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New Treatment Reduces ADHD Symptoms in 1 out of 3 Students

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children. Symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, and the disorder is considered a chronic and debilitating disorder that affects many aspects of an individual’s life, including academic and professional achievements, interpersonal relationships, and daily functioning.

Tel Aviv University has developed a new treatment called Computerized Progressive Attention Training (CPAT), which has shown remarkable efficacy in alleviating symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) among students. In fact, a notable 33% of students experienced significant improvements in their symptoms when undergoing CPAT, surpassing the improvement in symptoms of only 11% of the students who participated in a parallel protocol involving mindfulness training. During this mindfulness training, students practiced a specific form of meditation designed to mitigate their attention difficulties. Importantly, the benefits of CPAT also outshone those of drug treatments like Ritalin, as the improvements persisted for up to four months after the completion of the treatment protocol.

Research Challenges with Non-Medication Interventions

The study was the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Pnina Stern, under the guidance of Prof. Lilach Shalev-Mevorach of The Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education at Tel Aviv University. The encouraging results of the study were recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

“We developed the CPAT system years ago, and it produced good results in previous studies that we conducted, mainly in children,” explains Prof. Shalev-Mevorach. “Furthermore, in the only study that we conducted in adults with ADHD, positive findings were obtained, but without indications of ‘far transfer,’ meaning an improvement in functions for which participants were not directly trained in the treatment.”

According to Prof. Shalev-Mevorach, it is challenging for researchers to make scientific claims about the effectiveness of non-medication treatments because it is difficult to compare them to a “non-medication placebo.” In other words, when studying non-medication treatments, it’s hard to distinguish the effects of the treatment itself from other factors like the attention participants receive during training sessions or the effort they put into the research. This makes it complex to determine the true impact of non-medication interventions.


Prof. Lilach Shalev-Mevorach

Students with ADHD Enrolled

In the current study, the team of researchers tried to resolve this by employing a research design that included two control groups: a regular control group, which performed the various assessment tasks at two points in time without any intervention as part of the research (the passive control group) and a second control group that participated in mindfulness training sessions under the guidance of a professional instructor. This type of training has yielded positive results in previous studies in people with ADHD.

For the experiment 54 students, male and female, diagnosed with ADHD were recruited from Tel Aviv University and other academic institutions. The subjects were blindly divided into three groups: a zero-intervention control group, a mindfulness group and a CPAT group.

Participants in the CPAT and the Mindfulness groups attended two-hour long group meetings on the University campus once a week, where the CPAT group received Computerized Progressive Attention Training and the mindfulness group received training from a certified mindfulness instructor.

Before and after the intervention protocol, the participants of the three groups performed a comprehensive series of assessment tests: standard computerized tests to assess attention functions, behavioral assessment questionnaires (self-reported ADHD symptoms), and mindfulness questionnaires (self-reported feelings such as stress, anxiety and well-being). In addition, a novel measurement was used for this intervention study, whose participants were, as mentioned, higher-education students: they were asked to read a text from a scientific article while their eye movements were tracked by an eye-tracker. The indices produced using the eye-tracking system made it possible to identify a pattern of inattentive reading, which was used as a measure of reading efficiency in an academic context. Finally, the participants filled out a questionnaire regarding their academic difficulties.

Improvements Maintained Over Time

Prof. Shalev-Mevorach says the results were very positive: “We saw improvements in the attention functions themselves, that is, ‘near transfer,’ for example in sustained attention, the ability to remain attentive for a long period of time, and in attention control, the ability to delay a routine response. But the main thing, is that we saw significant improvements in the participants’ daily and academic functioning, such as reduced repeated reading while reading a scientific article. Furthermore, the improvements in these attention functions were connected to the reduction in behavioral symptoms of ADHD and in repetitive reading.”

“In other words, the CPAT trained the attention mechanisms themselves, and their improvement was related to the improvement achieved in behavioral symptoms and reading patterns. 33% of the participants who received the CPAT protocol showed a significant improvement in ADHD symptoms, compared to only 11% of those who underwent the mindfulness protocol. The improvements obtained were preserved in the testing that was carried out about four months after the end of the intervention protocol.”

