New technology from Tel Aviv University, combining ultrasound and nanobubbles, destroys tumors, eliminating need for invasive treatments
A new technology developed at Tel Aviv University makes it possible to destroy cancerous tumors in a targeted manner, via a combination of ultrasound and the injection of nanobubbles into the bloodstream. Unlike invasive treatment methods or the injection of microbubbles into the tumor itself, this latest technology enables the destruction of the tumor in a non-invasive manner.
The study was conducted under the leadership of doctoral student Mike Bismuth from the lab of Dr. Tali Ilovitsh at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, in collaboration with Dr. Dov Hershkovitz of the Department of Pathology. Prof. Agata Exner from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland also participated in the study. The study was published in the journal Nanoscale.
“Our new technology makes it possible, in a relatively simple way, to inject nanobubbles into the bloodstream, which then congregate around the cancerous tumor. After that, using a low-frequency ultrasound, we explode the nanobubbles, and thereby the tumor.” Dr. Tali Ilovitsh
Bursting Bubbles – and Tumors
Dr. Tali Ilovitsh: “Our new technology makes it possible, in a relatively simple way, to inject nanobubbles into the bloodstream, which then congregate around the cancerous tumor. After that, using a low-frequency ultrasound, we explode the nanobubbles, and thereby the tumor.”
The researchers explain that today, the prevalent method of cancer treatment is surgical removal of the tumor, in combination with complementary treatments such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
The research team
Therapeutic ultrasound to destroy the cancerous tumor is a non-invasive alternative to surgery. This method has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it allows for localized and focused treatment; the use of high-intensity ultrasound can produce thermal or mechanical effects by delivering powerful acoustic energy to a focal point with high spatial-temporal precision. This method has been used to effectively treat solid tumors deep within in the body. Moreover, it makes it possible to treat patients who are unfit for tumor resection surgery. The disadvantage, however, is that the heat and high intensity of the ultrasound waves may damage the tissues near the tumor.
“The combination of nanobubbles and low frequency ultrasound waves provides a more specific targeting of the area of the tumor and reduces off-target toxicity." Dr. Tali Ilovitsh
Reducing Off-target Damage
In the current study, Dr. Ilovitsh and her team sought to overcome this problem. In the experiment, which used an animal model, the researchers were able to destroy the tumor by injecting nanobubbles into the bloodstream (as opposed to what has been until now, which is the local injection of microbubbles into the tumor itself), in combination with low-frequency ultrasound waves, with minimal off-target effects.
“The combination of nanobubbles and low frequency ultrasound waves provides a more specific targeting of the area of the tumor, and reduces off-target toxicity," explains Dr. Ilovitsh.
"Applying the low frequency to the nanobubbles causes their extreme swelling and explosion, even at low pressures. This makes it possible to perform the mechanical destruction of the tumors at low-pressure thresholds."
"Our method has the advantages of ultrasound, in that it is safe, cost-effective, and clinically available, and in addition, the use of nanobubbles facilitates the targeting of tumors because they can be observed with the help of ultrasound imaging.”
Dr. Ilovitsh adds that the use of low-frequency ultrasound also increases the depth of penetration, minimizes distortion and attenuation, and enlarges the focal point. “This can help in the treatment of tumors that are located deep with the body, and in addition facilitate the treatment of larger tumor volumes. The experiment was conducted in a breast cancer tumor lab model, but it is likely that the treatment will also be effective with other types of tumors, and in the future, also in humans.”
Tel Aviv University researchers find that exercise defeats cancer by increasing glucose consumption
A new study at Tel Aviv University found that aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of metastatic cancer by 72%. According to the researchers, intensity aerobic exercise increases the glucose (sugar) consumption of internal organs, thereby reducing the availability of energy to the tumor.
The study was led by two researchers from TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine: Prof. Carmit Levy from the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry and Dr. Yftach Gepner from the School of Public Health and the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute. The paper was published in the prestigious journal Cancer Research and chosen for the cover of the November 2022 issue
"If the general message to the public so far has been 'be active, be healthy', now we can explain how aerobic activity can maximize the prevention of the most aggressive and metastatic types of cancer." Prof. Carmit Levy and Dr. Ytach Gepner
Enhanced Rate of Glucose Consumption
Previous studies have demonstrated that physical exercise reduces the risk for some types of cancer by up to 35%. This positive effect resembles the impact of exercise on other conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
In this study, Prof. Levy and Dr. Gepner added new insight, showing that high-intensity aerobic exercise, which derives its energy from sugar, can reduce the risk of metastatic cancer by as much as 72%. "If the general message to the public so far has been 'be active, be healthy'," they say, "now we can explain how aerobic activity can maximize the prevention of the most aggressive and metastatic types of cancer."
The study combined lab models trained under a strict exercise regimen, with data from healthy human volunteers examined before and after running. The human data, obtained from an epidemiological study that monitored 3,000 individuals for about 20 years, indicated 72% less metastatic cancer in participants who reported regular aerobic activity at high intensity, compared to those who did not engage in physical exercise.
The animal model exhibited a similar outcome, enabling the researchers to identify its underlying mechanism. They found that aerobic activity significantly reduced the development of metastatic tumors in the lab models' lymph nodes, lungs, and liver. The researchers hypothesized that in both humans and model animals, this favorable outcome is related to the enhanced rate of glucose consumption induced by exercise.
