Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld of Israel’s Zabludowicz Center of Autoimmune Diseases.

Using parasites to fight autoimmune diseases

Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld of Israel’s Zabludowicz Center of Autoimmune Diseases.

Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld of Israel’s Zabludowicz Center of Autoimmune Diseases.

It is common to make fun of men for acting like “big babies” when they’re even mildly sick. According to Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld, who heads the Shlomo and Pola Zabludowicz Center of Autoimmune Diseases (eng.sheba.co.il/567/329.htm) in the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, there is a physiological basis for this behavior.

Indeed, says the world-renowned Israeli autoimmunologist, prolific author and founder and editor of the Israel Medical Association Journal, Autoimmunity Reviews and J Autoimmunity: “Women are literally the stronger gender, with a better immune system. Not only do they outlive men, but when a woman has a cold, she goes about her business, and when a man has one, he takes to his bed and cries for a cup of tea.”

But this stronger immune system is also why, explains Shoenfeld, “with a few exceptions, autoimmune diseases attack women more than men, and usually at childbearing ages.”

As he gives ISRAEL21c a guided tour of the 3,000-meter (nearly 33,000-foot) center, decorated by Israeli artists and sculptors, Shoenfeld delivers a fluid summary of autoimmune diseases and the breakthroughs being made on the premises.

There are 80 such diseases, afflicting an estimated 20 percent of the population. Among these are the ones most people have heard of — rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease and lupus. All are characterized by an immune system gone amok.

“Instead of doing its work to prevent outside invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, from attacking our body, it turns inward and becomes the attacker,” says Shoenfeld, likening the process to “friendly fire” in the military.

“If it attacks the brain, for instance, the patient suffers from multiple sclerosis; if it attacks the intestine, it is Crohn’s disease. When it attacks many different organs and tissues, it is considered ‘systemic.’ Lupus is an example of a systemic autoimmune disease.”

Holistic approach

The innovation of the Zabludowicz Center is its holistic approach to researching, diagnosing, treating and finding cures for autoimmune diseases. It has brought together experts in every field of medicine (such as internists, immunologists, neurologists and gynecologists) to tackle what Shoenfeld and his colleagues call the “mosaic” of autoimmune diseases, which are always debilitating and sometimes fatal.

“Until recently, most of these diseases were diagnosed and treated by the individual organ specialists,” says Shoenfeld. “Over the last decade, we found that the causes of autoimmune diseases are the same, and that they include genetics, hormones and environmental factors such as the sun, pesticides and smoking.”

Through the work of more than 25 physicians and a research laboratory, the center has made strides beyond the first revolution in the treatment of autoimmune diseases — using biological drugs known as corticosteroids (such as prednisone) and immuno-suppressants. Shoenfeld describes both as “miraculous,” yet they cause multiple serious side effects and are very expensive.

Shoenfeld and his team studied regions of the world where there is a low incidence of autoimmune disease, and came up with the idea of “harnessing nature” in the form of helminth intestinal parasites – something that modern hygiene has largely eliminated.

Helpful parasites

In order to survive and thrive, helminths secret substances that suppress the host’s immune system.

“Wherever helminths thrive, autoimmune diseases are virtually non-existent,” Shoenfeld says. “We know from epidemiological studies that there is a connection between increased hygiene and increased autoimmune diseases and allergies.”

He relates that the Italian island of Sardinia was rife with malaria yet absent of autoimmune disease – until 1946, when the area was sprayed with DDT. Malaria was indeed curbed as a result, but the island’s population developed the highest incidence of multiple sclerosis in the world.

Hygiene theorists tried using helminths to treat autoimmune disease, having their subjects ingest the long parasites like spaghetti. The experiments were successful but “a bit disgusting,” says Shoenfeld. “So the next trial was to ingest helminth eggs — which are so tiny that they can’t be seen by the naked eye — and let them hatch in the patient.”

The problem is that the parasites are emitted in bodily waste, causing a public-health issue. The solution was to use the eggs of a pig helminth, which do not hatch in humans, or if they do, they die very quickly.

This method, approved by medical authorities, is currently sold over the counter via the Internet. And many patients who have tried it report beneficial effects.

Taking this a step farther, Shoenfeld and his team set out to mimic the helminth secretions that suppress a host’s immune system. The compound they patented, called TCP, is the basis of a startup they have established. They are seeking investors or pharmaceutical companies to mass produce the compound.

TCP is a mixture of two existing molecules in the body – phosphorylcholine, a non-immunogenic substance, and tuftsin, which is produced in the spleen and helps suppress the immune system. When introduced to mice in the lab at the center, via injection and orally, TCP completely eradicated lupus, colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Shoenfeld’s team is now expanding experimentation with TCP – which he believes can relieve almost all autoimmune diseases cheaply and without side effects — to tackle conditions such as hair loss and psoriasis. They are also starting a study on the connection between allergies and autoimmune disease.

