Improving the Success of IVF

Improving the Success of IVF

8 September, 2022

Hebrew University Review Reveals Simple Method to Increase Number of IVF Births.

Worldwide, around 10 -15% of couples have infertility problems. Many turn to artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs), most notably IVF (in vitro fertilization), in the hope of having a baby. But the process is fraught with anxiety, as only about one-third of IVF cycles, on average, are successful. However, a method of improving the success of IVF has been clearly identified in a systematic review of high-quality clinical trials – carried out by a team of researchers at Kaplan Hospital and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), led by Dr. Devorah Heymann.  Their findings were published in Human Reproduction.

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The trend throughout the world is for couples to delay starting a family until they have achieved greater financial stability. This takes women beyond their years of peak fertility – causing many to rely on processes such as IVF to have a baby.  In IVF, an egg is removed from the woman, fertilized in a dish and then, a few days later, the embryo is implanted in her womb.  While in the dish, the embryo is kept in a liquid, or culture medium, that supports its development.  The Hebrew U. review established that the addition of hyaluronic acid (HA) to this medium enhances the ultimate success of IVF. 

This significant finding was the result of a detailed systematic review and meta-analysis of the outcome of all high-quality clinical trials where HA was either added or not added to the culture medium. "We found that exposing an embryo to HA for more than 10 minutes prior to its transfer to the womb, increased the likelihood of a birth from 32% to 39%," shared Heymann.  The most marked success was in cases for women who had a poor prognosis of success.

Furthermore, the increase in birth rate was only seen in cases where a woman was implanted with her own fertilized egg and not in cases where donor eggs were used. "This could be because donor eggs tend to be of higher quality," explained Heymann. The main benefit being seen in poorer quality eggs.

This study, by Heymann and her colleagues, including IVF experts Prof. Zeev Shoham and Dr. Yuval Or, and builds on their work for Cochrane which published a review in 2020 showing an overall increase in success rate in ARTs when embryos are exposed to HA prior to implantation.

Although HA naturally occurs in the female reproductive tract, its role in improving IVF outcomes is unclear and "more research is needed," suggests Heymann. Meanwhile her prime concern is that IVF clinics act on the findings of this review. "However," she noted, "hyaluronic acid is expensive, and this might mean it is not as widely used as it should be."


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Promising New Molecule Developed at Hebrew University May Prevent Age-Related Diseases and Increase Life Expectancy and Wellness

1 August, 2022

With a constant renewal of cell vitality in diseased tissues, this new drug will hopefully lead to the treatment or prevention of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

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While breakthroughs in the world of medicine and technology account for the global increase in life expectancy, improvements in quality of life for the elderly population lag far behind.  Longevity without a decline in health is one of the major challenges that faces the world of medicine. A new study led by Professors Einav Gross and Shmuel Ben-Sasson of the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) has identified a group of molecules that enable cells to repair damaged components, making it possible for those tissues to retain proper function. The efficacy of the molecules was demonstrated on a model-organism.  The research team examined the effect of various therapies on longevity and quality of life, and successfully proved they can protect the organism’s and human cells from damage. Their findings were published in Autophagy.


Currently, a major factor in aging tissues is the reduced effectiveness of the cell’s quality-control mechanism, which leads to the accumulation of defective mitochondria. As Gross explained, “mitochondria, the cell’s ‘power plants,’ are responsible for energy production. They can be compared to tiny electric batteries that help cells function properly.  Although these ‘batteries’ wear out constantly, our cells have a sophisticated mechanism that removes defective mitochondria and replaces them with new ones.” However, this mechanism declines with age, leading to cell dysfunction and deterioration in tissue activity.


This degenerative process lies at the heart of many age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart failure and sarcopenia, which are on the rise.  Gross and Ben-Sasson’s study may have far-reaching practical applications since their new technology, developed at Hebrew U., helped create innovative compounds to treat diseases that are currently incurable.  The study also showed that these molecules can be used preventively. “In the future, we hope we will be able to significantly delay the development of many age-related diseases and improve people’ quality of life,” shared Ben-Sasson.  Further, these compounds are user-friendly and can be taken orally. 


