While the general public has become more conscious of the need for protecting against sunburn in recent years, the incidence of skin cancer has continued to rise?
Why this anomaly? Because while existing sunscreen lotions do protect against sunburn, they do not provide protection for the more destructive elements of ultra-violet radiation (UVR) that can cause serious DNA damage and immunosuppression, eventually leading to skin cancer.
Taking a cue from nature, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem School of Pharmacy has found that more effective sunscreens can be produced by isolating compounds from several species of ancient organisms. For her research, Avital Kerner-Torres is a first-prize winner among graduate students in the annual Kaye Innovation Award presentations to take place on Tuesday, June 8, during the 67th meeting of the Hebrew University Board of Governors.
Avital-Torres explains that the ancient organisms with which she has experimented -- including certain types of fungi, algae and bacteria -- have survived for millennia in environments which expose them to high levels of solar radiation, such as bare rock and soil surfaces or deserts. To survive, they have developed natural sunscreen defense mechanisms which provide wide absorption of ultra-violet light.
Working in the laboratory of Prof. Morris Srebnik, Kerner-Torres has developed compounds with high biological anti-UVR activity that have been isolated from the natural organisms. Animal and human experiments have shown these compounds to be more effective than conventional sunscreens in protecting against skin reddening as well as against cell or DNA damage.
Patents have been taken out based on these compounds, and further commercialization is being negotiated through the Hebrew University's Yissum Technology Transfer Company and the Hadasit medical research development company of the Hadassah Medical Organization. It is anticipated that a new compound for a more effective sunscreen based on Kerner-Torres' work could be available in the market within a year.
Born in Haifa, Avital Kerner-Torres, 31, received her B.S. and M.Sc. degrees at the Hebrew University and is now working towards her doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy. Her husband, Gabriel Kerner, a graduate student at the Hebrew University in physical chemistry, is also a prize winner this year. He will be presented with a Barenholz Prize for Applied Research, which will be awarded at the same June 8 meeting of the Hebrew University Board of Governors.
Working with Kerner-Torres on the sunscreen research have been Dr. David Claes Enk of the Department of Dermatology at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School; his assistant, Dr. Malka Hochberg, and Prof. Ovadia Lev and Prof. Inka Dor of the Division of Environmental Science at the Hebrew University Faculty of Science
The Kaye Innovation Awards have been given annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.