Prof. Shalev-Mevorach notes that the effects of stimulant drugs (psychostimulants) such as Ritalin and Concerta are ‘on-off’: patients who take Ritalin daily enjoy significant improvements, but when they stop the treatment, the improvements fade, and they return to the starting point. She says the researchers wish to bring about “a profound change in basic attention functions, a change that will be significant in the long term, as an additional option alongside medication, and of course as an alternative to drug treatment in cases in which it isn’t applicable.”

Revolutionizing Mental Health Through Psychedelic Research

The Institute for Integrative Psychedelic Research was inaugurated recently at Tel Aviv University. The Institute’s primary focus is to foster interdisciplinary research on psychedelics and deepen the understanding of brain-mind-body interactions. With the vision to revolutionize mental health, the Institute aims to become a global leader in the scientific exploration of psychedelics and psychoactive medicine.

Bridging the Mind-Brain-Body Gap

Understanding the connection between neural activity and our emotional-cognitive experiences is a leading question in cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and neuropsychiatry. The “Mind-Brain Gap” refers to the link between our brain functioning and mental experiences, which is not fully understood. Psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine, have shown beneficial clinical effects and provide a unique opportunity to study this complex link.


“I believe the psychedelic neuroscience research could deepen our understanding of the mind’s neurobiological building blocks and how they interact with our bodily sensations, thus bridging the mind-brain-body gap. And it’s a huge gap.” – Prof. Talma Hendler


Prof. Talma Hendler will lead the efforts of TAU’s Institute for Integrative Psychedelic Research (photo: Ofer Amram)

To understand how psychedelics affect the mind, we need to consider various factors that influence consciousness, emotions, social interactions, and motivation. Prof. Talma Hendler is the incoming director of the Center and a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at TAU’s School of Medicine at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and School of Psychological Sciences at the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences. She says “psychedelics are a powerful experimental tool with a tremendous potential to clarify fundamental questions regarding the essence of human mental experience. The primary goal of our institute is to promote rigorous academic psychedelic research, exploring the relations between the mind, brain, and body.”

“I believe the psychedelic neuroscience research could deepen our understanding of the mind’s neurobiological building blocks and how they interact with our bodily sensations, thus bridging the mind-brain-body gap. And it’s a huge gap. “

WATCH: The inauguration of the Institute for Integrative Psychedelic Research at Tel Aviv University


“I’ve also been intrigued by the pharmacological changes psychedelics induced at the neuro level, through the process of neuroplasticity, by either forming new neuron-cells or creating new connection synapses in specific brain regions. Such plasticity could explain the significant therapeutic potential of psychedelics for alleviating suffering from otherwise treatment-resistant conditions like suicidal depression, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), chronic pain, and end-of-life distress.”

“Importantly, the combined features of rapid therapeutic effect, neurochemical diversity, and unique, subjective experience positions psychedelics at the forefront of personalized medicine.”

Revolutionizing Mental Health

The Institute for Integrative Psychedelic Research is led by esteemed academic figures, including Prof. Hendler; Dr. Haggai Sharon, a pain specialist and neuroscientist; and head of the Sagol School of Neuroscience, Prof. Yossi Yovel.

Operating under the auspices of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience, with medical operations at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), the Institute aims to promote rigorous academic research and explore the relations between the mind, brain, and body.


The inauguration ceremony of the Institute drew a large crowd to TAU’s beautiful new Coller Terrace at the Lorry Lokey building (photo: Ofer Amram)

A Multidisciplinary Endeavor

The Institute encourages interdisciplinary research, embracing the biopsychosocial model of health and wellbeing. It fosters collaborations between various academic areas, including neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, philosophy and policy and ethics. By integrating different disciplines, the Institute aims to build a comprehensive and unified scientific understanding of psychedelics.

Between Bench and Clinic

Tel Aviv University, with its strong ties to 19 affiliated hospitals and partnership with government ministries and pharma companies, is well-positioned to bridge the gap between laboratory discoveries and clinical applications.

Furthermore, the University’s multidisciplinary scientific environment brings together researchers from diverse fields, facilitating advancements in translational and basic medicine.

Generous Contributions

The establishment of the Institute for Integrative Psychedelic Research was made possible by the generous contributions of Mr. Jeremy Coller, Dr. David B. Katzin, and Dr. Dmitry Repin. These visionary donors believe in the transformative potential of the Center’s research endeavors.

