Hebrew University student develops method to check if AIDS patients developed resistance to drugs

Ph.D. candidate Lital Alfonta wins Kaye Award

Lital Alfonta, a Ph.D. candidate in the Faculty of Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has developed a fast, inexpensive test to determine if an AIDS patient has developed resistance to the medication he is taking. Ms. Alfonta was selected to receive the prestigious Kaye Innovation Award for her work, which could vastly improve treatment of AIDS patients.

Ms. Alfonta, who developed the test under the guidance of Prof. Itamar Willner, of the Institute of Chemistry, and Professor of Molecular Virology Moshe Kotler, explained that the AIDS virus changes as the disease progresses and often becomes immune to the medications being used against it. However, the existing tests to check if a medicine is no longer effective because the virus is immune to it take three to four weeks to conduct and cost thousands of dollars, beyond the means of most AIDS patients. More importantly, those few weeks that it takes to evaluate the test results could be the difference between life and death in treating an AIDS patient.

The test Ms. Alfonta developed can be evaluated within 24 hours and will cost as little as $100 to conduct, she said. It also is more sophisticated than current tests and the results will indicate what type of medication should be used to treat the patient. In addition, pharmaceutical companies can use it to evaluate AIDS medication during its development.

Ms. Alfonta, who is receiving an Eshkol fellowship from the Ministry of Science, made this important breakthrough in AIDS research during her Ph.D. research in bioelectronics in Prof. Willner’s lab. They are working on converting biological interactions of DNA into electronic signals and were looking for a sophisticated group of interactions to study. Prof. Kotler, who conducts AIDS research at the Faculty of Medicine, suggested that she study interactions involving the AIDS virus. Less than a year after she began working on this project, Ms. Alfonta made a significant contribution to Prof. Willner’s work in bioelectronics and to AIDS research.

Prof. Wilner said that they have filed an application to patent the test and are exploring commercial options to further develop and produce it.

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The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the University and society. The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University are being awarded Tuesday, June 4 at 10:30 a.m. during the 65th meeting of the University Board of Governors. The award ceremony will take place in the Atzmaut-Mexico Hall in the Faculty of Humanities at the Mount Scopus Campus.

Picture available upon request. For further information, contact:
Heidi Gleit, HU foreign press liaison: tel. 972-2-588-2904; cell, 972-64-454-593; email heidig@savion.cc.huji.ac.il
Orit Sulitzeanu, HU spokeswoman: tel. 972-2-588-2811

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