Israeli Doctors Have Developed Life-Saving Treatments and Drugs
Throughout Israel’s history, Israeli doctors, scientists and researchers have produced countless medical advances. Whether achieved through independent research or joint projects with the United States, the medical discoveries made by the Jewish state are improving the lives of millions of Americans and others around the globe.
The 12 most amazing Israeli medical advances
Israel is a powerhouse in medical innovation. We give you a dozen standouts from a field with many exciting, game-changing candidates.
Abigail Klein Leichman
Israeli ingenuity is responsible for some of the world’s most amazing medical advances.
Whether they’re futuristic, such as Given Imaging’s PillCam capsule endoscopy or Itamar Medical’s fingertip monitors for sleep disorders and cardiac issues — or cleverly simple, such as First Care Products’ Emergency Bandage – blue-and-white inventions are changing the face of healthcare in hospitals, doctors’ offices, homes and even battlefields worldwide.
“It’s almost a cliché to say Israel is an excellent place for medical innovation,” says Eran Perry, managing director at Israel Health Care Ventures (IHCV), one of the largest venture capital funds in the country.
“But if you look at [global] statistics, it’s evident — from total expenditure on civilian R&D, where we are ranked first; to human infrastructure and entrepreneurship, where we rank in the top five. You can see the results in patents. We are first in the world for medical device patents per capita, and second in Europe for bio-pharma.”
About 1,000 Israeli companies are in healthcare or life-science products, including 700 in medical devices. Approximately half are already generating revenue.
“There has been an ecosystem created for life sciences, so these 1,000 companies don’t exist in a vacuum but in an environment where they have access to everything they need — engineering, labs, regulatory consultants, manufacturing consultants,” Perry tells ISRAEL21c. “Many young companies can be a one-man show until they get to the clinical trial stage, relying on this excellent ecosystem around them. You can see Israeli companies reaching the same stage as American ones with a fraction of the capital investment.”
IHCV reviews 200 to 300 new opportunities per year. Perry estimates that 60 to 70 Israeli healthcare companies are founded annually. Proceeds from mergers and acquisitions involving Israeli healthcare companies totalled around $1 billion in the past year.
That’s why ISRAEL21c had a hard time narrowing the field to this top 12 list of the most significant recent Israeli contributions to the medical field.
We have chosen products already on, or very near, the market. If you’ve got other companies you think also deserve a mention please don’t hesitate to add them to the comments section below.
And watch for a future top 10 list of the most exciting Israeli medical-device and pharmaceutical developments just around the corner.
And now … ISRAEL21c’s top 12 Israeli medical innovations, in alphabetical order.
1. ApiFix system to correct severe curvature of the spine (scoliosis) minimizes risks, scar size, complications, recovery time and cost. The miniature ratchet mechanism has successfully been implanted in 15 patients so far. Limited sales of the product have begun while clinical trials are in the last stages.
2. Argo Medical Technologies’ Rewalk robotic exoskeleton from was featured on the hit TV show “Glee” and enabled paraplegic runners in London and Tel Aviv to complete marathons. The ReWalk Rehabilitation model currently is used by patients in rehab centers from New York to Dusseldorf. ReWalk Personal, for everyday home use, is available throughout Europe and awaiting FDA clearance in the United States.
3. Gamida Cell is developing stem-cell therapy products to treat blood cancers, solid tumors, non-malignant blood diseases such as sickle-cell anemia, autoimmune diseases and genetic metabolic diseases. On Sept. 9, the first patient was successfully transplanted at Duke University Medical Center (North Carolina) in the second Phase I/II study of NiCord, Gamida’s experimental treatment for blood cancers.
4. GI View Aer-O-Scope disposable colorectal cancer screening device, now in US trials, will make lifesaving colonoscopy screenings cheaper, safer and more accessible worldwide. The self-navigating, flexible Aer-O-Scope removes the risk of perforating the colon, provides superior imaging and can be used by a trained nurse or technician so a gastroenterologist does not have to be present.
5. IceCure Medical’s IceSense3 has been used by US doctors since 2011 to remove benign breast lumps in a 10-minute ultrasound-guided procedure that penetrates the tumor and engulfs it with ice. The system is being clinically tested over the next few years against small malignant breast tumors as well. The procedure is done in a doctor’s office, clinic or breast center, and the patient can get up and leave afterward with no recovery period or post-care.
6. InSightec’s ExAblate OR uses MRI-guided focused ultrasound to destroy tumors and uterine fibroid cysts without surgery. The company has begun a Phase III trial of its next product, ExAblate Neuro, to cure essential tremor — a common movement disorder – using the same non-invasive technology to significantly lower risk of infection, hemorrhage and brain damage.
