Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Doron Melamed: Unlocking the Secret to Stronger Immunity

Tell Dr. Doron Melamed that aging is inevitable, and he is among the first to agree. The critical question, he points out, is not whether the process can be avoided – it’s whether, at certain levels, it can actually be reversed. His breakthrough research has proven exactly that.

Based at Haifa’s Technion, one of Israel’s most prestigious universities, Melamed leads a team of researchers that has accomplished something extraordinary: showing that it is possible to turn back the clock on the aging of the body’s immune system. The idea, he says, is not necessarily to extend survival, but rather to help people live healthier. “Older people suffer more from infectious disease and cancer,” he notes. “If we are able to improve their immune systems, they will age healthier and enjoy an increased quality of life.” His finding matches up exactly with the Jewish Home’s commitment to healthy aging, which includes a focus on helping seniors live high quality, productive and independent lives.

Melamed is an immunologist – someone who studies the development of immune cells. As the body ages, those cells see a marked decrease in development, ultimately leading to an immune system comprised of old cells that have a limited capacity to respond to infection. In the scientific community, conventional wisdom has long held that this age-dependent change in immune cell development is part of a progressive and irreversible process. Working in collaboration with colleagues, Melamed has turned that conventional wisdom on its head. “We conducted a ‘proof of principle’ experiment in which we took an old mouse whose lymphocytes [a type of white blood cell] were poorly generated and transformed it so that it was just like a young mouse in terms of generating cells,” he explains.

The potential implications of his work are remarkable and far-reaching. Restored to full health and functionality, immune systems would be better equipped to fight disease, enabling seniors to maximize enjoyment of their golden years instead of “going every week or two to a physician, having to take multiple pills each day and facing repeated hospitalization,” Melamed says.

In partnership with researchers at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, Melamed is conducting a clinical trial in humans to determine whether his discovery holds true across species. “I think it will take another two or three years until we start getting data from the clinical trial about whether or not this will work,” he forecasts. Once the efficacy of his treatment is determined, Melamed predicts it will be another several years before physicians and scientists begin identifying the full range of opportunities for human use.

Funded in part by coveted grants from the Israel Science Foundation, Melamed’s research continues to distinguish him as one of the country’s most promising young scientists – someone capable of seeing things with new eyes. It’s a metaphor he finds appropriate. “Aging was always considered to be progressive and irreversible,” he says. “Suddenly, someone comes along and wonders whether that’s just the way we see it, and that maybe, if we adjust our vision, we would come up with a different result. And that’s exactly what happened.”

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