Stay updated with upcoming Call for Applications and research publications to learn more about the Institute’s progress on the Sagol School of Neuroscience website.


Micro-engineered cell culture models, so-called Organs-on-a-Chip have emerged as a new tool to recapitulate human physiology and drug responses.

Multiple studies and research programs have shown that Organs-on-a-Chip can recapitulate the multicellular architectures, vascular-parenchymal tissue interfaces, chemical gradients, mechanical cues, and vascular perfusion of the body can produce levels of tissue and organ functionality, as well as mimicry of human disease states, which are not possible with conventional 2D or 3D culture systems.

Here we exploit the micro-engineering technology in a novel system-level approach to disintegrate the functions and coupling of neurovascular unit in to its individual cellular compartments while keeping the paracellular metabolic coupling.

Brain + Learning = Minducate, Welcome to Minducate

Minducate is an innovation and learning center that brings together outstanding young researchers at TAU to explore the science of learning and create a bridge between education, academia, and industry. The center is a joint endeavor of the Sagol School of Neuroscience and TAU Online-Innovative Learning Center.

A yearly cohort of fellows lead novel, technology-based research combining fields ranging such as neuroscience and psychology to enhance our understanding of learning and teaching. The 2020 fellows focus on the future of learning.

For example, Dr. Konstantin Sonkin, of the Sagol School of Neuroscience, is creating a robot to enhance the motor and cognitive learning of special-needs children. Doctoral candidate. Yael Shavit, also of the Sagol School, researches the neuro-mechanisms that drive brain activity in order to improve language-acquisition skills. Tomer Gal, a doctoral candidate at the Constantiner School of Education, is studying how using automated instructions during a learning exercise can provide students with personalized feedback.

Dr. Konstantin Sonkin. Photo: Yoram Reshef.

Minducate receives support from the Dr. Kathy Fields-Rayant and Dr. Garry Rayant Minducate Learning Innovation Research Fund and the Walanpatrias Foundation, and is managed by Dr. Michal Shevach.

Tel Aviv University’s First MedTech Hackathon Sets a High Bar

TAU’s first competition for medical innovation ended last weekend (January 11-13) with spectacular results. The TAU MedTech Hackathon, organized by four entrepreneurial students from Tel Aviv University’s faculties of Medicine and Engineering, included 200 students who participated alongside 120 mentors and 30 judges from Israeli medicine and hi-tech. They shared the common goal of finding solutions for today’s burning medical problems.

Burning Challenges from Israel’s Medical Industry

TAU students from Medicine, Engineering, Computer Science, Bioinformatics, Neuroscience, and Sofaer Global MBA (the flagship global MBA program of the Coller School of Management) worked together in 34 interdisciplinary teams for over 40 hours to come up with practical solutions to critical issues as defined by selected Israeli organizations and hospitals.

Among the problems: finding a technological solution for early detection of peripartum depression (depression occurring during pregnancy and/or after childbirth); providing remote healthcare to ease the burden on hospitals and individuals who are physically challenged; inventing a new and safe device for brain water drainage in cases of hydrocephalus (a life threatening condition in children), and more.

The participants were not left to their own devices: each team was assigned two mentors, one from the medical world and another from the technological world, each of them a leader in his or her respective field. In addition, the participants could join lectures and TED-style talks by industry experts.

Among the 200 participants were 30 international students, eight of them from Sofaer Global MBA. “The hackathon was an amazing experience which allowed our students to help their teams with the business side of the process and implement the knowledge they already gained through their studies into this real life experience. Impact entrepreneurship is the kind of entrepreneurship that we encourage and support at Sofaer,” said Jackie Goren, Head of the Program and one of the mentors at the hackathon.

Student Initiative

The students who launched the ambitious initiative were Tom Zukerman, Yael Lieber and Orr Erlich – all third-year medical students, and Ilan Peerutin, a third-year dual Biomedical Engineering, Biology and Neuroscience student.

Together, the four recruited support from international tech and biomedical engineering giants, as well as hospitals and health care funds. Noteworthy sponsors included: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, AWS, Meuhedet, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, TAU’s Entrepreneurship Center, Teva, Ichilov Tech, Novartis, Startup Nation Central, Philips and the Sagol Center for Regenerative Medicine.

