is now ranked as the 57th leading university in the world. In recent years scientists at the Hebrew University, he said, have made tremendous breakthroughs in a wide variety of fields, most notably: Diabetes research – scientists at the university may be close to a cure for this terrible disease; molecular biology; and toxic shock syndrome.
Four years ago, Schacter explained, the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University played a pivotal role in creating the Institute for Medical Research Israel Canada (IMRIC). Since that time, as a result of cooperation between researchers in both countries, the scientific world has made discoveries in areas that are of vital importance to understanding the progression of specific diseases.
Dr. Adrienne Meyers, of the University of Manitoba, in conjunction with her colleague Dr. Frank Plummer (who received the prestigious Scopus Award in 2008 from the Hebrew University), has spent years studying sex workers in Kenya, particularly why some of them seem to be absolutely immune to HIV.
Working with a counterpart of theirs at the Hebrew University by the name of Ofer Mandelboim, Meyers explained that there was “no shortage of ideas” that they might consider for possible investigation.
As events transpired, however, the three researchers have focused their attention on something called “NK cells”. It seems that NK cells play a vital role “in mediating resistance to HIV”, Meyers said. Further, NK cells apparently are key to fighting other virus infections, such as H1N1.
Dr. Abraham Fainsod of the Hebrew University, who is currently on sabbatical at the University of Manitoba, told the audience how researchers at both schools have made recent discoveries about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. According to Fainsod, FAS affects 70 million people worldwide. Canada alone spends over $5 billion a year dealing with the effects of FAS.
A dramatic breakthrough in the field of FAS research, however, has come with the discovery that “retinoic acid” is the key factor in alcohol’s effects on pregnant women – by affecting the production of Vitamin A. As it turns out, the most “dangerous time” for the development of FAS is during the third week of pregnancy – “around the time that a woman starts to think that she’s late for her period,” Fainsod noted.
Thus, a woman who is in a high-risk group for having a baby that will be born with FAS can greatly reduce the chances of that happening by ingesting large doses of Vitamin A, he suggested. And, there is no easier way to do that, Fainsod went on to explain, than by eating carrots. The problem, however, is in determining how many carrots is the right amount.
(Of course, since FAS almost always develops as a result of binge drinking on the mother’s part, there is an easier way to prevent FAS from occurring, but that’s more a socio-economic issue, Fainsod admitted.) Still, the discovery that ingesting large doses of Vitamin A is a key to preventing FAS makes FAS a “nutritional problem”, according to Fainsod – something that should enable anyone working in the field a huge step in learning to combat it.