November 19, 2018

Israeli Gets People With Parkinson’s Moving to a New Beat

What is life? According to Alex Kerten, it’s movement, rhythm, expression and energy. 

Kerten, founder of the Gyro-Kinetics Center in Herzliya, Israel, developed the Gyro-Kinetic Method to help people living with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. Gyro-Kinetics comprises Kerten’s blend of music, movement and martial arts to help people restore physical, emotional and mental balance in their bodies.

In 2015, Kerten wrote “Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life” with Jerusalem Post Managing Editor David Brinn. The book has helped propel Kerten’s methods beyond Israel. It received “Recommended Reading” status from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and listings on the National Parkinson’s Association’s social media sites.

“Gyro Kinetics means finding the balanced state of your body movements,” Kerten told the Journal during an interview in Santa Monica, where he was leading a Gyro-Kinetics workshop. Kerten traveled from Israel at the invitation of Dr. Ralph Potkin, an internist who, together with his wife, Eugenia, discovered Kerten’s book while at the World Parkinson’s Conference in Portland in 2016. 

Potkin said he wanted to bring Kerten to Los Angeles because “music heals. Music is for everyone, everywhere. [Gyro-Kinetics] is just the beginning of a worldwide movement.”

The workshop drew about 35 people, many of whom suffer from Parkinson’s. Kerten told attendees that while the book is called “Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life,” what it really means is “Goodbye what I don’t want, hello what I do want.

“The mind,” he continued,  “is different from the body. The body has limits. The mind has no limits.”

Clearing or changing your mind about what is possible, and letting your body move, can produce incredible results, Kerten said. 

Putting those words into practice, there was a great deal of dancing in the weekend workshop — to a variety of music, from Sinatra and Streisand to improvisational jazz and Latin tunes. Kerten explained and then showed the power of the body in listening to and acting out music. 

“Parkinson’s is a progressive disease,” he said. “So are tension, fear and trauma. Don’t act Parkinson’s. Act differently.”

Kerten, 73, who holds seven martial arts black belts and studied mind/body integration online at the Trager Institute, said coming from a personal background of trauma is what ultimately led him to the work he does today.

“I was born in 1945,” he said, “when the people from the Holocaust came to Israel. Israel wasn’t created yet, so can you imagine [all the trauma I felt] as a small child?”

After completing his compulsory three-year army service in the Israeli Defense Forces at 21, Kerten decided to let go of his trauma mindset. 

“[I decided] I’m not going to stay there,” he said. “I’m not going to be with the Holocaust anymore. I’m not going to be with death anymore. I’m not going to see the bad things that are happening. [I decided that] a person can behave differently.” 

At that point, Kerten focused on his love of martial arts, the art of movement and the physiology of behavior, eventually going on to open his center, teaching martial arts, movement, dance and music.

That was 30 years ago. Today, people still come to him to help overcome their physical problems. And while Kerten acknowledged that “act differently” sounds simple, he knows it’s not. “It’s a decision everyone has to make for themselves,” he said. 

“The mind is different from the body. The body has limits. The mind has no limits.” – Alex Kerten

Several of the Santa Monica workshop attendees appeared to put this mindset into practice, particularly in Kerten’s music meditation session. Those who were shuffling and mumbling began moving and speaking more fluidly. Kerten instructed people to dance with their mouths open for better breathing, and participants noticed an immediate difference in their movements. 

“It was great because we don’t know each other, and there was lots of support,” Kerten said after the session. “People did incredible things.”

When Kerten asked what participants had learned from the sessions, one attendee said, “It’s OK to remove yourself from your comfort zone.” Another said, “So much of the power to heal lies in my own life.” Other participants spoke of how they rediscovered how much fun it is to dance again.

Kerten also emphasized the need to treat yourself well: “If you go to a restaurant, you thank the maître d’ for seating you, you thank the waiter for the meal recommendation, you thank the manager when you leave,” he said. “When was the last time you said ‘thank you’ to your body?”

Those particular words resonated with participant Harri O’Kelley. “This idea of being grateful for what your body can do instead of being angry at your body for not being able to do [things] any more was very healing and a mind shifter,” O’Kelley said. She attended the workshop because she said she’s always looking for new therapies to develop to help people with autism, which, like Parkinson’s, also affects the neurological system.

“Most of my life I have been a Reform Jew, so I am not in the practice of saying prayers before daily activities,” O’Kelley said. “I am not sure how thanking God for these small things that we are able to do in our lives ties in with us having a relationship with our bodies, but it made me think about how much integration, balance and awareness the Jewish religion calls to our attention.”

“It’s our responsibility to feel good,” Kerten said. “We have to love ourselves, be good to ourselves [and] respect ourselves. If I can respect myself and I have enough power, I can help other people. But if I’m tired and I’m diseased, I can’t help anymore.”

Kerten stressed that you don’t have to be ill to practice Gyro-Kinetic techniques. “They can and should be used by everybody for better physical and mental health,” he said. 

“We always have habits, even though our habits are bad for us,” he added. “But you see we can do [things] differently. We can be happy people.”

Donny Most: Happy Days Are Here Again — in Music

More than acting, directing and producing, Donny Most’s greatest joy is singing. Widely known for playing the comic character Ralph Malph on the long-running TV sitcom hit “Happy Days,” Most has reinvented his career with a concert tour called “Donny Most Sings and Swings,” in which he sings big-band-era-style songs during a two-hour show.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Most cut his teeth performing in the Catskills. He has performed multiple times at the local jazz clubs, Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood and Vitello’s in Studio City, as well as other venues around the country.

Most, 64, lives in Westlake Village with his wife of 36 years, Morgan. They have two daughters.

Jewish Journal: When did you realize you loved music and singing, and when did you believe you had talent as a singer?

Donny Most: It really started for me when I saw the movie “The Jolson Story” when I was 9 years old. The movie and Jolson’s singing had a very strong impact on me. I bought a bunch of his albums and would sing along to them over and over. My interest in this music led me to learn about many of the legendary singers of the Great American Songbook, like Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Bobby Darin. I wound up taking singing lessons at a school in NYC when I was around 13 or 14, and when I was picked to be part of a professional review performing in the Catskill Mountains at age 15, I knew I might have what it takes.