"Physical exercise, with its unique metabolic and physiological effects, exhibits a higher level of cancer prevention than any medication or medical intervention to date." Dr. Yftach Gepner
From left to right: Prof. Carmit Levy and Dr. Yftach Gepner
"Exercise Changes the Whole Body"
"Our study is the first to investigate the impact of exercise on the internal organs in which metastases usually develop, like the lungs, liver, and lymph nodes," explains Prof. Levy.
"Examining the cells of these organs, we found a rise in the number of glucose receptors during high-intensity aerobic activity - increasing glucose intake and turning the organs into effective energy-consumption machines, very much like the muscles. We assume that this happens because the organs must compete for sugar resources with the muscles, known to burn large quantities of glucose during physical exercise. Consequently, if cancer develops, the fierce competition over glucose reduces the availability of energy that is critical to metastasis."
"Moreover," she offers, "when a person exercises regularly, this condition becomes permanent: the tissues of internal organs change and become similar to muscle tissue. We all know that sports and physical exercise are good for our health. Our study, examining the internal organs, discovered that exercise changes the whole body, so that the cancer cannot spread, and the primary tumor also shrinks in size."
Prof. Levy emphasizes that by combining scientific knowhow from different schools at TAU, the new study has led to a very important discovery which may help prevent metastatic cancer – the leading cause of death in Israel.
"Our results indicate that unlike fat-burning exercise, which is relatively moderate, it is a high-intensity aerobic activity that helps in cancer prevention," adds Dr. Gepner. "If the optimal intensity range for burning fat is 65-70% of the maximum pulse rate, sugar burning requires 80-85% - even if only for brief intervals."
"For example: a one-minute sprint followed by walking, then another sprint. In the past, such intervals were mostly typical of athletes' training regimens, but today we also see them in other exercise routines, such as heart and lung rehabilitation. Our results suggest that healthy individuals should also include high-intensity components in their fitness programs. We believe that future studies will enable personalized medicine for preventing specific cancers, with physicians reviewing family histories to recommend the right kind of physical activity. It must be emphasized that physical exercise, with its unique metabolic and physiological effects, exhibits a higher level of cancer prevention than any medication or medical intervention to date."
Researchers induced bone regeneration with a special hydrogel that mimics the bone's natural environment
An innovative technology developed at Tel Aviv University will enable bone regeneration to correct large bone defects by means of a special hydrogel. Following successful tests in a lab model, the researchers now plan to move forward to clinical trials.
The groundbreaking study was conducted by experts from TAU's Maurice and Gabriela Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine, led by Prof. Lihi Adler-Abramovich and Dr. Michal Halperin-Sternfeld, in collaboration with Prof. Itzhak Binderman, Dr. Rachel Sarig, Dr. Moran Aviv, and researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The paper was published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.
Prof. Adler-Abramovich: "Small bone defects, such as fractures, heal spontaneously, with the body restoring the lost bone tissue. The problem begins with large bone defects. In many cases, when substantial bone loss results from tumor resection (removal by surgery), physical trauma, tooth extraction, gum disease or inflammation around dental implants, the bone is unable to renew itself. In the current study, we developed a hydrogel that mimics the natural substances in the extracellular matrix of bones, stimulating bone growth and reactivating the immune system to accelerate the healing process."
The researchers explain that the extracellular matrix is the substance surrounding our cells, providing them with structural support. Every type of tissue in our body has a specific extracellular matrix consisting of suitable substances with the right mechanical properties. The new hydrogel has a fibrillary structure that mimics that of the extracellular matrix of the natural bone. Furthermore, it is rigid, thus enabling the patient’s cells to differentiate into bone-forming cells.
WATCH: Lab of Bioinspired Materials: A Tour with TAU Prof. Lihi Adler-Abramovich
"As can be expected, the extracellular matrix of our bones is quite rigid," says Prof. Adler-Abramovich. "In our study, we produced a hydrogel that mimics this specific matrix in both chemical and physical properties. At the nanometric level, the cell can attach itself to the gel, gaining structural support and receiving relevant mechanical signals from the fibers. At first, to test these properties, we grew cells in a 3D model of the gel. Then we examined the impact of the hydrogel on model animals with large bone defects that could not heal spontaneously. We monitored them for two months with various methods, including Micro C.T. To our delight, the bone defects were fully corrected through regeneration, with the bones regaining their original thickness, and generating new blood vessels."
According to Prof. Adler-Abramovich, the innovative gel has extensive clinical applications in both orthopedic and dental medicine: "When we lose teeth due to extensive damage or bacterial infections, the standard treatment is dental implants. Implants, however, must be anchored in a sufficient amount of bone, and when bone loss is too substantial, physicians implant additional bone from a healthy part of the body – a complex medical procedure. Another option is adding bone substitutes from either human or animal sources, but these might generate an immune response. I hope that in the future the hydrogel we have developed will enable faster, safer, and simpler bone restoration."
TAU-developed treatment may reduce risk for lung metastasis following chemo from 52% to only 6%
A new treatment developed at Tel Aviv University may significantly enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients, reducing the risk for lung metastasis following chemo from 52% to only 6%. Conducted in a lab model, the study identified the mechanism that generates a cancer-promoting inflammatory environment in response to chemotherapy. Moreover, the researchers found that by adding an anti-inflammatory agent to the chemotherapy, metastasis can be prevented.