7. IonMed’s BioWeld1 bonds surgical incisions using cold plasma — instead of painful stitches, staples or glue – within minutes, sealing and disinfecting the wound with minimal scarring and recovery time. The CE Mark is expected in October, with European sales and US FDA approval process starting in early 2014.
8. Nano Retina’s Bio-Retina, a tiny implantable device inserted into the retina in a 30-minute procedure, turns into an artificial retina that melds to the neurons in the eye. Activated by special eyeglasses, the device transforms natural light into an electrical impulse that stimulates neurons to send images to the brain. The prototype is advancing quickly through clinical trials.
9. NanoPass Technologies’ MicronJet is a unique, FDA-approved single-use needle for painless delivery of vaccines into the skin using semiconductor technology. The product has been proven to generate superior immune response with less vaccine, because it does not go past the skin level. Licensed last year to Janssen Pharmaceuticals, MicronJet is being used by the US Center of Disease Control (CDC) in a large trial of polio vaccine for infants in Southeast Asia.
10. OrSense’s NBM-200 non-invasive monitor is relied upon by blood donation centers in 40 countries for continuous and spot measuring of potential donors’ hemoglobin level (to check for anemia) and other blood parameters. This device eliminates the need for finger pricking as well as biologically hazardous equipment and waste. Studies show that donors screened this way are more likely to become repeat blood donors. OrSense recently completed successful trials using its technology to detect hemorrhage and anemia in pregnant women.
11. Surpass Medical’s NeuroEndoGraft flow diverters redirect blood flow from a brain aneurysm (a bulge in a weak artery wall), so that a stable clot can form and the potentially fatal aneurysm no longer is in danger of rupturing. The family of devices has the CE Mark and has been used successfully in dozens of patients. US medical device manufacturer Stryker acquired Surpass for $100 million in October 2012.
12. VitalGo Systems’ Total Lift bed is the world’s only hospital-grade bed that can elevate a patient from a lying to a fully standing position — and all points in between — for treatment and transfer with no lifting required of the caregiver. Two major companies are distributing Total Lift in the acute-care and home-care markets in the United States.
June 13, 2013
Say goodbye to surgical stitches and staples
Abigail Klein Leichman
If a new Israeli product from IonMed gets market approval, surgeons will have a revolutionary tool in their hands for scar-free incision closure.
Women giving birth by Caesarean section could be the first to benefit from a revolutionary Israeli invention for closing surgical incisions without stitches or staples. The technique also promises to leave patients less prone to infection and scarring.
BioWeld1, a unique trademarked product from Israeli startup IonMed, welds surgical incisions using cold plasma.
Plasma is a gas in which a certain proportion of the particles are ionized. It has been shown to offer manifold benefits including tissue welding, control of bleeding, enhancement of tissue repair, disinfection and destruction of cancer cells.
However, plasma has enjoyed a limited role in surgery due to the high temperatures it creates and resulting harmful effects on body tissue. IonMed’s scientists found a way to make use of cold plasma as the power behind the BioWeld1.
The procedure takes a few minutes, seals the area completely, leaves minimal scarring or painful stitches, and does not require complex training.
“No one has done this before — and more than that, the platform of cold plasma is a technology that is not available in medicine yet,” says Ronen Lam, IonMed’s co-founder and vice president for business development. “We will probably be the first,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
The company anticipates receiving the CE mark of approval in Europe by the end of the year. After closing its next financial round, IonMed would then look into beginning trials in Europe and in the United States toward getting approval of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and launching its next cold plasma-based product.
BioWeld1 is the brainchild of Ronen’s brother, Amnon, who led development projects at Tower Semiconductor in northern Israel and at Intel’s Israeli research center. Prior to that, he’d been a medic in the military.
The product provides a next-generation alternative to staples and stitches.
His familiarity with cold plasma from Tower – where it was used for etching semiconductors — gave him the idea of welding together his two areas of expertise.
Amnon Lam saw the potential of cold plasma in healthcare, and toyed with applications in cosmetics, dental and skincare.
“At the end of the day, he found wound closure the most attractive one,” says his brother. That was about three years ago.
“Tissue reconnection has been done for thousands of years with sutures, and in recent years with staples and glues,” says Lam. “It is time for something new in this traditional market, and that’s why we decided to start here.”
With half a million dollars in seed money from the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist, IonMed joined the Trendlines incubator in northern Israel and developed the concept to the point where it closed a $3 million financing round in 2011. The company now employs six people in its office in Yokne’am Ilit.
Lam explains that many companies have been bringing advanced surgical staples and adhesives to the market. “But our cold plasma technology is unique because of its impact on tissues and the wide spectrum of applications it can address, so there is a lot of interest from big players,” he says.