JJ: How and when did the idea of the concert tour come about?

DM: It was about 4 1/2 years ago. I had put my music aside when I shifted my focus to acting in my late teens, and this kind of music was falling out of favor during this period of profound change. Because the jazz standards have come back, it hit me that if I was ever going to do this music again, now was the time.

Because the jazz standards have come back, it hit me that if I was ever going to do this music again, now was the time.

JJ: Are audiences surprised when they see the actor who played Ralph Malph, a comic character, belting out jazz and swings tunes?

DM: Yes. People who haven’t heard my CD or seen any videos from my live performances are definitely surprised when they come to one of my concerts. They are constantly saying, “We had no idea you could sing like this.” They tell me they were “blown away” and things like that, which is, of course, always nice to hear.

JJ: Did you entertain at family bar mitzvah celebrations when you were growing up?

DM: Well, I got up with the band during my own bar mitzvah and sang a Jolson song. I’m pretty sure I did the same kind of thing at several of my friends’ and relatives’ bar mitzvahs as well.

JJ: What did you learn from performing in the Borscht Belt as a teen?

DM: I got to sing in front of different audiences, with different bands, in different nightclubs about three to five times a week all summer. It’s hard to quantify what that learning experience was, but I know it taught me a lot.

JJ: What is your favorite song to perform and why?

DM: That’s a tough question, as I love so many of the songs. But when I became a huge Bobby Darin fan when I was young, I loved singing along with him to his great version of “Mack the Knife.” To this day, I feel like it’s in my blood.

JJ: In 2009, you starred in the movie “The Yankles,” portraying the father of a yeshiva student. Did being Jewish help you in this role?

DM: I’m sure it helped, as that background and experience informed me quite a bit. Even though I did not go to a yeshiva, I knew people that did. I had interactions with that world, knew the culture, etc. So having that kind of knowledge and connection always helps you as an actor.

JJ: Any causes near and dear to you?

DM: My wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 16 years ago, so we have been involved in many fundraising events for Parkinson’s. One organization we have worked with on several occasions is the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Also the Keck School of Medicine at USC, where my wife’s doctor does research.

JJ: How about if we wrap up this Q-and-A with your signature line from Happy Days?

DM: Even in 2018 — I still got it!


Stacy Karten is a former sports and contributing editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Humor and bitterness run in the family in ‘The Lyons’

Judith Scarpone and James Handy in “The Lyons.”  Photo by Michele Young Chaim; Kavita Rao of Karmagraphy

Nicky Silver’s dark comedy “The Lyons,” now running at The Road on Lankershim in North Hollywood, depicts a family whose members are totally isolated from one another. The first act takes place in a hospital room, where Ben Lyons (James Handy) lies dying of cancer. His wife, Rita (Judith Scarpone), is leafing through House Beautiful magazine as she talks about redecorating their home once he is gone. Ben spews expletives in the face of her apparent indifference to his condition.

Soon, the couple’s grown children arrive, and they all begin to air the monumental issues that plague them. The alcoholic daughter, Lisa (Verity Branco), still is drawn to her ex-husband, while her brother, Curtis (Chad Coe), who is gay, avoids letting them meet the current man in his life. When Curtis reveals that his sister’s ex-husband hit her repeatedly, she takes revenge by telling everyone that his supposed boyfriends never existed, and that he is too terrified to actually have a relationship.

Rita exposes her bitterness at having spent her life married to a man she never loved, and her terror at the prospect of being alone, while Ben, who loved Rita, vents his anger at never having had his love returned.

Speaking from his home in New York, Silver said he wrote the play, which was produced on Broadway five years ago, after his father was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009. 

“He died, actually, before it opened, but he didn’t have Parkinson’s disease. But that’s what got me thinking about mortality,” Silver said. “I was really [going] after a way to write the simplest play I could and just put four people in a room, in real time, and see what happens.”

The four people he has put together are Jewish, as is Silver, who believes the angst his characters experience is universal, but as Jews they reflect a cultural difference by communicating more freely.

“Having been in the room of dying people a few times in my lifetime, I would say that Jews — this sounds terrible, but I’m going to say it anyway — Jews tend to talk more,” Silver said. 

“Gentiles tend to sit on their feelings more, and maybe they explode finally, or fall apart finally. But in my experience — the Jews I’ve known, and being one — we’re pretty verbal about our feelings. So it makes for a more interesting play than people sitting around not talking about things.”

Silver said he also believes there is something singular about Jewish humor and that his affinity for comedy comes from his parents.

“Their ethnicity informed their sense of humor,” he said. “There is something in the Jewish identity, I think, where we often self-identify as sort of put upon in some way. And Jews find humor to get them through the worst of times. And I think that quality informs my work, in a way where gentiles find liquor to get them through the worst of times.”

The humor in the play, especially in the first act, verges on theater of the absurd because of the disconnect between someone in the hospital, dying of cancer, and the behavior of his family, which ostensibly has come for what may be a final visit. One would expect the situation to be somewhat sentimental, with emotional goodbyes, deeply felt interactions, bittersweet revelations and a heartwarming release.

“That’s the setup,” director Scott Alan Smith said. “It is anything but that. Nobody seems to care too much about the fact that he’s dying, and that’s where the comedy comes in. And that’s where the dark humor comes in.”

Smith added that there is no hope for this family. “That’s what I think Nicky is talking about with this play,” he said. “The family, which is usually the source of providing you with a sense of self and launching you into the world, is not the place that’s helping any of them. So it has to destroy itself for them to all move forward with their lives.”

And Silver explained that, after Ben dies, the remaining three do move in a healthier direction. “It’s not that the death of Ben liberates all of them,” the playwright said. “It puts them in a position where they have a choice. They can do nothing and molder in their own self-loathing, or they can take a chance. When confronted with the opportunity to move past a family that didn’t fulfill them and didn’t support their needs, they take the opportunity and take baby steps toward a new beginning.”

At first, Curtis makes an inappropriate, aggressive move on another man, gets beaten and ends up in the hospital. His mother and sister visit him, and Lisa says she has decided to offer some comfort to a dying man. Rita, meanwhile, is off to Aruba in an unconventional relationship, on her own terms.