Tel Aviv University encourages entrepreneurial activities for and by its students, and Prof. Karen Avraham, TAU’s Dean of Medicine, supported the students throughout the process: “This was an incredible initiative, and it came entirely from the students. They asked me if the Faculty of Medicine would support the project, and I immediately agreed (…) This hackathon is particularly thrilling because it is not a given that students would dedicate their time and make the effort required to mobilize so many stakeholders to come up with solutions to save people’s lives and health,” she said.

And the Winners Are…


Making the Operating Room Safer

The first prize went to team “OReye” from the Clalit Health Services’ general surgery challenge. Most aspects of patient safety in surgeries today are handled solely by the operating team. OReye utilizes cutting-edge computer vision technology to alleviate some of this responsibility, allowing the team to focus solely on the procedure. OReye’s mission is to improve patient safety in the operating room and reduce stress for surgical teams, making it a valuable tool in the operating room. Their project stood out for its originality, feasibility, and potential impact.

The winning team will be flying to compete in the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) medical hackathon competition “MIT Grand Hack,” scheduled for April 2023.

They will also receive an AION Labs and Sanara Ventures accelerator package, which includes personal mentoring hours with experts, office space and professional tools to help develop their winning idea into a commercial startup.


The winning team and Prof. Karen Avraham (from left to right): Adi Sarig, Aviv Ziv, Prof. Karen Avraham, Idan Hezler, Eden Elbaz, Raz Naveh and Daphne Cavanaugh

Early Detection of Peripartum Depression

The runner-ups were the “Mommies,” who took on the women’s health challenge from the Briah Foundation. The team created a community-based wellness app for the early diagnose and treatment of peripartum depression. “It is a true delight to create something for women,” says team member Juliana Gordon from the Sofaer MBA Program, and adds “This is just the beginning. Hopefully we will be able to impact millions of lives, benefitting society.”

The team will receive ten mentoring sessions with experts from Weccelerate and the Israeli Leumit Health Services.


Team “Mommies” with Alon Pinhas from Weccelerate (from left to right): Juliana Gordon, Victoria Koval, Assaf Gadish, Mirit Halfon, Tal Beit Halevi, Shani Zach and Alon Pinhas (Weccelerate)

Personalized Treatment Plans for Breast Reduction

Team “ABC3D” competed in the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center Ichilov’s plastic surgery challenge. They developed a service that uses 3D models to create personalized treatment plans for breast reduction surgery. This enables advanced prediction and visualization ahead of surgery.

The team was awarded an entrance ticket to the JumpTAU accelerator program at TAU’s Entrepreneurship Center.


Team “ABC3D” with Yair Sakov, Head of TAU Entrepreneur Center (from left to right): Savion Cohen, Sarah Tannenbaum, Alaa Masarwa, Ido Shapira, Lydia Sokolovski and Yair Sakov (TAU Entrepreneur Center)

In addition, all the winning teams will receive legal advice, courtesy of leading Israeli commercial law firm Barnea Jaffa Lande.
“Prizes for such hackathons are usually monetary,” notes organizer Tom Zuckerman. “However, it was important to us that the winners receive tools and assistance to develop the skillsets needed to advance their initiatives.”

The Joy of the Process

How do the organizers summarize the event? The hackathon exceeded all their expectations: “When we started this project, we didn’t imagine that so many people would believe in our vision. Those 40 hours were incredible; 200 talented and motivated students, accompanied by professionals and super-experienced mentors, and an extraordinary panel of judges. Seeing the results was fantastic, but following the process was an absolute joy.”

“We are already looking forward to next year’s hackathon, where we will continue to push the boundaries of medical innovation and positively impact the healthcare industry. In addition, we will be organizing other events during the year, and you’re all welcome to follow us to stay up to date!”


Tired but happy. TAU MEDTech organizers (from left to right) Tom Zuckerman, Orr Erlich, Yael Lieber and Ilan Peerutin

Delving into the Human Mind in Multiple Dimensions

At the new Extended Realities Lab, or “TAU XR,” researchers from across campus can use immersive, augmented and mixed-reality environments for conducting experiments spanning all disciplines as well as for enhancing students’ learning experience.

When subjects wear virtual reality (VR) goggles at the lab, they plunge into a three-dimensional space that appears and feels completely real. It can be a maze with endless corridors, a museum, a busy intersection, a courtroom, a theatrical production or an airplane. The virtual reality environment can be enhanced by real objects added to the mix.