The study was led by Prof. Neta Erez of the Department of Pathology at TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and researchers from her group: Lea Monteran, Dr. Nour Ershaid, Yael Zait, and Ye'ela Scharff, in collaboration with Prof. Iris Barshack of the Sheba Medical Center and Dr. Amir Sonnenblick of the Tel Aviv Sourasky (Ichilov) Medical Center. The paper was published in Nature Communications. The study was funded by ERC, the Israel Cancer Association, and the Emerson Cancer Research Fund.
The Dark Side of Chemo
"In many cases of breast cancer, surgical removal of the primary tumor is followed by a chemotherapy regimen intended to kill any remaining malignant cells – either left behind by the surgeon or already colonizing in other organs," explains Prof. Erez. "However, while effectively killing cancer cells, chemotherapy also has some undesirable and even harmful side effects, including damage to healthy tissues. The most dangerous of these, is probably internal inflammations that might paradoxically help remaining cancer cells to form metastases in distant organs. The goal of our study was to discover how this happens and try to find an effective solution."
To this end, the researchers created an animal model for breast cancer metastasis. The animals received the same treatment as human patients: surgical removal of the primary tumor, then chemotherapy, followed by monitoring to detect metastatic relapse as early as possible. The disturbing results: metastatic tumors were detected in the lungs of a large percentage of the treated animals - similar to the percentage found in the control group.
"In humans, this interval between chemotherapy and detection of metastatic tumors is an inaccessible 'black box.' Working with an animal model, we could check what happens inside this 'box'." Prof. Neta Erez
What's Going on Inside the "Black Box"?
To decipher these adverse effects, the researchers examined the animals' lungs at an intermediate stage – when tiny micro-metastases may have already developed, but even advanced imaging technologies like CT cannot detect them.
"In humans, this interval between chemotherapy and detection of metastatic tumors is an inaccessible 'black box'," says Prof. Erez. "Working with an animal model we could check what happens inside this 'box'."
"We discovered a previously unknown mechanism: the chemotherapy generates an inflammatory response in connective tissue cells called 'fibroblasts', causing them to summon immune cells from the bone marrow. This, in turn, creates an inflammatory environment that supports the micro-metastases, helping them grow into full-fledged metastatic tumors. In this way, the chemotherapy, administered as a means for combating cancer, achieves the opposite result."
The researchers also identified the mechanism through which fibroblasts recruit immune cells, and 'train' them to support the cancer. "We found that in response to chemotherapy, the fibroblasts secrete 'complement proteins' – proteins that mediate cell recruitment and intensify inflammation, often by summoning white blood cells to damaged or infected areas, a process called chemotaxis," notes Prof. Erez. "When the immune cells reach the lungs, they create an inflammatory environment that supports cancer cells and helps them grow."
"We identified an inflammatory mechanism through which chemotherapy inadvertently supports the growth of metastatic tumors, and also discovered an effective solution: combining chemotherapy with an inflammation inhibitor." Prof. Neta Erez
Potential to Save Many Lives
To combat this newly discovered process, the researchers combined the chemotherapy administered to the animals with a drug that blocks the activity of complement proteins.
The results were very encouraging: following the combined treatment, the percentage of lab models developing no metastases rose from 32% to 67%; and the percentage of those with extensive cancer colonization in their lungs decreased from 52% with regular chemotherapy to 6% when the inflammation inhibitor was added.
"We discovered the mechanism behind a severe problem in the treatment of breast cancer: many patients develop metastatic tumors following removal of the primary tumor plus chemotherapy," says Prof. Erez, and concludes: "We identified an inflammatory mechanism through which chemotherapy inadvertently supports the growth of metastatic tumors, and also discovered an effective solution: combining chemotherapy with an inflammation inhibitor. We hope that our findings will enable more effective treatment for breast cancer, and perhaps other types of cancer as well – to prevent metastatic relapse and save numerous lives worldwide."
Use of drones to map illegal waste dumps could promote recycling and save Israel NIS 200 million
A new study conducted at Tel Aviv University has mapped illegal construction waste dumps using drones. The researchers attempted to assess the actual amounts of construction waste dumped at unauthorized sites, as well as the contents of the waste piles. Analysis of the data shows that through aerial mapping and use of environmental-economic models developed in the study, it will be possible to recycle a significant amount of the waste, saving the state approximately NIS 200 million.
The study was led by Dr. Vered Blass and doctoral student Adi Mager of the Porter School of Environment and Earth Sciences, Tel Aviv University. The study was published in the international journal Remote Sensing.
An Expensive Process
The current situation poses a severe problem for local authorities, who cannot handle the scope of criminal activity, and therefore compelled to remove and treat the environmental hazard on their own expenses.
The moment a local authority identifies an illegal construction waste dump, it takes action to transfer the waste to an authorized site. This involves a complex process including, initially, measuring the amount of waste, collecting, and transporting it to the authorized treatment facility, and then cleaning and rehabilitating the contaminated soil.
This is an expensive process involving significant budgetary spending by municipalities, which usually pass the burden on to the taxpayers.