In addition, Curtis reaches out to his nurse. “Curtis is inching toward having some kind of real connection, not a sexual, romantic connection, but he takes that risk, and he asks that nurse her name, and she sits down and they’re going to talk,” Silver said.

Beyond wanting his audiences to laugh at the dark humor in his play, “I want them to think about the traps we allow ourselves to stay in,” Silver said, “because that’s what I think the play is ultimately about. It’s about people who find a way out of the traps they’ve built for themselves.”

“The Lyons” is playing through July 16 at The Road on Lankershim in North Hollywood. For tickets and more information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com. 

Israeli startup aims for test to detect Parkinson’s

Doctors diagnose as many as 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease (PD) in the United States every year. Yet diagnosing it with certainty can take years — long after early signs and symptoms have appeared.

The Israeli startup BioShai has a game-changing product on the horizon: PDx, the world’s first simple blood test for the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s. The test results can be combined with clinical data, providing a more accurate diagnosis to help physicians decide on the best course of treatment at a much earlier stage.

More than 10 million people worldwide are living with this chronic and progressive movement disorder caused by the malfunction and death of neurons that produce dopamine, a chemical that coordinates the brain’s control of movement and coordination.

“Having a diagnosis at an earlier stage can lead to a more precise treatment and a higher quality of life for the patient,” said BioShai CEO Jennifer Yarden, who holds a doctorate in medical science and formerly was responsible for clinical and commercial development of diagnostic assays and kits at Glycominds. Yarden also is CEO and co-founder of Curewize Health.

“Offering a simple and inexpensive test for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s is considered essential for the development of neuroprotective therapy,” she explained, “because by the time a patient has the many movement symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, a majority of the dopamine-producing neurons are lost or become impaired by the disease.”

Research in Technion lab

The PDx blood test, which measures changes in particular molecules known to be associated with Parkinson’s, will be available through an Israeli lab on a limited beta basis in early 2017. BioShai will apply for regulatory approval in Europe soon.

BioShai was founded in January 2014 in the Youdim Pharmaceuticals incubator in Yokneam Illit in northern Israel. Technion professor Moussa Youdim (one of the inventors of the Parkinson’s drug Azilect) co-founded BioShai, which currently has four employees.

Youdim and University of Würzburg professor Peter Riederer performed pioneering research, published in 2010 and 2012, revealing that measuring the expression level of specific genes in blood could detect Parkinson’s with a high level of accuracy. BioShai grew out of this discovery.
Co-founder Dr. Martin Rabey, a neurologist originally from Argentina, is a professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine and an international expert in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. He and European neurologists developed the Simple Parkinson Evaluation Scale, a practical tool for the evaluation of Parkinson’s patients.

Validating and standardizing

Yarden said that BioShai currently is in the final stages of validating and standardizing the PDx assay in a multicenter clinical trial in Israel and Italy.

“We have enrolled 400 patients, divided into two stages. The first stage is for the creation of a commercial test based on professor Youdim’s findings, and the second stage is validation,” she said. “We also are completing a trial on retrospective samples from the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative study led by the Michael J. Fox Foundation. In our lab in Yokneam, we have tested over 1,000 samples, including samples from Parkinson’s patients, healthy controls and [Parkinson’s] patients who have clinical symptoms but no evidence of dopamine deficit in image scans.”
This retrospective study will examine how the biomarker changes over time and could help with prognosis as well as diagnosis, Yarden said.

“BioShai’s strategy is to first develop the test for differential diagnosis of [Parkinson’s] from patients with similar Parkinsonian motor features, and then to develop a modified version of the test for earlier diagnosis of patients with pre-motor symptoms, such as decreased ability to smell, constant constipation, depression and REM sleep disorders,” Yarden said. “A lot of these symptoms can appear for other reasons but are also considered non-motor early-risk factors for PD. Our biomarker would be specific for Parkinson’s.”

She noted that the cost of the PDx blood test, estimated to be several hundred dollars, is significantly less expensive than any available imaging test and “will definitely decrease the cost of diagnosis.”

She added that while other companies are working toward a blood test for Parkinson’s, “our assay is unique and we hope to be the first in market.”

Mind over matter: Treating Parkinson’s through martial arts

Many Israelis are hard at work looking into the causes of Parkinson’s disease, new treatments to relieve symptoms and technologies to manage the disease.

One Israeli, however, has focused his efforts on a mind-body approach. Alex Kerten said his gyro-kinetic program of martial arts, movement and music has helped hundreds of Parkinson’s patients from Israel and abroad over the past 20 years in slowing the progression and easing symptoms of this disorder, which affects the brain’s control over muscle movement.

As many as 10 million people worldwide suffer from tremors, impaired balance and rigidity associated with Parkinson’s disease, which has no cure. Drugs prescribed to lessen the symptoms also often cause unpleasant side effects.

“I don’t know what is worse: Parkinson’s or the cocktail of medications people receive to treat it,” Kerten said from his Gyro-Kinetics Center in Herzliya. “They get addicted to the drugs and need medication for its side effects.”

Kerten’s approach targets the physiology of behavior to provide a placebo effect on symptoms as a complement to medications and to reduce the amount of medication needed.

“The physiology of behavior means that our behavior patterns are based on how our nervous system reacts to situations,” he said. “Our biochemistry and our psychology start to change as we learn to control our way of thinking. They begin to interact through body/mind awareness and language, and when they do that, we begin to see a change in our physiology. And that’s when we begin to feel better.”

Kerten said he gets thousands of requests from people across the world interested in his method, and he has treated people at his Israeli clinic from Australia, the United States, United Kingdom and France. He long felt that a how-to book would enable him to reach a greater audience with the message that “there is an option.”

The project came together when Michael Wiese, head of American publishing company Divine Arts, came to Kerten for treatment and then offered to publish his book. David Brinn, managing editor of The Jerusalem Post (and founding editorial director of Israel21c), agreed to co-write “Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life! The Gyro-Kinetic Method for Eliminating Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Good Health.” It is scheduled for a January 2016 release on Amazon.

Although there is scientific evidence that movement and music open up new pathways in the neural networks and make them more efficient, the 70-year-old Kerten is not a scientist and has no medical degree.