“We believe that investors in this endeavor will get very rich,” he concludes.

For more information, click here.


Ronen Chen in the studio.

Fashion designer Ronen Chen shares a secret (audio)


Ronen Chen in the studio.

Ronen Chen’s label is known internationally.


Women in Israel, North America London and several other European cities shop for the Ronen Chen label when they need casual, comfortable and stylish clothing aimed at the 30-to-55 age range.

When Chen joined ISRAEL21c reporter Viva Sarah Press at TLV1 Radio  to talk about his 20 years in the fashion industry, he revealed, among other things, that he once dreamed of becoming an architect.

To listen to other ISRAEL21c shows on TLV1 click here.


ISRAEL21c in collaboration with TLV1.

ISRAEL21c in collaboration with TLV1.


Moshe Hogeg presenting Mobli. Photo courtesy of Holatelcel

Yo! Meet the man behind the app

Moshe Hogeg presenting Mobli. Photo courtesy of Holatelcel

Moshe Hogeg presenting Mobli. Photo courtesy of Holatelcel

Meet Moshe Hogeg, the Israeli venture capitalist and entrepreneur tagged by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 “Start-up Nation movers and shakers you need to know.”

The 33-year-old founder and chairman of Singulariteam  (a private investment fund and incubator formerly called Genesis Angels) — with an extensive network of companies he has created, technologies he has invested in, or both — is making an international name for himself.

His illustrious list of backers and partners includes Hollywood A-listers such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Serena Williams, and influential financiers including Mexican magnate Carlos Slim and Kazakh businessman Kenges Rakishev. With their help, Hogeg has made strategic investments in key up-and-coming technologies.

Among the tech companies in which Singulariteam, with a staff of 12, is backing are 30-second phone charger Storedot, Effective Space, Beyond Verbal and Infinity Augmented Reality.

Hogeg is an entrepreneur and investor.

Hogeg is an entrepreneur and investor.

Best known for founding Mobli, a real-time photo- and video-sharing platform predating Instagram (though the latter beat it to the punch on the market), Hogeg also made waves with the vastly popular app Yo.

Released this year, Yo has more than three million users, the first million of whom took a record four days to generate. Yo is an abbreviated method of communication, a “poke” that is understood between friends according to context.

His latest launch – in 20 languages — is Mirage, which puts a twist on Mobli: text, photos, voice messages and videos shared among users disappear after a few seconds.

The philosophy behind this platform was to enable real-life communication that is not stored in the cloud or on any device.

“The Internet was built by engineers,” Hogeg tells ISRAEL21c at the Mobli offices in Tel Aviv, where most of the company’s 70 employees are located. “It is structured so that everything is archived and documented and has a recorded history.”

Hogeg acknowledges that this is often as necessary as it is beneficial. But, he says, “There is also room for unrecorded communication — like when you see a beautiful girl on the street, and when she turns the corner, she’s gone; other than in your mind.”

Live fantasy league

Though Hogeg is a “techie by nature” who spent seven years in the Israel Defense Forces, rising to the rank of captain and serving as a company commander, his career was actually born out of his passion for soccer.

During a World Cup game in 2006, the coach of the Barcelona team did not put Lionel Messi in one of the matches, and that made Hogeg livid.

“Millions of people wanted to watch Messi play that day,” he recounts. “And one guy decides that we don’t get to do so. It made no sense. Sports are entertainment, after all, and the fans are the engine that propels it and makes it prosper.”

Hogeg decided to try and rectify the situation by creating a live version of a fantasy league.

“I took a third-division league in Tel Aviv – Kiryat Shalom – and I ‘replaced’ the coach with fans,” he says. “I broadcast live on a website I built, inviting spectators to decide which players would be in the starting line-up, for example.”

Mirage erases messages after they’re read.

Mirage erases messages after they’re read.

The idea was to “crowdsource” the league, to shape it as the fans saw fit. And from this emerged Hogeg’s first company, Web2Sport, which he created in 2007 upon finishing his military service.

“Imagine the thrill of bringing in a player and he scores a goal,” he says. “That’s why the site was so popular. But it was only in Hebrew, which limited its scope. That was a big mistake. An even bigger mistake was not charging for it. I made about 1,000 mistakes every single day in that period, but I learned from them.”

Indeed, Hogeg lived off his own savings, skimping on rent by moving from “one tiny dump to another,” and paying himself a meager salary – until 2008, when the global economic crisis caused the company to close.

This pushed him to become a self-employed consultant and on-line marketer earning what he considered an exorbitant salary – NIS 20,000 (about $5,000) per month. But this was a function of his being overloaded with clients and having no assistant.

“I was spreading myself thin,” he says. “Instead of being able to excel at one thing, I was chasing my own tail and being mediocre at everything.”