“These are data-rich environments, where every minute detail can be measured: the eye, head and body movements of a person, their reactions. We can now quantify this data and obtain unique insights into the human mind, cognition, intelligence and many other subjects in more naturalistic settings,” says Prof. Tom Schonberg of the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience. He directs both TAU XR, which is located at the Sourasky Central Library, and the new Minerva Center for Human Intelligence that the lab serves.

Head of the Library Dr. Naama Scheftelowitz leads the learning and outreach activities at TAU XR, the renovation of which was supported by Victor Constantiner.


The Aufzien Family Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease (APPD)


The Aufzien Family Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease (APPD) has been established by a generous donation from the Aufzien Family to promote and enhance research towards better treatment and prevention of Parkinson’s Disease.


The APPD is an academic Center at The Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, which serves as a hub for innovative translational research in Parkinson’s Disease. The center has a grant program and educational activities to support cutting-edge research towards better treatment and prevention, or slowing down of Parkinson’s Disease progression. The Center holds monthly seminars, annual international symposiums and active student exchange programs.

APPD Structure

APPD Directors

Prof. Nir Giladi and Prof. Karen Avraham

Global Advisory Board

Prof. Werner Poewe, Prof. Susan Bressman, and Prof. Jeffry H. Kordower

TAU Scientific Advisory Board

Prof. Sharon Hassin, Prof Drorit Neumann, and Prof. Illana Gozes

Grants Committee

Prof. Nir Giladi, Prof. Karen Avraham, and Prof. Dan Peer


Rinat Zaslavsky

Grants Manager
Dr. Keren Shatzman


Alana Sisam and Helen Berman

Prof. Nir Giladi



Nir Giladi, M.D., is a renowned leader in the field of movement disorders and holds The Yehezkel and Batya Sieratzki Chair for Neurology. He is a Full Professor at the School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University and Chairman of the Neurological Institute at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

His research interests are in the field of gait, falls, cognition and genetics in Parkinson’s Disease. Over the past decade, Prof. Giladi has devoted much of his time to research regarding the prodromal stage of Parkinson’s Disease, focusing on biological markers of early detection and predicting the conversion from a subject at risk to a patient with Parkinson’s Disease.


Prof. Karen B. Avraham



Karen B. Avraham, Ph.D., is the Dean at the Faculty of Medicine and holds the Drs. Sarah and Felix Dumont Chair for Research of Hearing Disorders. She performs research on sensory and neural genomics at the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry and is a member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience and the Safra Center for Bioinformatics. Dr. Avraham was awarded the Sir Bernard Katz Prize (Humboldt Foundation, Germany), the Bruno Memorial Prize (Rothschild Foundation), the TEVA Prize for Groundbreaking Research in Rare Diseases, the Teva Founders Prize on Breathroughs and most recently, the Beutler Research Program of Excellence in Genomic Medicine. Her team’s grant support is from the National Institute of Health (NIH), Israel Science Foundation (ISF), Israel Precision Medicine Partnership (IPMP) Program, German-Israel Research Foundation (GIF), and Beutler Research Program of Excellence in Genomic Medicine.

Personal and company donations will all be devoted to further support research in the treatment and prevention of Parkinson’s Disease.


To contribute, please contact us.

Parkinson’s Genetics: from observation to disease modification

Aufzien Family Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease (APPD) is happy to invite you to a conference on Parkinson’s Genetics: from observation to disease modification

The Steinhardt Natural History Museum, Tel Aviv University
November 16, 2023

Confirmed international speakers

Christine Klein
University of Luebeck,

Ellen Sidransky
National Institutes of Health,

Andrew Singleton
National Institute on Aging,


Confirmed local speakers

Roy Alcalay
Tel Aviv Medical Center

David Arkadir
Hadassah Medical Center

Anthony Futerman
Weizmann Institute of Science

Orly Goldstein
Tel Aviv Medical Center

Mia Horowitz
Tel Aviv University

Avner Thaler
Tel Aviv Medical Center

Avi Orr Urtreger
Tel Aviv Medical Center


Abstract submission (poster and oral) deadline September 14, 2023

Outstanding abstracts will be selected for oral presentation


Organizing committee:

Roy Alcalay | Mia Horowitz | Noam Shomron | Keren Shatzman | Rinat Zaslavsky | Nir Giladi


For questions, contact Rinat Zaslavsky,

New system for detecting Parkinson’s early

Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease, affecting everything from speech, posture and gait to digestion, sleep, impulse control and cognition. Therapies exist that alleviate some symptoms of the disease, but there is still no cure for Parkinson’s, which affects close to one million Americans and 10 million people worldwide.