He studied martial arts, structuring and healing movement, as well as somatic exploration and movement education. That was prior to working with Parkinson’s patients for four years at Reuth Hospital in Tel Aviv and teaching at the Maccabi Health Institute in Israel, then opening his private practice.

“Having seven black belts in martial arts is the only ‘diploma’ I need, and my clients provide all the proof I need,” he said. “They’re really rehabilitating and treating themselves.”

Most clients come to his clinic twice a week for four or five months, and then occasionally for maintenance. He prefers to work with people who have recently been diagnosed, before they have become dependent on medications.

The first time Kerten meets a client, he observes and asks questions to ascertain the level of disease and its physical and psychological effects.

“In many cases, the effect of the shock over having Parkinson’s is bigger than the Parkinson’s itself,” he said. “The most important thing is I try to see what medications they have gotten and how their behavior patterns have limited or entered their systems.”

Two phenomena he often sees are incorrect breathing, which harms the diaphragm and causes speech difficulties, and less usage of the hands because of trembling, which he said leads to memory problems.

“By seeing where their limits are in movement and rhythm, I tell them what we have to improve, and then I enter into systematic, methodic work. I have built four basic exercises that answer most of the problems and harmonize the body’s systems,” Kerten said.

He explained that when people have internalized the message that their body is going to get worse over time, the autonomic nervous system goes into survival mode and the disease becomes chronic.

“We teach people to communicate with themselves so as not to pass over messages that are not correct,” he said. “And with time, something very interesting happens: All the systems become entrained toward better health.”

Swinging with The 5th Dementia

Twice a week, four older men get together to make music. There may be nothing unusual about that, but aging has not been kind to them: To varying degrees, they’ve been affected by dementia or Parkinson’s disease. 

Nevertheless, when they get together and play standards from the American songbook — from “You Are My Sunshine” to “Fly Me to the Moon” — they can’t stop smiling.

Gene Sterling, a skilled drummer, leads the quartet. When he plays, there’s hardly any sign of his usual tremor. “Let’s do it bossa nova style,” he calls out before laying out a tempo. 

Paul Livadary, on piano, follows the beat, but Irwin Rosenstein, on electric keyboard, seems lost for the moment, and Sam Mayo, on harmonica, sways to a tempo all his own. When the song is over, Sterling jokingly suggests that for their next piece, they all play different songs — at the same time.

“Let’s see how that sounds,” he says. 

Livadary offers the reminder that “in this group, there aren’t any wrong notes”; Sterling laughs and nods.

Welcome to The 5th Dementia, a musical group with a name so self-mocking, it clearly doesn’t need to follow normal rules of rhythm and tempo. It was founded this past summer, along with parent organization MusicMendsMinds (motto: “restoring the rhythm of life”), by Carol Port Rosenstein and husband Irwin, the group’s aforementioned electric keyboardist, who is a 78-year-old retired attorney with Parkinson’s and early-stage dementia. 

The inspiration for creating The 5th Dementia (a play on the name of the 1960s band The 5th Dimension) occurred when Carol Rosenstein was participating in TimeOut@UCLA, a UCLA program designed to give respite to caregivers. She was taking a needed break, and her husband was at OPICA (Optimistic People in a Caring Atmosphere), the adult day-care center associated with TimeOut@UCLA, where there happened to be a piano. That’s when Irwin began picking out tunes he remembered from his college days. 

The first time he played, he didn’t get much of a reaction from the others; he thought his piano-playing had been a failure. But the next time Irwin gave it a go, others at the day-care center circled him and joined in by singing, including UCLA student volunteers who were paired with the seniors. When he came home afterward, Carol remembers, he was animated and happy. 

“At OPICA, they gave me a job,” Irwin said. “They asked me to be the music man.” 

Carol noticed that when her husband played music, he seemed to change in positive ways. He was more focused, more alive. 

“At night, when Irwin’s medication dose was low, playing piano would change his mood,” she said. This led her to ask Dr. Jeff Bronstein, a UCLA neurologist, if it was possible that music had “pushed despair aside” in Irwin’s brain. 

“Dr. Bronstein told me that it was not only possible, it was probable.” 

Apparently, the parts of Irwin’s brain that contain musical memory and skills have not been drastically affected by his ailments. And he’s not alone: MusicMendsMinds.org draws on scientific studies to explain that rhythmic responses don’t require cognitive processing and that a person’s ability to engage in music can remain intact despite dementia.

Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA’s Longevity Center, told the Journal that “music has a powerful effect on the brain.” Not only can playing music improve dementia symptoms, he said, just listening to music can have a positive effect on those with cognitive impairment.

Originally from South Africa, Carol is a dynamic 69-year-old redhead who met Irwin 30 years ago by way of the Jewish Journal personals. They were later married at University Synagogue in Brentwood. She told the Journal she’s a retired chiropractor who has been a “pioneer and educator in the field of holistic mind/body medicine.” Speculating that others like her husband might benefit from playing music, she mentioned the experience to her meditation group, InsightLA. 

That’s where Sterling, 68, with a tremor in his left arm, heard about it and asked about playing music with Irwin. The meditation teacher connected Carol with Livadary, 78, a piano-playing former attorney with short-term memory loss. And Mayo, 83, a retired Pierce College history professor, added his harmonica to the group, thanks to a contact at UCLA’s dementia-treatment center.

The 5th Dementia faced one immediate challenge when they learned that Mayo’s harmonica was appropriate only for songs played in the key of C or G. The others in the group shrugged that off as a minor issue, though — they decided all their songs would be in those keys. 

“Playing music with the others is the happiest time of the week for Irwin,” Carol said. “And I know it’s true for the others, as well. Each one of these men has had a thread of depression, and playing music has improved that.”

The men meet twice a week. On Mondays, they get together in the chapel of Brentwood Presbyterian Church, and on Wednesdays they jam at Windward School in Mar Vista, both of which have provided space for group. 

Recent rehearsals have been focused on preparing holiday songs they’ll play at their first public concert, Dec. 19 at Brentwood Presbyterian. At the end of a run-through of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Livadary, on the piano, added a flourish, drawing applause and thumbs-up signs from wives and caregivers, as well as from several young music students at Windward who play with the older men.