To advance their important research and translate it into medical treatment for a variety of patients, the research team, together with Yissum, Hebrew University’s tech transfer company, established Vitalunga, a startup that is currently developing this drug.  “Ben-Sasson’s and Gross’s findings have significant value for the global aging population,” noted Itzik Goldwaser, CEO of Yissum. “As Vitalunga advances towards pre-clinical studies, they’re closer than ever to minimizing the unbearable burden that aging-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, has on individuals, their families and the our health care systems.“



CITATION: Vijigisha Srivastava, Veronica Zelmanovich, Virendra Shukla, Rachel Abergel, Irit Cohen, Shmuel A. Ben-Sasson & Einav Gross (2022) Distinct designer diamines promote mitophagy, and thereby enhance healthspan in C. elegans and protect human cells against oxidative damage, Autophagy, DOI: 10.1080/15548627.2022.2078069  





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17 July, 2022

Parkinson's is a progressive and debilitating disease of the brain that eventually compromises patients' ability to walk and even to talk. Its diagnosis is complex, and in the early stages – impossible.

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The usual method of visualizing brain structure utilizes a technique most of us are familiar with, called MRI. However, it is not sensitive enough to reveal the biological changes that take place in the brain of Parkinson patients, and at present is primarily only used to eliminate other possible diagnoses. 

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers, led by Professor Aviv Mezer, realized that the cellular changes in Parkinson's could possibly be revealed by adapting a related technique, known as quantitative MRI (qMRI). Their method has enabled them to look at microstructures within the part of the deep brain known as the striatum – an organ which is known to deteriorate during the progress of Parkinson's disease.  Using a novel method of analysis, developed by Mezer's doctoral student, Elior Drori, biological changes in the cellar tissue of the striatum were clearly revealed. Moreover, they were able to demonstrate that these changes were associated with the early stages of Parkinson's and patients’ movement dysfunction. Their findings were published today in the prestigious journal Science Advances.

qMRI achieves its sensitivity by taking several MRI images using different excitation energies – rather like taking the same photograph in different colors of lighting.  The HU researchers were able to use their qMRI analysis to reveal changes in the tissue structure within distinct regions of the striatum. The structural sensitivity of these measurements could only have been previously achieved in laboratories examining the brain cells of patients post mortem.  Not an ideal situation for detecting early disease or monitoring the efficacy of a drug!

"When you don't have measurements, you don't know what is normal and what is abnormal brain structure, and what is changing during the progress of the disease," explained Mezer. The new information will facilitate early diagnosis of the disease and provide "markers" for monitoring the efficacy of future drug therapies. “What we have discovered,” he continued “is the tip of the iceberg.” It is a technique that they will now extend to investigate microstructural changes in other regions of the brain.  Furthermore, the team are now developing qMRI into a tool that can be used in a clinical setting. Mezer anticipates that is about 3-5 years down the line.

Drori further suggests that this type of analysis will enable identification of subgroups within the population suffering from Parkinson’s disease – some of whom may respond differently to some drugs than others. Ultimately, he sees this analysis “leading to personalized treatment, allowing future discoveries of drug with each person receiving the most appropriate drug".


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Stem Cells


13 July, 2022

A groundbreaking study, led by Professors Yossi Buganim at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) Faculty of Medicine’s Institute for Medical Research and Tommy Kaplan at HU’s School of Computer Science and Engineering and Department of Computational Biology, has uncovered unique 14,000 sites in the DNA that together form the most elementary blueprint for embryogenesis- the creation of embryos. 

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Their findings were published in Nature Communications.

In 2006, Japanese scientists inserted four embryonic genes into skin cells and successfully reprogrammed those skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells.  Artificial embryonic stem cells made from skin cells are identical to natural stem cells that develop at the earliest stages of the embryonic development process and are responsible for the development of all the cells of a fetus.  However, they cannot create extra-embryonic tissues, such as the placenta.


In 2015, Prof. Buganim and his team were first to discover how to create artificial placental stem cells from skin cells.  This step enabled scientists to create the two earliest types of stem cells in the embryonic development process that happens right after sperm fertilize an egg.  In this current study, the HU research team, which included PhD students Mohammad Jaber, Ahmed Radwan and Netanel Loyfer, closely examined the process that skin cells undergo to transform themselves into either embryonic or placental stem cells.


“We analyzed the changes that skin cells undergo to change their identity and become one of the two earliest types of stem cells.  We looked at changes in gene expression of the skin cell, in the accessibility and activity of the DNA within the nucleus of the changing skin cell, and in epigenetic markers (i.e. marks that decorate the DNA and responsible for gene expression).  These are all critical when trying to convert a skin cell into an artificial embryonic or placental stem cell,” Buganim explained.


