Public Release:  Hebrew University student wins award for research on safer drugs through skin applications

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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IMAGE: This is Ph.D. student Marganit Cohen-Avrahami of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. view more

Credit: Marganit Cohen-Avrhami

Jerusalem, June 11, 2013 - New, more efficient drug formulations designed to treat illnesses through skin applications -- thus avoiding serious side effects associated with oral drug-taking -- have been developed by a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The method is based on utilizing skin-permeable proteins that are inserted into nano-structured gels

The award winner is Marganit Cohen-Avrahami, a Ph.D. candidate working under supervision of Prof.Nissim Garti and Dr. Abraham Aserin of the Casali Institute of Applied Chemistry. For her project, Cohen-Avrahami has been named one of the student winners of this year's Kaye Innovation Awards, to be awarded on June 18 during the 76th meeting of the Hebrew University Board of Governors.

Cohen-Avrahami's research has focused on the use of lyotropic liquid crystals, which are transparent, soft gels which can easily be administered transdermally, that is, rubbed on the skin. They are based on a surfactant, a molecule which can bind both water and oil and forms gels. These nano-structured gels are capable of loading high amounts of drug molecules within their extremely large surface areas.

In her research, Cohen-Avrhami focused on developing transdermal gel formulations incorporating non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Patients taking these types of drugs orally, as in the cases of fever, pains, inflammation, arthritis, migraine, renal colic and cancer, may suffer from severe side effects associated with their consumption, such as ulcer, gastro-intestinal bleeding and renal failure.

Transdermal delivery as an alternative, therefore, might be highly advantageous to millions of patients by providing relief, while minimizing the side effects. The liquid gels can be applied on the injured area and release the drug into the tissue in a controlled manner, reducing the consumed dose through application of the drug directly on the injured area.

For controlling the drug delivery rate, cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) were examined.

Peptides are the building blocks for proteins. They are small structures built by amino acids, which are then bonded and folded to form a three-dimensional compound.

These unique peptides, first discovered in biological systems, including HIV and herpes, were found to be able to penetrate into living cells and insert different "cargos" into them. The CPPs were proved to increase skin permeation and enhance the delivery of the NSAIDs from the soft gels.

Different CPPs were examined by Cohen-Avrahami, and their different chemical structures and specific interactions inside the gel were shown to be important in controlling the drug delivery profile.

"The finding that these safe and comfortable CPP-loaded gels comprise a controllable skin permeation of drugs shows that they may be utilized for a variety of drug systems and opens a wide window of opportunities in the transdermal delivery field," said Cohen-Avrahami."

Another student winner this year of a Kaye Award is Uri Ben-David, a doctoral student of Prof. Nissim Benvenisty of the Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, who has developed a safer method for using pluripotent stem cells, which are human-derived stem cells that can convert into any cell type of the human body, and may thus help to cure a variety of diseases.

Also winning a Kaye Award for students is Noa Kaynan, a doctoral student of Prof. Ofer Mandelboim of the Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at the Faculty of Medicine. She won the award for her work in developing tools for improving antibody medical therapy in the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

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The Kaye Innovation Awards have been given annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.

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