“This has been a godsend for these men,” Carol said. “They’ve developed enormous camaraderie. It’s become a new family for them. It’s not just therapeutic, it’s life-saving.”

She said she’s trying to find more musical seniors with Parkinson’s or early-stage dementia. 

“There’s no reason why we can’t have many groups like this throughout L.A.,” she said. “Ultimately, we’re hoping to change how mild dementia is handled. In the past, once it sets in, even in the early stages, patients were already waiting to die. But that does not have to be. When these men play music, they feel human. They feel connected to one another.

“I’d like the word to go out to all early-dementia patients who can play music — they don’t have to be skilled musicians. Come here and join us, see if it changes your life just as it’s changed the lives of these men. Since Irwin started playing music again — after not doing it for decades — it’s given me back a part of my husband.” 

Jewish movement disorders and genetics

As I was sitting (and standing) in a synagogue over the holidays I let my mind wander, as I often do under similar circumstances, and tried to answer the eternal question: If God designated the Jews as the “Chosen People” why did he/she also referred to them as the “stiff-necked people”? (Exodus 32:9: “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people”). Was God making an analogy between hard-to-control oxens and the stubborn and obstinate Isrealites who used them to plow the fields? While this is one explanation offered by Jewish scholars for the term “stiff-necked people”, as an academic neurologist, specializing in movement disorders, and someone who likes to challenge an established dogma, I raise the possibility that the stiff-necked Jews had a neurologic condition that caused neck spasms and/or neck stiffness. After all, it is well-accepted that Moses had a neurological condition that apparently caused a speech impediment (stuttering). Indeed, it is also well known that over the centuries and possibly millennia, Jews have had an increased risk for a variety of neurologic conditions, called movement disorders. This important association of neurologic movement disorders in people of Jewish ancestry has been recently described in a scientific article in JAMA Neurol (1), but I thought it would be important bring this to the attention of readers of this journal. 
 
Recent analysis of DNA sequences shared by Ashkenazi Jewish (AJ) individuals has provided insight into early Ashkenazi history. This research suggests that the world AJ population shrunk to only 350 as recently as 700 years ago (“bottleneck”) and that subsequent AJ generations, now totaling in millions, were a mixture of European and Middle Eastern ancestry (2). Because of intermarriages various genetic metabolic and neurologic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs, Niemann-Pick disease, mucolipidosis type IV, and Gaucher disease, became more common in the AJ population. In this review we wish to focus on neurologic diseases,categorized as movement disorders, that are being increasingly recognized to be relatively more frequent in people of Jewish ancestry compared to general population. 
 
What are movement disorders? Movement disorders is a group of neurologic conditions that can be divided into slow movements (hypokinetic disorders) or abnormal involuntary movements (hyperkinesias). The best example of a hypokinetic movement disorder is Parkinson’s disease. Hyperkinetic movement disorders are subdivided into tremors, dystonia, tics, chorea, athetosis, ballism, stereotypy, and akathisia. The latter term, akathisia, refers to motor restlessness, known in Yiddish as “the shpilke”. Restless legs syndrome, another movement disorder that could be described as “the shpilke”, refers to restlessness that occurs chiefly at night and predominantly involves the legs. Furthermore, incoordination, gait and balance disorders, and abnormalities in muscle tone (such as spasticity and rigidity) are also included among movement disorders (3,4). While the basal ganglia, the deep part of the brain that is involved in the fine controls of body movements, have been implicated in most of the movement disorders, there are many other parts of the central and peripheral nervous system that may be involved. Since the diagnosis of a movement disorder is based on accurate recognition of specific phenomenological features, clinicians who encounter patients with movement disorders must use their powers of observation to carefully characterize the disorder. Therefore, the phenomenological categorization of the movement disorder is absolutely critical in formulating the differential diagnosis, finding the cause, and selecting the most appropriate treatment (5). 
 
The following is a brief summary of the most common movement disorders highlighting those that are particularly common in people of AJ ancestry.
 
Parkinson’s Disease
 
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease starting typically in the 6th progressive slowness of movement, tremor, stiffness (rigidity), and gait and balance problems, and a variety of motor and non-motor symptoms. Although dopamine deficiency is the main neurotransmitter abnormality in the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease, there are many other biochemical and pathological changes that result in the rich variety of symptoms associated with the disease (6). 
 
While only about 5% of patients in general population have a specific genetic mutation causing their Parkinson’s disease, more than a third of all Israeli AJ Parkinson’s patients carry at least one of two mutations: GBA or LRRK2 (1). GBA gene, localized on chromosome 1, encodes the enzyme glucocerebrosidase, which is deficient in Gaucher disease, a rare metabolic disease, causing anemia, enlarged liver, and a variety of neurologic abnormalities. Mutations in LRRK2 gene (chromosome 12) have been identified in less than 4% of patients with Parkinson’s disease in general population but abnormalities in the LRRK2 gene account for about 30% of Parkinson’s cases in AJ patients. The original mutation in this gene has been estimated to have occurred in the North African Arab-Berbers between the 13th and 2nd century BC. Others have suggested that the founder lived 4,000 or 2,250 years ago in the Near East, when the ancestral Jewish and Arab populations lived in close proximity. 
 
Dystonia
 
Dystonia is neurologic movement disorder characterized by sustained or intermittent muscle contractions causing abnormal, often repetitive, movements, postures, or both (7). The condition was first described in 1911 by a German-Jewish neurologist Herrman Oppenheim (8). Oppenheim described four Jewish children who were referred to him from Galicia and Russia. He noted that these children had several features in common: 1) muscle spasms affecting limbs and trunk that resulted in twisted postures; 2) these abnormal movements worsened with walking and were associated with bent spine resembling the walk of a camel (dromedary gait); 3) the movements were rapid, but also sustained and rhythmic; 4) the postures progresses to fixed deformities; 5) muscle tone was either decreased or increased (spasmodic), but 6) there were no mental problems, weakness, or any other neurological abnormality. In addition to limbs and trunk, dystonia can affect the face and cause involuntary closure of the eyes due to contractions of the eyelids (“blepharospasm”), spasms of the jaw, tongue and other parts of the mouth and lower face (“oro-mandibular dystonia”), muscle contractions and turning of the neck (“torticollis” or “cervical dystonia”), spasms of the vocal cords (“spasmodic dysphonia”) and other involuntary muscle spasms. Dystonia may present only during specific activities (“task-specific dystonia”), such as a tight grip and painful spasm of the hand when writing (“dystonic writer’s cramp”), or during other occupational and sports activities and while performing a specific task, such as playing a musical instrument (9). One of the most recognized musicians whose career was severely impacted by focal, task-specific dystonia of his right hand was the world-renown concert pianist Leon Fleisher (http://vimeo.com/6684412). Even a common problem, such as golfer’s yips, have been attributed to task-specific dystonia (10). In some cases dystonia may progress very rapidly and evolve into a “dystonic storm” which can be life-threatening.
 