The researchers found that the changes that take place in skin cells to become either embryonic or placental artificial stem cells were entirely different from one another at every level, despite the fact that both started out as skin cells.


When a skin cell transforms into an artificial embryonic stem cell, the parts of DNA that are responsible to create the brain, heart and liver began to reorganize and prepare themselves to differentiate- given the right signal- into brain, heart or liver cells.  On the other hand, when those same cells were transforming into an artificial placental stem cell, the DNA sites began reorganizing themselves to allow the changing cell to implant itself and attract blood vessels, a phenomenon that occurs naturally, allowing the embryo to implant into the uterus.


The most remarkable discovery came when the team compared the two processes side-by-side and looked at a chemical molecule called methyl, which interacts with specific areas of the DNA and is responsible for silencing their expression.  “We discovered that artificial placental stem cells contained close to 14,000 DNA sites with methyl but were nowhere to be seen in the artificial embryonic stem cells,” shared Buganim.


When the research team tried to understand the significance of those DNA areas, they found that they’re responsible to create all the organs and cells in developing embryos—from the brain, heart, liver and kidneys to the skeleton, spinal cord and connective tissues.


Going forward, this significant discovery may help explain the embryonic defense system, which prevents early placental cells from developing into embryonic cells. “Since placental cells are susceptible to damage and infection, the body’s natural defense mechanism prevents placental cells that migrating to the developing embryo and attaching to it to become part of the embryo,” Buganim explained.  Overall, this study illuminates key features that characterize our ability to reprogram cells and provides a powerful tool to study cellular plasticity and cell-fate decisions.




CITATION: Jaber, M., Radwan, A., Loyfer, N. et al. Comparative parallel multi-omics analysis during the induction of pluripotent and trophectoderm states. Nat Commun 13, 3475 (2022).


FUNDING: European Research Council, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Israel Science Foundation.


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6 July, 2022

New Drug Targets Common Viruses and Could Treat Current and Future COVID-19 Variants, Influenza, Zika, West Nile, Hepatitis and Future Threats. ViroBlock, a startup company founded by Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers, has developed a new drug platform for rapidly generating anti-viral drugs that target proteins common to all viruses.

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"Currently, there are no efficient, validated platforms for rapidly generating anti-viral drugs," says ViroBlock CEO and Founder Isaiah (Shy) Arkin, who is also an HU professor of biological chemistry in the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. "Scientists must develop new agents and a customized approach to target every new virus, without the ability to predict how that virus will develop resistance. ViroBlock is working on a promising drug candidate for COVID-19 using an approach that can be duplicated with most other important viruses."


According to a new study conducted by pharma research company Evotec, ViroBlock’s new technology platform demonstrated the potential to rapidly provide solutions for treating current and emerging viral threats, including COVID-19 and variants, influenza, Zika, West Nile, and Hepatitis B. The study showed that channel blockers it identified could protect cells from viral-induced death alongside dramatically lowering the amount of viral progeny.


ViroBlock's antiviral drug candidates inhibit two targets in the virus: the E (envelope) protein and the 3a protein. The E protein is an ion channel, a type of protein family expressed by virtually all living cells that because of its structure has served as a frequent target for pharmaceutical point interventions. For example, while the spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 (the 2003 virus) are only about 75% identical, their E proteins are roughly 95% alike. This means the ViroBlock drugs would likely remain effective even when the virus mutates.


"With our propriety technology, ViroBlock can identify targets in a new viral threat (or variant), develop inhibitors against it, and determine the resistance potential of the virus against the new drug, all at an unprecedented pace," Arkin says.


The next phase of clinical trials will test the efficacy of this anti-viral approach for humans. The company also has drugs in the pipeline produced by the platform currently being tested that could be effective against other viruses.


ViroBlock was founded in 2020 by Yissum, the Hebrew University technology transfer company.


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23 June, 2022

Hebrew University & Hadassah Medical Center Researchers Attribute Discrepancy in Pain Med Prescriptions at Emergency Rooms in US and Israel to Reduced Empathy

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Pain management is one of the biggest challenges of the modern healthcare system.  Almost 60% of US adults report having experienced pain in the past three months and pain is one of the main reasons adults seek medical care. Adequate pain management is critical for patient health and wellbeing. A new study published today in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that physicians prescribed less pain medication during nightshifts than during the day.


