MEDICAL ADVANCES

The accomplishments of medical researchers and doctors in Israel have been so great that it is impossible to do anything other than briefly allude to some of the most important discoveries, developments and innovations.

Quick Mentions

  • Israeli researchers have discovered the molecule trigger that causes psoriasis.
  • The Israeli-developed "Ex-Press Shunt" is providing relief for glaucoma sufferers.
  • Researchers in Israel have developed a device that helps the heart pump blood, an innovation that has the potential to save lives of people with congestive heart failure.
  • The "Clear Light," a device developed in Israel that produces a narrow-band, high-intensity blue light, causes acne bacteria to self-destruct without damaging surrounding skin. 
  • An Israeli has invented a "bone glue" that will reduce the need for bone transplants. 
  • Israeli-developed elderberry extract is one of America's best-selling flu prevention medicines. 
  • Scientists at Ben Gurion University have discovered that citral, the ingredient that gives a lemony fragrance and taste to several herbs such as lemon balm and melissa, cause cancer cells to self-destruct but does not harm normal cells. 
  • The Israeli company Shulov Institute for Sciences has identified chemicals in snake venom that can serve as a powerful analgesic for the chronic pain of conditions such as arthritis as well as from diseases such as cancer.
  • Work -- showing enormous potential -- is in process now for the development of a vaccine against autoimmune diseases that utilizes the body's own T-cells.  

Cancer Research

Microscopic computers made solely from biological molecules that will function inside living tissues, diagnose diseases, and administer treatment even before symptoms appear have been brought closer with the latest breakthrough by the Weismann Institute in Rehovot. The team there has programmed the world's smallest computer in a test tube, so that it automatically detected the presence of certain cancers, diagnosed them, and produced a drug molecule to kill the cancer cells.

The input, output and 'software' are all composed of synthetic DNA, while DNA-manipulated enzymes are used as the 'hardware.'

The team's next assignment will be to package the microscopic computer so it functions within the complex chemical environment of the human body. It will take a long time before this is possible, but one day in the future they hope to create a "doctor in a cell" that will be able to operate inside a living body, identify disease, and apply the necessary treatment before external symptoms appear.

______________

Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot have developed a new method to selectively kill cancer cells, leaving healthy ones intact. The secret weapon? A chemical occurring naturally in garlic. The scientists have successfully destroyed malignant tumors in mice using their new method. The key to their success lies in the development of a unique system for delivering a cancer-destroying chemical - allicin - straight to the tumor cells.

Allicin is the substance that gives garlic its distinctive aroma and flavor. Scientists studying allicin have known for many years that it is as toxic as it is pungent. It has been shown to kill not only cancer cells, but also the cells of disease-causing microbes, and even healthy human body cells. On the other hand, allicin is highly unstable, and breaks down quickly once ingested. Its instability and undiscriminating toxicity presented twin hurdles to the creation of an allicin-based therapy.

The Weizmann scientists solved both these problems by designing an ingenious and pinpoint delivery method. While the team has succeeded so far only in blocking the growth of gastric tumors in mice, the scientists note that the method could work for most types of cancer.

________

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute have also reported that they have been able to stop the spread of colon cancer cells in laboratory tests. The research focuses on identifying the mechanism through which cancer cells break off from a tumor and form another one in another part of the colon. The Weizmann scientists believe that the process can be reversed, making the broken-off pieces adhere again. Colon cancer is the second most prevalent form of the disease in men and the third most prevalent in women. What makes it so lethal is that it metastasizes readily. Stopping this process could be an enormous life saver.

_________

An Israeli start-up company called Gamida-Cell has developed a revolutionary treatment for leukemia using a stem-cell derived product. Tested on terminal leukemia patients for whom other treatments had failed, it achieved remarkable results. With conventional treatment, only 10% of the critically ill patients being treated would have been expected to survive a benchmark of 100 days. With the trial for this new treatment, at the end of 100 days, 50% of the patients were still alive. Treatment to date has involved bone marrow, which presents rejection problems that are not present with the stem cell product.

Brain Research

In early 2005, the European Union designated the Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation at Hebrew University as a center of excellence. Its citation notes that "the combination of facilities, equipment and expertise at one site appears to be genuinely rare in Europe," and that "the center is highly regarded by leading brain scientists throughout the European Union."

As a result of this new status, the Center was able to sign an agreement to host some 100 researchers from Europe to train them in applying a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the functions of the brain.

_______________

Haifa's Brain and Behavior Research Center has taken the unusual road of combining the disciplines of neurobiology and psychobiology in its work on Alzheimer's. Most research centers concentrate on the neurobiology, but apparently both discplines are necessary if a cure for this disease is to be found. The Center recently hosted an international meeting of the Haifa Forum for Brain and Behavior, which was attended by 30 of the world's leading researchers in neurobiology in spite of calls for an academic boycott of Israel.

Heart Research

Researchers at the Technion and Ramabam, working together as a team, are the first to create contracting heart cells from human embryo stem cells and successfully plant them into pig hearts so they function as biological pacemakers. This stage of their work represents four years of research -- the most advanced in the world on this subject. In time it is anticipated that such a process can replace or work along with mechanical pacemakers. And ultimately is hoped that after a major heart attack cells can be implanted that will integrate with existing cells and beat in unison with them, thereby restoring function in damaged hearts.

________

An Israeli team has created -- via tissue engineering -- a process, demonstrated in pigs (which have hearts anatomically very similar to human hearts), that allows injectable healthy heart muscle cells to replace tissue that has died because of a heart attack. The team, associated with the Institute for Applied Biosciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, has received an international patent for this technique, which involves a biologically engineered polysaccharide polymer "scaffold." The process is biologically and physiologically compatible with the human body, is non-toxic, and does not activate the immune system (which would cause rejection).

Other Achievements

Researchers at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology have developed an antibiotic that not only kills anthrax bacteria but also eliminates the toxins that kill. This is enormously important in the battle against bioterror.

___________

While the use of embryonic stem cells for research continues to be a hotly contested issue in the United States, Israel has placed itself at the forefront of research in this field. Interestingly enough, it is Judaism's view of when life begins that is promoting public agreement on this issue in Israel. Biblical and Talmudic law consider the status of human life to be a gradual process that is attained during the development of the embryo – rather than at fertilization, which is the view of many Christian denominations. Major stem cell research projects in Israel include growing heart cells and insulin producing cells.
___________

Givun Imaging, an Israeli company, developed the first ingestible video camera, so small it fits inside a pill. Used to view the small intestine from the inside, the camera helps doctors diagnose cancer and digestive disorders.

__________

The NESS-H200, a powerful device developed in Israel by Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation Systems Ltd., can restore the use of a hand partially paralyzed due to neurological damage from stroke or spinal chord injury. It works with a device that fits over the forearm and hand and has built-in electrodes that touch key muscles. It is capable of providing important exercise to muscles, and helps the hand grasp and release objects.

[The name of the device, NESS, is an acronym for the name of the company, but nes also means a miracle in Hebrew.]