Although dystonia has been attributed to a dysfunction of the basal ganglia and its connections, the major advance in the understanding of genetic causes of dystonia has come with the discovery the most common genetic (Oppenheim’s) dystonia, now referred to as DYT1 (also known as TOR1A) dystonia. Mutation in the DYT1 gene on chromosome 9 resulted in an abnormal function of a protein called torsinA. This mutation, which occurs 5-10 times more frequently in the AJ population as compared to non-AJ populations, was apparently introduced in the AJ population about 350 years ago in Lithuania or Byelorussia. It is responsible for approximately 90% of childhood-onset cases of dystonia in people of AJ ancestry. 
 
There are now many treatment options for patients with dystonia. In 1987, we were the first to publish a double-blind, placebo controlled study of botulinum toxin treatment of patients with face and neck dystonia (11). Subsequent studies confirmed the efficacy and safety of botulinum toxin in many other forms of dystonia and other neurologic and non-neurologic disorders. Indeed Botox, one form of botulinum toxin, has become one the most recognized medicinal brands, used by nearly all disciplines of medicine. Other treatments of dystonia involve the use of medications that modify brain neurotransmitters and deep brain stimulation (12). 
 
In addition to certain forms of Parkinson’s disease and dystonia, there are many other neurological movement disorders occurring with higher-than-expected frequency in people of Jewish descent. These include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is particularly common in Sephardic Jews of Libyan and Tunisian ancestry. The disorder is manifested by a rapidly progressive neurological dysfunction, jerk-like movements (myoclonus), and cognitive impairment. Cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis, particularly common in Moroccan Jews, is characterized by juvenile cataracts, lipid accumulations in tendons, and a variety of neurological abnormalities, including parkinsonism, dystonia, and myoclonus. Machado-Joseph disease (also known as SCA3), characterized by progressive incoordination (ataxia), parkinsonism, spastic paraplegia, and restless legs syndrome, originated in a Portuguese Azorean family, but was also noted to have a high prevalence among some Yemen Jews. 
 
It is my hope that this brief review will increase awareness about movement disorders and highlight the importance of genetic counseling, particularly among Jewish people who have a family history of neurologic movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and other diseases manifested by incoordination or abnormal involuntary movements.
 
Joseph Jankovic, MD is Professor of Neurology, Distinguished Chair in Movement Disorders, Director, Parkinson's Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic, Department of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

References:

1. Inzelberg R, Hassin-Baer S, Jankovic J. Genetic movement disorders in patients of Jewish ancestry. JAMA Neurol 2014, in press).

2. Carmi S, Hui KY, Kochav E, et al. Sequencing an Ashkenazi reference panel supports population-targeted personal genomics and illuminates Jewish and European origins. Nat Commun. 2014 Sep 9;5:4835).

3. Fahn S, Jankovic J, Hallett M. Principles and Practice of Movement Disorders, Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier, Philadelphia, PA, 2011:1-548.

4. Albanese A, Jankovic J, Eds. Hyperkinetic Movement Disorders. Wiley-Blackwell,Oxford, UK, 2012:1-390).

5. Jankovic J. Treatment of hyperkinetic movement disorders. Lancet Neurol 2009;8:844-56.

6. Jankovic J, Sherer T. The future research in Parkinson’s disease. JAMA Neurol 2014 (in press).

7. Albanese A, Bhatia K, Bressman SB, Delong MR, Fahn S, Fung VS, Hallett M, Jankovic J, Jinnah HA, Klein C, Lang AE, Mink JW, Teller JK. Phenomenology and classification of dystonia: a consensus update. Mov Disord. 2013 Jun15;28(7):863-73).

8. (Klein C, Fahn S. Translation of Oppenheim's 1911 paper on dystonia. Mov Disord. 2013 Jun 15;28(7):851-62.

9. Jankovic J, Ashoori A. Movement disorders in musicians. Mov Disord 2008;14:1957-65.

10. Dhungana S, Jankovic J. Yips and other movement disorders in golfers. Mov Disord. 2013 May;28(5):576-81.

11. Jankovic J, Orman J. Botulinum A toxin for cranial-cervical dystonia: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Neurology 1987;37:616-623.

12. Thenganatt MA, Jankovic J. Treatment of dystonia. Neurotherapeutics. 2014 Jan;11(1):139-52.

Robin Williams was sober, had Parkinson’s at death

Robin Williams was sober and suffering from early stages of Parkinson's disease as well as anxiety and depression at the time of his apparent suicide, the actor's wife said in a statement on Thursday.

Susan Schneider said the actor “was not yet ready to share publicly” his struggles with Parkinson's Disease.

“It is our hope in the wake of Robin's tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid,” Schneider said in the statement.

The 63-year-old Oscar-winning star of such films as “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Good Will Hunting” was found hanged at his San Francisco-area home by his personal assistant on Monday.

Williams had been open about his struggles with alcohol and had recently gone to a Minnesota rehabilitation center this summer to “fine-tune” his sobriety, his publicist said.

The death of Williams, who shot to prominence in the 1970s with his groundbreaking hyperactive comedic style, shook Hollywood as tributes poured out from actors, directors, politicians and generations of fans.

Reporting by Eric Kelsey and Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Jonathan Oatis

Is there a link between Parkinson’s and Ashkenazi Jews?

It’s no secret that harmful mutations to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which increase a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer, are more common among those of Ashkenazic descent. Now researchers are investigating another gene mutation with links to Jews descending from Eastern Europe, this time related to Parkinson’s disease.