"The idea behind the study was to try and adopt the principles of circular economy (CE) that promotes strategies for savings in resources for reuse, repair, remanufacture, and recycling of materials and products." Dr. Vered Blass
Recycling Instead of Landfilling
The alternative? "By integrating existing aerial mapping technologies, with economic-environmental models, we can promote recycling of illegal waste and save public funds," offers Dr. Blass. "Instead of paying landfill fees and polluting the soil, the waste may be recycled at a lower cost while reducing environmental damage."
According to Dr. Blass, the study, defined as a pilot, included mapping by drones of four illegal waste dumps located in Northern Israel. The researchers mapped and analyzed a total area of 3600 square meters. They classified and categorized all types of waste separately, manually, to determine their area, volume, and properties.
Dr. Vered Blass
Finally, the researchers created a profile for each waste site separately. The profile included an economic analysis of the value of the different types of waste found at the site, and the potential environmental savings of recycling compared to landfilling.
"The idea behind the study was to try and adopt the principles of circular economy (CE) that promotes strategies for savings in resources for reuse, repair, remanufacture, and recycling of materials and products," explains Dr. Blass. "By using these principles, we sought to save the authorities a lot of money – instead of paying high landfill fees for all the illegal construction waste, which can be recycled."
"Our pilot findings showed the advantages of multidisciplinary tools and methodologies in helping to identify potential resources, providing economic data for cleanup proposals, and of course, enabling the monitoring and evaluation of the area after the cleanup, thus saving time and money for the authorities, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the field" Dr. Vered Blass
Saving Time and Money
According to the researchers, the study provides missing data that may prove useful to the state, local authorities, commercial companies, and contractors, as well as companies that monitor and manage recycled waste and raw materials.
In addition, the researchers touch on the direct correlation between meeting international sustainable development goals (SDG), monitoring, and mapping illegal waste.
"This study will provide local authorities with a better understanding of the quantities and qualities of waste, as well as the costs associated with the necessary cleanups," says doctoral student Adi Mager. "Moreover, construction waste in open areas occupies valuable real estate. Mapping the area rapidly and efficiently will assist in evacuating the land and preparing it for future uses."
"Our pilot findings showed the advantages of multidisciplinary tools and methodologies in helping to identify potential resources, providing economic data for cleanup proposals, and of course, enabling the monitoring and evaluation of the area after the cleanup, thus saving time and money for the authorities, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the field," concludes Dr. Blass.
TAU study shows that treatment may significantly improve social abilities and condition of the autistic brain
- Social Sciences
A new Tel Aviv University study succeeded in significantly improving social skills and the condition of the autistic brain through pressure chamber therapy. The study was conducted on lab models of autism. In it, the researchers identified changes in the brain, including a reduction in neuroinflammation, which is known to be associated with autism. Moreover, a significant improvement was found in the social functioning of the animal models treated in the pressure chamber. The study’s success has many implications regarding the applicability and understanding of treating autism using pressure chamber therapy.
The breakthrough was made under the leadership of doctoral student Inbar Fischer, from the laboratory of Dr. Boaz Barak of Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and School of Psychological Sciences. The research was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Fischer and Barak explain that hyperbaric medicine is a form of therapy in which patients are treated in special chambers where the atmospheric pressure is higher than the pressure we experience at sea level, and in addition are delivered 100 percent oxygen to breathe.
Hyperbaric medicine is considered safe and is already being used to treat a long list of medical conditions, including here in Israel. In recent years, scientific evidence has been accumulating that unique protocols of hyperbaric treatments improve the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain, thereby improving brain function.
Improving Brain Function
“The medical causes of autism are numerous and varied, and ultimately create the diverse autistic spectrum with which we are familiar," explains Dr. Barak:. "About 20% of autistic cases today are explained by genetic causes, that is, those involving genetic defects, but not necessarily ones that are inherited from the parents. Despite the variety of sources of autism, the entire spectrum of behavioral problems associated with it are still included under the single broad heading of ‘autism,’ and the treatments and medications offered do not necessarily correspond directly to the reason why the autism developed.”
In the preliminary phase of the study, a girl carrying the mutation in the SHANK3 gene, which is known to lead to autism, received treatments in the pressure chamber, conducted by Prof. Shai Efrati, director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at the Shamir “Assaf Harofeh” Medical Center, faculty member at the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and a partner in the study. After the treatments, it was evident that the girl’s social abilities and brain function had improved considerably.
In the next stage, and in order to comprehend the success of the treatment more deeply, the team of researchers at Dr. Barak’s laboratory sought to understand what being in a pressurized chamber does to the brain. To this end, the researchers used lab models carrying the same genetic mutation in the SHANK3 gene as that carried by the girl who had been treated. The experiment comprised a protocol of 40 one-hour treatments in a pressure chamber over several weeks.
“We discovered that treatment in the oxygen-enriched pressure chamber reduces inflammation in the brain and leads to an increase in the expression of substances responsible for improving blood and oxygen supply to the brain, and therefore brain function," explains Dr. Barak. "In addition, we saw a decrease in the number of microglial cells, immune system cells that indicate inflammation, which is associated with autism."