The research was conducted by a multidisciplinary team led by Professor Shoham Choshen-Hillel from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s School of Business Administration and Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality, HU Psychology Department’s Dr. Anat Perry, and Dr. Alex Gileles-Hillel from Hadassah Medical Center and HU. 


In the first part of the study, 67 doctors were given empathy assessment tasks in the morning and asked to respond to simulated patient scenarios.  These doctors were either at the end of a 26-hour shift or just beginning their workday. The study found that doctors who recently completed night shift showed less empathy for patient’s pain. For example, these physicians’ exhibited decreased emotional responses to pictures of people in pain and consistently scored their patients low on pain assessment charts.


In the second part of the study, the researchers looked at actual medical decisions made by emergency room doctors in the United States and Israel.  In all, they analyzed 13,482 discharge letters for patients who came to the hospital in 2013-2020 with a chief complaint of pain (headache, back pain, etc.).  Across all data sets, physicians were 20-30% less likely to prescribe an analgesic during nightshifts (compared to daytime shifts) and prescribed fewer painkillers than were generally recommended by the World Health Organization. “They’re tired and therefore they’re less empathic to patients’ pain.  When we looked at ER doctors’ discharge papers, we found that they prescribed fewer painkillers,” Choshen-Hillel explained. 


This bias remained significant even after adjusting for patients’ reported level of pain, patient and physician’s demographics, type of complaint, and emergency department characteristics.  “Our takeaway is that nightshift work is an important and previously unrecognized source of bias in pain management, likely stemming from impaired perception of pain. The researchers explain that even medical experts, who strive to provide the best care for their patients, are susceptible to the effects of a nightshift,” Perry noted.


Looking ahead, the researchers suggest implementing more structured pain management guidelines in hospitals.  Another important implication relates to physician work structure, and the need to improve physicians’ working schedules. “Our findings may have implications for other workplaces that involve shiftwork and empathic decision-making, including crisis centers, first responders, and the military. In fact, these results should probably matter to all people who are sleep-deprived,” added Gileles-Hillel.


In addition to the three lead authors, the Israeli authors included Tom Gordon-Hecker, Shir Genzer and Salomon Israel from the Hebrew University and Ido Sadras and David Rekhtman the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. The US research team included David Gozal, Koby Clements, and Adrienne Ohler from Missouri University, and Eugene M. Caruso from UCLA.



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25 May, 2022

MIT physics Professor Pablo Jarillo-Herrero has won the 2022 Dan Maydan Prize for Nanoscience Research for his pioneering work on two-dimensional nanomaterials.  The Dan Maydan Prize was established by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) in 2018, with the generous contribution of Dr. Maydan, who played a central role in establishing the Israeli National Nanotechnology Initiative (INNI). 

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The INNI helped position Israel as a leader in nanotech and led to the opening of 10 nanotech centers in the country, including HU’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.


The annual $10,000 USD Maydan Prize is awarded to outstanding young scientists from Israel or abroad in recognition of their significant academic accomplishments in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology.  Prizewinners are carefully chosen by the selection committee, headed by HU Professors Uri Banin, Committee Chair and Founding Director of the Center; Uriel Levy, current Director of the Center; and Reem Sari, HU VP for Research and Development.

Jarillo-Herrero was chosen for his pioneering work on stacked van-der-Waals materials, including his contributions to understanding topological and magnetic phases, and for his discovery of superconductivity and correlated states in twisted bilayer graphene. As selection chair Banin noted, “Professor Jarillo-Herrero has opened up a new frontier in the field of nanomaterials and their physics.  Based on his groundbreaking research, we can now produce transistors based on superconductors and other apparatuses that form the basis for innovative logic devices.”


Past Maydan Prize recipients include Yi Cui (2019), Ali Javey (2020), Maksym V. Kovalenko (2021), and Andrea Alu (2021).





About Hebrew University’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Established in 2001, the Center fosters world-class, cross-disciplinary research in the fields of chemistry, physics, engineering, life sciences, agriculture, pharmacy, and medicine.  As home to more than 100 research groups and 600 M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, the Center enables Israel’s best and brightest scientists, engineers and students to work at the forefront of nanotech innovation.



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