A major international study currently is enrolling participants of Ashkenazic heritage and other risk factors, with local testing taking place at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Its focus: the LRRK2 gene, a certain mutation of which is much more common in Ashkenazic Jews and a target of interest in drug development. 

It’s all part of a landmark effort that the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research began in 2010, called the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI). The $60 million international program aims to identify biomarkers in individuals with Parkinson’s, which has no cure and is characterized by tremors, impaired balance and rigidity. In the United States, about 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. 

Efforts to identify therapies and medications have been slow to come, and complicating matters is the fact that there are no biomarkers — measurable substances, processes or characteristics of the body (think of the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease) — which are critical in testing new therapies and treatments. Biomarkers give researchers a quick and more effective way to evaluate if a new therapy or drug is working. 

With several promising Parkinson’s drugs currently in the pre-clinical phase, “our concern and rationale was that if a therapeutic doesn’t work, we should know that because the therapy isn’t accomplishing its goals. We don’t want the outcomes to be unknown because we can’t measure it,” said Sohini Chowdhury, senior vice president of research partnerships for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. 

The current method to gauge the effectiveness of Parkinson’s treatments involves a physician measuring a person’s motions over a specified amount of time, which Chowdhury called highly inaccurate. 

“You need a measure that gives you a sense of accuracy and confidence,” she said. 

The first wave of PPMI studied individuals with Parkinson’s against a control group. That recruitment ended in 2013 – though the research is ongoing –  when the study expanded to groups with non-genetic risk factors, such as REM sleep disorders, and, more recently, to individuals with genetic risk factors, including LRRK2. The current study involving genetic markers is expected to enroll 500 individuals nationwide.

Changes in LRRK2 are believed to be responsible for 15 to 20 percent of Parkinson’s disease cases in Ashkenazic Jews, a much greater percentage than in the general population according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. 

Dr. Douglas Galasko of the UCSD School of Medicine said he and his team are enrolling Ashkenazic Jews who have a family member with Parkinson’s and who are willing to be tested to some degree. The more intensive testing involves spinal taps, brain imaging and more, and they hope to find 50 to 60 individuals worldwide to undergo that level of testing (two or three in Southern California). 

Others who want to become part of a registry and learn if they are a potential carrier of the LRRK2 gene — to remain up to date on treatment options as they become available — can do a quick cheek swab test as part of a mail-in kit. Those interested in enrolling in the study or getting tested can find additional details at michaeljfox.org/ppmi/genetics. UCSD is the only site for PPMI in Southern California. 

Galasko has high hopes for the study’s potential. He pointed to a recent consortium of efforts to identify biomarkers in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, which proved to be successful in just seven years, and which helped standardize markers to be used in research studies and clinical trials. 

“It’s made a real difference, and we’re hoping to push the field forward in Parkinson’s as well,” he said. “Being a part of these efforts is very exciting.”

Alon Friedman, associate professor on the faculty of health sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, wrote in an e-mail to the Journal that studying genetic markers is an interesting and promising approach. 

“First, there is an urgent need for early diagnosis, to be able in the future to prevent the diseases or delay the symptoms, rather than to treat once the cells have degenerated and it is too late. The discovery of biomarkers will be the key for future preventive medicine,” he wrote. “Not less important is the fact that genetic/biomarker studies might reveal new mechanisms that we currently do not suspect, underlying disease generation. The discovery of such new mechanisms will lead to new treatments.” 

While there were independent efforts to look for Parkinson’s biomarkers before, there wasn’t one group that could convene everyone on the grand scale of PPMI, according to Chowdhury. This is the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s largest investment to date.

“What differentiates PPMI is the richness and potential of the resources; data is collected and being made available in real time to the research community,” Chowdhury said. 

To date, the results have had more than 165,000 downloads worldwide, and the foundation has received 36 specimen requests. Almost anyone can request data from the Web site, ppmi-info.org. 

“The whole goal is to make this information available in real time,” she said. “Who knows who will have the next big idea?”

Writing can diagnose Parkinson’s

A new Israeli study comparing the handwriting of healthy people to those with Parkinson’s disease holds out the promise of providing a simple diagnostic tool at the earliest stages of the progressive disorder caused by the death of nerve cells in the brain’s muscle-movement control areas.

As many as 10 million people worldwide suffer the tremors, impaired balance and rigidity associated with Parkinson’s, which has no cure. In the United States, about 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. 

The handwriting study is the latest of many Israeli investigations into Parkinson’s. Unfortunately, physicians can diagnose the disease definitively only by observing clinical symptoms that appear at a relatively advanced stage, or by administering a test called SPECT, which uses radioactive material to image the brain.

But researchers at the University of Haifa and Rambam Medical Center in Haifa believe their study shows how the disease can be detected sooner, noninvasively and without radiation.

“Identifying the changes in handwriting could lead to an early diagnosis of the illness and neurological intervention at a critical moment,” explained Sara Rosenblum of the university’s department of occupational therapy.

She said that publication of results in the journal of the European Neurological Society aroused great interest at the International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders held last summer in Sydney, Australia.

Rosenblum initiated the study, which compared handwriting samples from 40 subjects, some of whom had Parkinson’s and some of whom were disease-free. She was building on previous research that has shown unique and distinctive differences between the handwriting of Parkinson’s patients and that of healthy people. However, most of those studies focused on motor skills (drawing spirals, for instance) and not on writing that involves cognitive abilities, such as signing a check or copying addresses.

According to Rosenblum, Parkinson’s patients notice a change in their cognitive abilities even before they experience a change in their motor abilities.

Her handwriting research was conducted in cooperation with Dr. Ilana Schlesinger, head of the Center for Movement Disorders and Parkinson’s Disease at Rambam, and occupational therapists at the hospital.

Half of the 40 participants were known to be in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, before obvious motor signs are visible. The subjects were instructed to write their names and to copy addresses — two everyday tasks that require cognitive abilities.

The writing was done on a regular piece of paper placed on an electronic tablet, using a special pen with pressure-sensitive sensors. A computerized analysis of the results compared writing form (length, width and height of the letters), time required and the pressure exerted on the surface while performing the assignment.