Increased Social Interest
“Beyond the neurological findings we discovered, what interested us more than anything was to see whether these improvements in the brain also led to an improvement in social behavior, which is known to be impaired in autistic individuals,” adds Dr. Barak. “To our surprise, the findings showed a significant improvement in the social behavior of the animal models of autism that underwent treatment in the pressure chamber compared to those in the control group, who were exposed to air at normal pressure, and without oxygen enrichment. The animal models that underwent treatment displayed increased social interest, preferring to spend more time in the company of new animals to which they were exposed in comparison to the animal models from the control group.”
Inbar Fischer concludes, “the mutation in the animal models is identical to the mutation that exists in humans. Therefore, our research is likely to have clinical implications for improving the pathological condition of autism resulting from this genetic mutation, and likely also of autism stemming from other causes. Because the pressure chamber treatment is non-intrusive and has been found to be safe, our findings are encouraging and demonstrate that this treatment may improve these behavioral and neurological aspects in humans as well, in addition to offering a scientific explanation of how they occur in the brain.”
Ukrainian People show more national resilience than Israelis did during Operation "Guardian of the Walls"
A first-of-its-kind study conducted by Tel Aviv University has found that the national resilience of the citizens of Ukraine, who are currently fighting for their independence, is comparatively very high (4.35) on a scale of 1 to 6. It is, in fact, significantly higher than the national resilience that characterized Israeli citizens (3.89) at the height of "Operation Guardian of the Walls" in May 2021.
The researchers explain this difference by saying that whereas Ukrainian citizens now find themselves fighting for their homeland and are ready to do anything to win the war, the rounds of fighting in Gaza have become a kind of recurrent nuisance for the citizens of Israel, accompanied by a moderate level of national resilience.
Ukrainian Citizens Still Have Hope
According to the researchers, the current study constitutes the first attempt by academic researchers to assess Ukrainian citizens’ positive and negative coping indices during wartime. The study indicates that in such conditions of conflict, a population may experience high levels of stress and, simultaneously, high levels of societal resilience and hope for the future.
In the current situation in Ukraine, the population has also demonstrated a great deal of support for their government.
The study surveyed 1000 Ukrainian citizens, as well as a sample of about 650 Israeli citizens using data collected during Operation Guardian of the Walls. The study’s findings suggest that the danger, in the eyes of Ukrainian citizens, is perceived as much more tangible (3.7 on a scale of 1 to 5) than Israelis’ perception of danger in the rounds of fighting against Hamas in Gaza (2.45). The perception of threat amongst Ukrainians is also more significant (3.29) than among the citizens of Israel (2.79).
The researchers note that the younger population, those between the ages of 26 to 30, present higher levels of stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms compared to other age groups. Women report higher levels of all negative coping mechanisms in comparison to men.
Interestingly, despite the significant dangers and threats they face, Ukrainian citizens have not lost hope, with their ‘hope index’ being higher (an average of 3.95) than that of Israelis (an average of 3.5).
"Israelis, unlike the Ukrainian People, do not feel that their country is under a direct existential threat and have, to a certain degree, adapted to an ‘emergency routine’ due to the recurrent conflicts." Prof. Adini and Prof. Kimhi
Israelis Adapted to ‘Emergency Routine’
Prof. Adini and Prof. Kimhi explain that “the perception of a threat as existential to the survival and sovereignty of the state and society is likely, under certain conditions, to enhance the population’s societal resilience and sense of hope. This is the case even when the population feels anxious and threatened by the situation. "
"Moreover, it appears that the war launched by Russia against Ukraine has actually contributed to the process of Ukrainian identity-building, which also leads to increased levels of resilience, as well as an extremely high sense of hope."
"Israelis, unlike the Ukrainian People, do not feel that their country is under a direct existential threat and have, to a certain degree, adapted to an ‘emergency routine’ due to the recurrent conflicts. In light of this, they present lower levels of resilience relative to Ukrainians, but at the same time higher levels of well-being and morale.”
First-of-its-kind study reveals alarming findings about the level of microplastic pollution on Israel’s beaches
- Exact Sciences
If you've ever walked barefoot on the beach and noticed how, instead of seashells, the waves brought empty packages, disposable dishes, and small particles to the shore – you are right to feel alarmed. A new Tel Aviv University study conducted in collaboration with the Mediterranean Sea Research Center of Israel examined the level of microplastic pollution along Israel’s coastline. The researchers collected sand samples from six beaches, from Haifa to Ashkelon. The research findings revealed that the Israeli shoreline is contaminated with more than two million tons of microplastics, with the most polluted beaches being those of Tel Aviv and Hadera.
In light of these worrying findings, the researchers warn exposure to microplastic waste is unavoidable. It should be noted that microplastics are generally proved as dangerous both to the environment and to human health.
Food Packaging, Single-use Plastic Products, and Fishing Nets
The study was led by doctoral student Andrey Ethan Rubin and master’s student Limor Omeysi from the laboratory of Dr. Ines Zucker of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The study was published in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Over the course of 2021, the researchers collected samples from six areas along the coast: Ashkelon, Rishon LeZion, Tel Aviv, Hadera, Dor Beach and Haifa. The samples were then taken to the laboratory where various analyses were performed, including particle count, mass measurements, image analysis, and chemical analysis to identify the polymer the plastic was made up of, as well as the elements adsorbed onto the microplastic particles. The researchers discovered, among other things, that the samples included plastic originating from food packaging, single-use plastic products, and fishing nets.