The risk pays off

At the advice of a concerned friend, Hogeg decided to quit working for others, and spent a year investing his energy in a single project of his own.

The risk paid off. He and a small team of techies – who agreed to take shares in place of salaries – created Mobli, using a local Tel Aviv café as their office.

“When the wait staff got visibly impatient with us, we would order a croissant to keep them from kicking us out,” he laughs. “It was all we could afford.”

Once the platform was presentable, Hogeg was able to garner investments.

The budding endeavor brought Hogeg – now married, with a two-year-old son — to New York for three years to engage in further fundraising, business development and marketing. Last year, he returned to Israel, where he plans to remain while aiming at markets in China, Latin America and Russia.

Hogeg says that one of the most important people on his team is a behavioral psychologist, whom he “plucked” from the Weizmann Institute of Science. His job is to vet the right potential partners for Hogeg to approach.

“In the end,” says Hogeg, whose Singulariteam companies have a net worth of more than $1 billion, “this is a people’s game.”

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Business,Israel in the Spotlight

Psst: Secret Tel Aviv

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Twenty recent young immigrants (ages 20 to 35) will showcase their small businesses at the Secret Tel Aviv Expo 2014, taking place November 27-28 at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center Gallery.

Dizengoff Center photo by Joy Cohen.

Dizengoff Center photo by Joy Cohen.

The event is not only a testament to the creative strength of the many new Israeli citizens from English-speaking countries and Europe – a five-year record of 24,800 in 2014. It also points up the amazing success of Secret Tel Aviv itself.

Started less than five years ago by British immigrant Jonathan Stark, Secret Tel Aviv has become THE online hub where tens of thousands of English-speakers in the White City turn for up-to-the-minute info on housing, events, jobs, dating, volunteer opportunities … every imaginable aspect of daily life, plus a whole lot more, in their native tongue.

Secret Tel Aviv founder Jonathan Stark.

Secret Tel Aviv founder Jonathan Stark.

Want to know where to buy canned pumpkin in Tel Aviv? Post on Secret Tel Aviv. Curious about new restaurants? Check Secret Tel Aviv. Not sure how much to tip the waiter or stylist? Find out on Secret Tel Aviv. Seeking a roommate or a pet? Ditto.

Speaking from his office at Secret Garden Media, Stark – a newlywed 34-year-old business and management consultant — tells ISRAEL21c that sometime after his 2008 arrival from Manchester, he decided to set up Secret Tel Aviv in the style of Secret London and Secret New York. (Another entity has since established Secret Jerusalem on Facebook as well.)

“It was all about content,” Stark says. “I was sharing my secrets about events and places. Now it’s morphed into a huge mishmash of stuff. I let it evolve naturally and it grew nicely. We now have about 50,000 members; two and a half thousand new ones every month. We do a lot of moderation in terms of members and content, to try to keep a positive vibe.”

The Secret Tel Aviv wall gets about 200 posts daily and a thousand responses. Stark now maintains a website, e-zine and Facebook page, transitioning Secret Tel Aviv into a business from a hobby. ISRAEL21c content is often featured in the magazine.

At the expo, personal trainers, artists, executive recruiters, matchmakers and wedding planners are scheduled to be among the presenters. The Dizengoff Center, as a partner in the event, is making rooms available for free exercise and dance classes, business workshops and other extras.

For more information, click here.

At a White House ceremony on November 20, 2014, President Obama honors Eli Harari with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Photo by Ryan K. Morris

From Tel Aviv to the White House

At a White House ceremony on November 20, 2014, President Obama honors Eli Harari with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Photo by Ryan K. Morris

At a White House ceremony on November 20, 2014, President Obama honors Eli Harari with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Photo by Ryan K. Morris

He’s described as a kindly uncle, a low-key gentleman and one of the most successful executives in the world.

It’s for another distinction – revolutionizing data storage with a technology known as flash memory — that SanDisk founder Eli Harari traveled to the White House on November 20 to receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

Without the Tel Aviv-born Harari’s innovations, there could be no digital photography, USB drives, smartphones, tablets, notebooks, e-books, apps or portable game controls.

Upon presenting the medal, President Obama said: “One month after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Eli Harari came to America from Israel to study the effects of radiation on electronics in space.  The physics he learned as a PhD student at Princeton led him to co-found SanDisk, and, eventually, to the creation and commercialization of flash storage technology.  And today, his technology is in millions of portable electronic devices, which our lives would be completely different without.”

Speaking with ISRAEL21c from London, where he was vacationing in October with his wife, Britt, Harari said the award “is a source of pride for myself and my family and all of SanDisk, including the 800 or so employees we have in Israel.”

Now 69 and retired for the past four years, Harari hasn’t forgotten the hurdles that had to be overcome before flash memory became ubiquitous the world over.