There were significant differences between the Parkinson’s patients and the healthy group, and all subjects, except one, had their status correctly diagnosed (97.5 percent accuracy).

The Parkinson’s disease patients wrote their letters smaller, exerted less pressure on the writing surface and took more time to complete the task. Rosenblum said the most striking difference was the length of time the pen was in the air between the writing of each letter and each word.

“This finding is particularly important because while the patient holds the pen in the air, his mind is planning his next action in the writing process, and the need for more time reflects the subject’s reduced cognitive ability,” she said. “Changes in handwriting can occur years before a clinical diagnosis and therefore can be an early signal of the approaching disease.”

Validating these findings in a broader study could pave the way for this method to be used for a preliminary diagnosis of the disease in a safe and non-invasive fashion. 

“This study is a breakthrough toward an objective diagnosis of the disease,” said Schlesinger, noting that this method would reduce the load on the health system because the test can be performed by a professional other than a doctor.

The researchers are currently applying the same method in a new experiment, using handwriting analysis to evaluate the degree of functional improvement in Parkinson’s patients who have received brain-implanted pacemakers.

Israeli firms get Michael J. Fox Foundation grants

Two Israeli companies working on treatments for Parkinson’s disease have been awarded grants by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Cell Cure Neurosciences and Proneuron Biotechnologies were awarded $660,000 and $430,000, respectively, under a new program started by the foundation to recognize that breakthrough research is being done in industry.

“Can you believe it? Two out of the 10 companies that received a grant under the therapeutic development initiative came from Israel,” said Karen Leeds, development officer at the Fox Foundation. “The competition was stiff. More than 70 companies from all over the world applied.”

The two small Israel biotech companies successfully competed against industry giants like Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. In fact, Cell Cure received the largest grant awarded by the foundation under the initiative.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation was founded by Parkinson’s sufferer and actor Michael J. Fox, who portrayed Alex P. Keaton in the sitcom, “Family Ties,” and then Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty on “Spin City.” He also had a successful movie career, highlighted by starring roles in the “Back to the Future” series.

More than 6 million people worldwide — 1 million in the United States alone — suffer from Parkinson’s. Since 2000, the foundation, either by itself or in partnership, has funded $90 million in research, which could also aid patients of other neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS and Alzheimer’s.

The foundation’s research initiative, which allocated $4.6 million, was designed to encourage commercial entities conducting research on the central nervous system to focus on a cure for Parkinson’s. Without money from the foundation, much of this research would likely be stalled.

Although both located in Israel, Cell Cure and Proneuron are taking different approaches to find a cure for Parkinson’s. Cell Cure focuses on stem cells, while Proneuron’s research centers on the immune system.

According to professor Benjamin Reubinoff, Cell Cure’s chief scientific officer and head of research, the company’s research centers on converting human embryonic stem cells into dopamine producing neurons.

The damaged neurons of patients suffering from Parkinson’s can no longer create dopamine in the brain, thus causing the muscle tremors, rigidity and twitches that make life a nightmare for them. When given synthetically, dopamine relieves the patient’s symptoms, but its effect is temporary and is associated with significant side effects. Reubinoff hopes to successfully transplant converted dopamine-producing neurons into the human body, enabling the body to resume producing its own dopamine.

The director of Hadassah’s Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center, Reubinoff is also a gynecologist who specializes in infertility problems and in vitro fertilization.

“It was through my work in infertility that I got to stem cells,” Reubinoff said.

Cell Cure is jointly owned by ES Cell International of Singapore and Hadasit Bio-Holdings, the publicly traded (Tel Aviv Stock Exchange) subsidiary of Hadasit, which is the corporation that handles the intellectual property of Hadassah Medical Center.

In marked contrast to the charged legal and political atmosphere in the United States against stem cell research, the field is flourishing in Israel, according to Dr. Charles Irving, Cell Cure’s chief operating officer.

“In all of the United States, there are 10 public stem cell companies, while in tiny Israel there are already five. It seems like more companies are going public on the Tel Aviv exchange every week. Supporting stem cell research seems to come from the Jewish ethos of helping people,” he said, backing up similar sentiments from Reubinoff.

“The Jewish religion and Orthodox rabbis support human embryonic stem cell research,” Reubinoff added. “Their priority is to save a human life. The Israeli Knesset has passed a law authorizing this kind of research,”

Founded on the groundbreaking neuroimmunology research of Dr. Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute, Proneuron uses different but equally valid research to search for a cure for Parkinson’s. Instead of creating new neurons, Proneuron seeks to repair and restore neuronal function by using the body’s natural repair machinery, the immune system. Previously, it was thought that it was best not to engage the body’s immune system in repairing damage to the central nervous system.

While Parkinson’s patients show an inflammation of the central nervous system, anti-inflammatory medication has not helped. Proneuron’s research has shown that boosting the right immune system response can successfully modulate the immune activity to become beneficial for neuronal survival and renewal. This approach has the potential not only to attenuate or stop disease progression but also to restore lost function, according to Dr. Eti Yoles, the company’s vice president of research and development.

After earning a doctorate in neurobiology from Bar-Ilan University in 1990, Yoles spent the subsequent 10 years first as a post-doctoral fellow and later as an assistant staff scientist in Schwartz’s laboratory. There she studied the physiological aspects of post-traumatic neuronal survival, focusing on the role the immune system plays in maintenance and repair of the central nervous system. Bringing that expertise to Proneuron has enabled the company to advance to the level of beating out the stiff competition for the Fox Foundation grant.

“The foundation was enthusiastic about Proneuron’s approach to modulate immune responses as a possible neuroprotective therapy for Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Brian Fiske, associate director of research programs for the foundation. “We are pleased to provide funding for this potentially high-impact research.”
Proneuron’s Yoles wasn’t surprised by the success of her company or that of Cell Cure in winning the foundation grants.

“The science in Israel is at a very high level,” she said. “Students are encouraged to compete and collaborate internationally very early in their career. Since there is not much money to fund research in universities in Israel, scientists here learn quickly to adapt their research towards commercial use.”

Laura Goldman is a freelance writer for ISRAEL21c, a media organization focusing on 21st century Israel.