“It was interesting to see that plastics of terrestrial origin, such as food packaging, were more dominant than plastics of marine origin, such as fishing nets,” says Rubin. “This indicates a need for better regulation of coastal waste.”
From left to right: Doctoral student Andrey Ethan Rubin and Dr. Ines Zucker
Most Polluted: Beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera
The research findings show that the beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera were the most polluted of the beaches tested. The level of contamination on these beaches, which are located near stream estuaries (the Yarkon in Tel Aviv and Nahal Alexander in Hadera), was four times higher than that of Rishon Lezion and Dor Beach, which were the two beaches with the lowest concentration of microplastic particles. Still, even in the Dor Beach nature reserve, which is cleaned frequently, a considerable amount of microplastic particles were found.
The researchers’ assessment is that the high level of pollution on the beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera and the fact that they are in close proximity to streams indicates that the stream’s waters carry microplastic particles with them into the sea, thereby intensifying the level of contamination on the beach.
"The smaller the plastic particles, the harder it is to remove them from the environment, and the more dangerous they are to the environment and to our health. The microplastic particles that drift into the sea are swallowed by fish, and their remains eventually reach humans." Andrey Ethan Rubin
For example, the researchers say that Nahal Alexander collects leachate from untreated sewage from the West Bank, as well as waste from agricultural and industrial areas located near the riverbeds. Similarly, microplastics accumulate at the Yarkon River from the industrial centers in Tel Aviv.
“Our research reveals that the Israeli coastline likely contains over two tons of microplastic waste,” says Rubin. “Environmental conditions slowly break this plastic down into even smaller particles. The smaller the plastic particles, the harder it is to remove them from the environment, and the more dangerous they are to the environment and to our health. The microplastic particles that drift into the sea are swallowed by fish, and their remains eventually reach humans.”
Dr. Zucker adds: “Our microplastic studies reveal the current state of microplastic pollution along Israel’s Mediterranean coast and provide knowledge on the effects of the presence of microplastics in the environment. Plastic monitoring research in Israel is still lacking, and we must monitor the smaller plastic particles and additional environmental samples, such as sea water and streams, in order to better understand environmental patterns with regards to the presence of microplastics. This way or another, it would appear that exposure to microplastic waste is inevitable. We are working on assessing the environmental and health impacts that may arise given the prevalence and high concentrations of the particles that we found. In a practical perspective, regulatory steps are required in order to reduce Israel’s contribution to microplastic pollution in the Mediterranean.”
Researchers confirm invasions of biblical Israel using geomagnetic fields
A joint study by TAU and the Hebrew University, involving 20 researchers from different countries and disciplines, has accurately dated 21 destruction layers at 17 archaeological sites in Israel by reconstructing the direction and/or intensity of the earth's magnetic field recorded in burnt remnants. The new data verify the Biblical accounts of the Egyptian, Aramean, Assyrian, and Babylonian military campaigns against the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
Findings indicate, for example, that the army of Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus, was responsible for the destruction of several cities - Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit, and Horvat Tevet, in addition to Gath of the Philistines, whose destruction is noted in the Hebrew Bible. At the same time, the study refutes the prevailing theory that Hazael was the conqueror who destroyed Tel Beth-Shean.
Other geomagnetic findings reveal that the cities in the Negev were destroyed by the Edomites, who took advantage of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians.
The groundbreaking interdisciplinary study was published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) and is based on the doctoral thesis of Yoav Vaknin, supervised by Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef and Prof. Oded Lipschits of TAU's Nadler Institute of Archaeology and Prof. Ron Shaar from the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University.
WATCH: Yoav Vaknin from TAU's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology explains about the research
Reliable Tool for Archaeological Dating
The researchers explain that geophysicists, attempting to understand the mechanism of earth's magnetic field, track changes in this field throughout history. To this end, they use archaeological findings containing magnetic minerals which, when heated or burned, record the magnetic field at the time of the fire.
Thus, in a 2020 study, researchers reconstructed the magnetic field as it was on the 9th of the month of Av, 586 BCE, the Hebrew date of the destruction of the First Temple and the City of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army.
Now, using archaeological findings unearthed over several decades at 17 sites throughout Israel, alongside historical information from ancient inscriptions and Biblical accounts, the researchers were able to reconstruct the magnetic fields recorded in 21 destruction layers. They used the data to develop a reliable new scientific tool for archaeological dating.
Yoav Vaknin explains: "Based on the similarity or difference in intensity and direction of the magnetic field, we can either corroborate or disprove hypotheses claiming that specific sites were burned during the same military campaign. Moreover, we have constructed a variation curve of field intensity over time which can serve as a scientific dating tool, similar to the radiocarbon dating method."
Yoav Vaknin measuring at the site (Photo: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
One example given by the researchers is the destruction of Gath of the Philistines (identified today as Tel Tzafit in the Judean foothills) by Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus. Various dating methods have placed this event at around 830 BCE but were unable to verify that Hazael was also responsible for the destruction of Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit and Horvat Tevet.
The new study, identifying full statistical synchronization between the magnetic fields recorded at all these four sites at the time of destruction, now makes a very strong case for their destruction having taken place during the same campaign.