“I enjoy explaining to the hundreds of millions who use flash memory everyday how challenging it was to develop this technology and make it accessible and affordable, reliable and pervasive,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

“Over the years, we drove the technology and made it affordable to even the poorest people on earth. Over 25 years, we were able to bring flash-drive cost down by a factor of 100,000 times. If the airline industry could do that, you’d fly from London to New York for one penny. That would entirely disrupt civilization.”

Under the covers

Harari beckons us to give some thought to this technology that powers so much in modern society.

“If you look at SanDisk’s leading product, the 512-gig SD card for digital cameras and other devices, it’s hard to understand how much storage that is. There are 1.5 trillion transistors on that little piece of plastic. Not all of them always work because that’s the nature of very large numbers, but as far as users are concerned, 100 percent of them always work because those that don’t are covered by the others,” Harari explains.

Eli Harari cofounded SanDisk.

Eli Harari cofounded SanDisk.

“The nice thing about flash memory is that if you store your pictures in your iPhone and then you lose it and find it in 50 years, the pictures will still be there. And because it’s extremely compact and uses almost no energy, flash enables people like Steve Jobs to make devices extremely thin, without need for a heavy battery.”

The Israeli company M-Systems, another pioneer in this industry, was acquired by California-based SanDisk in 2006 for nearly $1.6 billion.

“We invented portable storage and flash memory for the mobile world in 1988. Dov Moran and Aryeh Mergi founded M-Systems a year after us. Their approach was software-based, while ours was at the chip and system level. For 17 years we were competitors, but SanDisk’s approach became dominant and now is the only solution,”  Harari explains.

“The fact that we paid $1.55 billion for M-Systems shows how much we valued their invention of USB flash drive and embedded flash storage in smartphones,” he adds. “The combination of what Dov and I developed in our respective companies made a fantastic product and team, and we worked closely together to make it a success.”

SanDisk’s Cruzer Fit USB flash drive.

SanDisk’s Cruzer Fit USB flash drive.

SanDisk now employs more than 8,000 people worldwide, and has more than 5,000 patents and $6.5 billion in annual sales. Harari himself holds some 70 patents in the field of nonvolatile memories and storage systems.

40 years that changed the world

Eli Harari was born in 1945 to Abraham and Genia, prewar immigrants from Poland.

“When I was 13, my parents decided I needed to be educated as an English gentleman, so they sent me to a Jewish school in Brighton, England — one of the best things they could have done for me even though I didn’t think so at the time,” says Harari.

At 18, he came home and began his Israeli military service as a technical clerk in the air force. He was allowed to leave four months early to start studying math and physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and finished his undergraduate degree at Manchester University in England.

“When I returned 12 years later to serve the remaining four months — lecturing about technology to air force officers — I had a wife and two kids,” he recalls.

Afterward, Harari earned a master’s and doctorate in solid-state physics at Princeton University. The family then settled in California, where they and their children remain. Their daughter is a fulltime mother of four children, while their musician son runs a music school.

In 1975, while working at Hughes Aircraft, Harari invented the industry’s first electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM), a precursor to flash.

“This was a substantial improvement over the Israeli invention EPROM, by Dov Frohman at Intel,” he says. “EPROM was a critical chip to make microprocessors work, but you could only program it and not easily erase it. I invented a way to erase it electrically.”

The road to SanDisk

In 1983, Harari founded the semiconductor company Wafer Scale Integration. Four years later, he and the board of directors had a falling-out and Harari left, agreeing not to compete with WSI.

“I’d built a good team but it was based on a flawed strategy and I made a lot of mistakes,” he says with characteristic modesty. “I considered the four years to be a fantastic school because it was a failure, and taught me what it takes.”

Harari started a company called SunDisk the day after leaving WSI. His 15-year-old daughter came up with the cheerful name, but it was challenged by Sun Microsystems six years later as a trademark infringement. “So we came to an agreement to change ‘Sun’ to ‘San.’ They sound almost the same, and in some countries, like Israel, they’re spelled the same way.”

In his new venture – joined by cofounders Jack Yuan and current SanDisk CEO Sanjay Mehrotra – Harari continued developing the physics of flash memory. “I saw that the whole industry was focused on storing code only, and was missing a big market opportunity to use flash memory to store multimedia content. In order to make it suitable for this purpose we needed to invent new flash-memory architecture. That was DataFlash.”

The rest is history, and you’ll be able to read all about it when Harari finishes his book “about what I did in the last 40 years that changed the world.”

Meanwhile, he and Britt travel extensively, enjoying the couple-time they missed for the 35 years he was running a company. “We’ve been so many places: up the Amazon River, to Antarctica, to the northernmost island in Norway. And the wonderful thing is, wherever I go I find SanDisk products. That makes me really happy.”