A new Tel Aviv University study unveils a novel method for detecting the aggregation of the protein alpha-synuclein, a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. With this knowledge, caregivers could introduce treatment that has the potential to significantly delay disease progression.

By the time a patient is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, 50 percent to 80 percent of the dopaminergic cells in the part of the brain called substania nigra are already dead, possibly due to development of toxicity as result of alpha-synuclein aggregation. “We have developed a new method for tracking early stages of aggregation of alpha-synuclein using super-resolution microscopy and advanced analysis,” says Prof. Uri Ashery, co-author of the study and head of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and TAU’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. The research was published in Acta Neuropathologica on May 31.

“Together with our collaborators at Cambridge University, who developed a special mouse model for Parkinson’s disease, we were able to detect different stages of the aggregation of this protein,” Prof. Ashery explains. “We correlated the aggregation with the deteriorating loss of neuronal activity and deficits in the behavior of the mice.”

A big step towards early detection

“This is extremely important because we can now detect early stages of alpha-synuclein aggregation and monitor the effects of drugs on this aggregation,” says Dr. Dana Bar-On of the Sagol School of Neuroscience, a co-author of the study. “We hope that this research can be implemented for use in the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s in patients. We’re currently working to implement the methods in a minimally invasive manner with Parkinson’s patients.”

The researchers, in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute in Gottingen and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, were able to illustrate the effect of a specific drug, anle138b, on this protein aggregation and correlated these results with the normalization of the Parkinson’s phenotype in the mice, according to Prof. Ashery. “This is a significant step forward in the world of Parkinson’s research,” he says.

The researchers are planning to expand their research to family members of Parkinson’s disease patients. “By detecting aggregates using minimally invasive methods in relatives of Parkinson’s disease patients, we can provide early detection and intervention and the opportunity to track and treat the disease before symptoms are even detected,” Prof. Ashery concludes.

Could diet and exercise help prevent dementia?

A new Tel Aviv University study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease finds that insulin resistance, caused in part by obesity and physical inactivity, is also linked to a more rapid decline in cognitive performance. According to the research, both diabetic and non-diabetic subjects with insulin resistance experienced accelerated cognitive decline in executive function and memory.

The study was led jointly by Prof. David Tanne and Prof. Uri Goldbourt and conducted by Dr. Miri Lutski, all of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine.

“These are exciting findings because they may help to identify a group of individuals at increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older age,” says Prof. Tanne. “We know that insulin resistance can be prevented and treated by lifestyle changes and certain insulin-sensitizing drugs. Exercising, maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, and watching your weight will help you prevent insulin resistance and, as a result, protect your brain as you get older.”

A two-decade study

Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells fail to respond normally to the hormone insulin. The resistance prevents muscle, fat, and liver cells from easily absorbing glucose. As a result, the body requires higher levels of insulin to usher glucose into its cells. Without sufficient insulin, excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream, leading to prediabetes, diabetes, and other serious health disorders.

The scientists followed a group of nearly 500 patients with existing cardiovascular disease for more than two decades. They first assessed the patients’ baseline insulin resistance using the homeostasis model assessment (HOMA), calculated using fasting blood glucose and fasting insulin levels. Cognitive functions were assessed with a computerized battery of tests that examined memory, executive function, visual spatial processing, and attention. The follow-up assessments were conducted 15 years after the start of the study, then again five years after that.

The study found that individuals who placed in the top quarter of the HOMA index were at an increased risk for poor cognitive performance and accelerated cognitive decline compared to those in the remaining three-quarters of the HOMA index. Adjusting for established cardiovascular risk factors and potentially confounding factors did not diminish these associations.

“This study lends support for more research to test the cognitive benefits of interventions such as exercise, diet, and medications that improve insulin resistance in order to prevent dementia,” says Prof. Tanne. The team is currently studying the vascular and non-vascular mechanisms by which insulin resistance may affect cognition.

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