A destruction level at Tel Beth-Shean, on the other hand, recording a totally different magnetic field, refutes the prevailing hypothesis that it too was destroyed by Hazael. Instead, the magnetic data from Beth-Shean indicate that this city, along with two other sites in northern Israel, was probably destroyed 70-100 years earlier, a date which could correspond with the military campaign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq.
Shoshenq's campaign is described in the Hebrew Bible and in an inscription on a wall of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, Egypt, which mentions Beth-Shean as one of his conquests.
"While Jerusalem and frontier cities in the Judean foothills ceased to exist, other towns in the Negev, the southern Judean Mountains and the southern Judean foothills remained almost unaffected. Now, the magnetic results support this hypothesis, indicating that the Babylonians were not solely responsible for Judah's ultimate demise." Prof. Erez Ben Yosef
Judah's Ultimate Demise
One of the most interesting findings revealed by the new dating method has to do with the end of the Kingdom of Judah. Prof. Erez Ben Yosef: "The last days of the Kingdom of Judah are widely debated. Some researchers, relying on archaeological evidence, argue that Judah was not completely destroyed by the Babylonians. While Jerusalem and frontier cities in the Judean foothills ceased to exist, other towns in the Negev, the southern Judean Mountains and the southern Judean foothills remained almost unaffected. Now, the magnetic results support this hypothesis, indicating that the Babylonians were not solely responsible for Judah's ultimate demise."
"Several decades after they had destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple, sites in the Negev, which had survived the Babylonian campaign, were destroyed – probably by the Edomites who took advantage of the fall of Jerusalem. This betrayal and participation in the destruction of the surviving cities may explain why the Hebrew Bible expresses so much hatred for the Edomites - for example, in the prophecy of Obadiah."
Prof. Oded Lipschits adds that "the new dating tool is unique because it is based on geomagnetic data from sites, whose exact destruction dates are known from historical sources. By combining precise historical information with advanced, comprehensive archaeological research, we were able to base the magnetic method on reliably anchored chronology."
Burnt mud stones
"Until recently scientists believed that [the magnetic field] remains quite stable for decades, but archaeomagnetic research has contradicted this assumption by revealing some extreme and unpredictable changes in antiquity." Prof. Ron Shaar
Taking Advantage of an Unstable Geomagnetic Field
Prof. Ron Shaar, who led the geophysical aspects of the study, as well as the development of the geomagnetic dating method, explains: "Earth's magnetic field is critical to our existence. Most people don't realize that without it there could be no life on earth - since it shields us from cosmic radiation and the solar wind. In addition, both humans and animals use it to navigate."
"The geomagnetic field is generated by earth's outer core, at a depth of 2,900 km, by currents of liquid iron. Due to the chaotic motion of this iron, the magnetic field changes over time. Until recently scientists believed that it remains quite stable for decades, but archaeomagnetic research has contradicted this assumption by revealing some extreme and unpredictable changes in antiquity."
"Our location here in Israel is uniquely conducive to archaeomagnetic research, due to an abundance of well-dated archaeological findings. Over the past decade we have reconstructed magnetic fields recorded by hundreds of archaeological items. By combining this dataset with the data from Yoav’s investigation of historical destruction layers, we were able to form a continuous variation curve showing rapid, sharp changes in the geomagnetic field. This is wonderful news, both for archaeologists, who can now use geomagnetic data to determine the age of ancient materials, and for geophysicists studying the earth's core."
A separate paper, presenting the scientific principles of the novel archaeomagnetic dating method, is in preparation.
Unique technique found by Tel Aviv University researchers to improve emotional well-being of women with increased risk of breast cancer, assist in decision making
Many young women with increased risk of breast cancer (carriers of BRCA1/BRCA2 genes) suffer from a state of uncertainty regarding their future, mainly due to the realization that they are highly likely to contract breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer. There is currently no effective treatment for preventing the illness and the only active procedure available is a risk-reducing mastectomy [surgery to remove a breast] and/or oophorectomy [a surgical procedure to remove one or both ovaries] around the age of 40 (it was this procedure that Angelina Jolie underwent in 2013).
Due to fear and uncertainty, these women often suffer psychological and physical symptoms that significantly disrupt their normal lives. In a new study conducted at Tel Aviv University, researchers sought to examine whether workshops and tools for promoting personal health, relief of stress and tension, and strengthening of mental soundness can improve the emotional well-being and quality of sleep of these young women. The researchers determined that use of the Inquiry Based Stress Reduction (IBSR) technique can be very helpful in coping with stressful events, enhance emotional and psychological well-being, improve quality of sleep, and assist in decision making.
Doing "The Work"
The study was led by Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, in cooperation with Prof. Eitan Friedman of Sheba Medical Center and assistance from other researchers, as part of PhD student Clara Landau's dissertation. The study was published in the prestigious medical journal JAMA Network Open.
The study included 100 women, all carriers of BRCA1/BRCA2 genes and currently under supervision at the Meirav Breast Center at Sheba Medical Center. As part of the study, the women learned and practiced the IBSR method, a clinical application of "The Work" by Byron Katie, consisting of a mindful self-inquiry for increased mindfulness, work on stress-causing beliefs (the "Inquiry" process) for reduction of stress, and cognitive reframing.
Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest ever study in the world in the framework of such an experiment, as far as the number of participants is concerned."
