With the onset of the pandemic, some 30 percent of COVID-19 patients suffered blood clots that created lethal blockages in their lungs, kidneys, heart, and brain.
Prof. Abd al-Roof Higazi found that COVID patients exhibited an abnormally high concentration of the peptide alpha-defensin, a peptide he had previously discovered speeds up blood clot formation.
“The sicker the patient, the higher the concentration of the peptide found in their blood,” he explains. “We knew that if we could stop this protein from increasing, we could prevent blood clots, and dramatically reduce the number of patients on respirators in our ICUs.”
A world-renowned expert in fibrinolysis (the process impeding the growth of blood clots), Higazi was aware that existing anticoagulant drugs do not impact alpha-defensin. His seminal discovery linking the family of alpha-defensin proteins to clotting was published in Blood – American Society of Hematology, in 2019. In 2020 Higazi was awarded a coveted Israel Science Foundation grant to further his investigation on the impact of blood clots on COVID-19 patients.
Higazi, together with lab manager Dr. Suhair Abdeen, published their discovery of elevated α-defensin levels in COVID-19 patients, in the prestigious British Journal of Haematology. In a follow-up paper in the same Journal, they propose treating COVID-19 patients with a combination of colchicine and tocilizumab to reduce inflammation-associated thrombosis.
Prof. Abd al-Roof Higazi is an Israeli Arab scientist. He is head of Hadassah’s Clinical Biochemistry Department and Laboratories Division and is an admired lecturer in Biochemistry and Enzymology at the School of Medicine of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He resides with his family in Wahat al-Salam, Neve Shalom, a cooperative village of Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
As head of Hadassah’s Laboratories Division, Higazi is responsible for 95% of all blood tests carried out in both Hadassah campuses. The cutting-edge fully automated robotic laboratories perform over 5 million tests a year, and 270 different test procedures, some of which are unique in Israel.
The automated labs at Hadassah are the most advanced in Israel, and among the most advanced in the world.
Higazi is especially proud of his initiative to decentralize testing facilities, where possible, and position them in operating theaters and emergency rooms. This generates test results in real-time, eliminating life-threatening time delays for critically-ill patients and during surgery.
A serial entrepreneur, Higazi has registered over 30 patents and founded three medical startups. One startup is developing a treatment to stop bleeding in the brain, for which there is no current treatment available.
A true renaissance man, Prof. Higazi is the author of a philosophical science fiction novel, Science Worship and Evolution’s Secrets, which uses real scientific data to explore the biology of truth.
Main photo caption: Dr. Suhair Abdeen (l), and Prof. Abd al-Roof Higazi direct Hadassah’s automated labs which perform 270 different test procedures and 5 million tests a year.