The results were impressive. After participating in the workshops, as well as self-practice, the women showed great improvement in all aspects of personal growth, positive relations with others, life goals, and self acceptance. A clear improvement was seen in quality of sleep, which returned to normal.
Furthermore, a clear change of attitude was found among the participants with regard to previous doubts over whether to undergo surgical procedures such as mastectomy and oophorectomy. The technique helped the women make rational medical decisions, and some changed their position from ruling out the option of having any procedure done to scheduling a doctor's appointment to discuss the option.
The researchers believe their findings indicate that study and practice of IBSR techniques might improve the psychological well-being of women with BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutations, and form the basis (in conjunction with other studies) for recommending to consider providing this technique to women, along with their oncogenetic consultation.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest ever study in the world in the framework of such an experiment, as far as the number of participants is concerned," says Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari.
"We think that healthcare services in Israel and worldwide should evaluate the impact of coping with the genetic information and surgical procedures offered to asymptomatic women carriers on their emotional well-being and quality of life, and offer them interventions to promote their health on the individual level, such that have been scientifically proven in improving the quality of life and emotional well-being of women with the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes," he summarizes.
First-of-its-kind study shows how invasive marine species survive under surprising environmental conditions
- Life Sciences
The phenomenon of marine animals invading distant regions endangers local marine environments and their resident species. A new study from Tel Aviv University included a pioneering experiment simulating the changing environmental conditions encountered en route by marine animals 'hitching a ride' by clinging to the bottom of container ships, traveling with the ship to distant regions around the globe. In this study, researchers demonstrate that suitable regulation can decrease this phenomenon and prevent potential invaders from reaching new habitats.
The study was led by research student Doron Bereza under the supervision of Prof. Noa Shenkar of the School of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The paper was published in the prestigious journal Science of the Total Environment.
"At any given moment, thousands of marine creatures travel from one location to another by marine vessels."
Harmful to Local Species
The experiment demonstrated that the animals' ability to survive the arduous journey depends on factors like the type of vessel and the route it navigates, as well as the changing temperature and salinity of seawater.
According to the researchers, the routes of vessels of different sizes are determined mainly by technical limitations of infrastructures at different ports, as well as economic trends in the shipping industry. This results in unique geographic routes that create completely different sets of environmental and other challenges for creatures attaching themselves to these vessels.
"At any given moment, thousands of marine creatures travel from one location to another by marine vessels," says Prof. Shenkar. "They do this in two different ways: in the ballast water - seawater taken on by the vessel for stabilizing, or by clinging to the ship's hull. The problem of invasive species transferred by ballast is addressed by legislation, but the 'hitchhikers' clinging to the ships are not – and thus numerous species are transferred from place to place along international trade routes."
Prof. Noa Shenkar
An experiment conducted by research student Doron Bereza, together with Prof. Shenkar, examined the survivability of two species of 'ascidians' [marine invertebrates, or cold-blooded animals with no backbone], known to be harmful, on a journey that follows a typical trade route – from Southeast Asia to Northern Europe. Ascidians attach to hard surfaces such as rocks, breakwaters, and ship hulls. There are hundreds of species of ascidians, and the rise in global trade enables some opportunistic species to disperse over great distances, sometimes establishing themselves as invasive species and harming both marine infrastructures and local species in their new habitats.
Doron Bereza: "We focused on two species of ascidians that are common in the Mediterranean, including Israel, and are known to be transferred by ships. I created a comprehensive database, comprising info from about 200 container ships, and used it to build a route representing the trade routes of two different types of container ships - giant vessels, over 395m in length, vs. 'regular' container ships that can be served by the infrastructures of more harbors. In addition, I collected data about changes in seawater temperatures and salinity, as well as chlorophyl concentrations, as a measure for the availability of food on the voyage and at the different ports along the way."
"We were surprised to discover that one tropical ascidian species survived the entire journey to Rotterdam. This does not mean that the creatures enjoyed their trip, but the fact is that they did survive, and just a few individuals are sufficient for launching an invasive population in the new territory."
Making their Trip Unbearable
In the second stage of the study, the researchers exposed both species of ascidians to similar conditions in the lab. Bereza: "We discovered that survivability was significantly impacted by several factors: environmental conditions, the type of vessel, and traits of the animal itself. Under extreme conditions, found in some eastern ports, such as a combination of high temperatures and low salinity, one species died out completely, while no mortality was observed in the other species."
"In real life, even when routes are generally similar, these ports are not visited by ships over a certain size, for lack of suitable infrastructures. Thus, we concluded that docking at ports with different extremes in conditions can significantly diminish the survival chances of specific species clinging to the ships. Additional experiments of this kind, specifically addressing groups of marine animals that pose a threat, can lead to effective regulatory measures for preventing the conveyance of species."
Prof. Shenkar adds: "We were surprised to discover that one tropical ascidian species survived the entire journey to Rotterdam. This does not mean that the creatures enjoyed their trip, but the fact is that they did survive, and just a few individuals are sufficient for launching an invasive population in the new territory. Moreover, global warming is expected to enable tropical species to thrive in water that is still too cold at present. The fact that the environmental conditions in some ports on the way proved deadly to almost all members of a certain species, suggests that such locations may be utilized as environmental barriers to prevent the spreading of invasive species."