The BioWeld1 generator delivers the cold plasma through a variety of disposable tips. The skin closure procedure is performed using a cold plasma jet to apply a trademarked biological film called Chitoplast to weld the tissue together. Other applications in development do not require Chitoplast and rely solely on the tissue effects of the plasma jet.
The company’s three clinical trials, which have so far focused on closure of Caesarean section incisions, showed BioWeld1 to be excellent for sealing the incision and promoting healing and tissue disinfection, Lam reports. It also has potential for reducing hospitalization and operating room usage.
“We are focusing on the Cesarean section first, because we found it will be the easiest path to market due to the importance of achieving a superior cosmetic result while reducing time in the operating room,” says Lam.
“We are in the midst of strategic discussions right now in order to chart our next application. Areas under consideration include external closure in plastic surgery, treatment of chronic wounds as well as internal applications in abdominal, thoracic and colorectal surgery.”
IonMed gathered an advisory board with leading obstetrician-gynecologists and surgeons in Germany, Brazil and Italy. Four OB/GYNs in Europe are poised to launch the product later this year, pending CE approval.
“All of them have tested our equipment in trials,” Lam stresses.
Investors are now being sought for a Series B funding round, says Lam. “We will be carrying out additional trials in the near future to expand the use of cold plasma to go deep on external closure while promoting additional applications.”
June 2, 2014
Israelis develop first blood test for breast cancer
After eight years of painstaking research, Israeli life-sciences company Eventus Diagnostics (EventusDx) has produced a blood test for the early detection of breast cancer.
The Octava Pink test is now available in Israel and Italy, and is undergoing clinical trials to receive US Food and Drug Administration approval.
This is the first blood test ever that can reveal cancer, not merely markers that might indicate cancer or something else. Its innovation also lies in its examination of antibodies in the blood to pinpoint this specific cancer.
Molecular biologist Galit Yahalom — who heads the research team at the EventusDx offices and lab, located in Moshav Ora outside of Jerusalem – explains the breakthrough to ISRAEL21c.
“For the last decade, we have known that there is a connection between cancer and the immune system,” says Yahalom, a 43-year-old mother of two from Modi’in who has been working on this project since its inception.
“We know that it recognizes cancer as an external enemy that must be destroyed. It is possible that each of us has had instances of cancer we were unaware of, because our immune systems killed it when it was still very small. For whatever reason, the immune system of people with cancer is not functioning properly.”
It was from this angle that Yahalom’s 15-strong team of biologists (and a computer expert) attempted to tackle the problem. After collecting data from hundreds of healthy women and as many diagnosed with breast cancer, Yahalom’s team looked for the proteins of the immune system responsible for detecting both. They also examined immune-system activity in women with ovarian cancer and men and women with intestinal cancer, to see the distinction from those with breast cancer.
Yahalom says that comparing the panels of elements characteristic of the women with breast cancer to those of healthy women created “pictures” of each group.
“Imagine that one is a picture of a flower and the other of a heart,” she says. “Yours might be a flower with four petals instead of five, and another woman’s might be a heart with a bulge, but you both fall into one of the two categories.”
These categories are arrived at through a mathematical algorithm developed by EventusDx, a private company funded by American investors. The precision of the algorithm is high, with only a five percent margin of error.
“And even this small amount might not actually constitute error,” says Yahalom, “but rather the possibility that someone’s immune system detected a cancer that is either no longer there — because antibodies destroyed it — or that has not erupted yet.”
Detecting cancer quickly
Since the release of Octava Pink in Israel in September, Yahalom’s lab has performed 400 such blood tests.
The test is already available in Israel and Italy.
Another innovation is the nanotechnology developed at EventusDx, which enables testing 96 blood samples simultaneously. This process takes no more than three hours, allowing a woman’s doctor to rule out or confirm breast cancer very quickly.
Speed, of course, is as important in breast-cancer detection as accuracy – not only for those whose results confirm their physicians’ suspicions or diagnoses of breast cancer, but also for those found to be cancer-free.
This is because false positives and false negatives are frequent. According to Yahalom, “Only 20 to 30 of every 100 biopsies performed as a result of growths detected in mammograms reveal cancer; the rest are benign. Meanwhile, 50% of young women with breast cancer, and 30% of older women with breast cancer, are diagnosed as healthy.”
The Octava Pink test has had astounding results, correctly diagnosing 95% of the healthy women and 75% of those with breast cancer.
Though one in nine women will contract breast cancer at some point in their lifetime, only three in 1,000 have it at any given moment. This is why it is important for women to get regular checkups and to be provided this extra tool to assuage their fears.
This particular tool costs NIS 700 (about $200), not including the fee charged by the doctor who purchases the Octava kit and sends it to Yahalom’s lab.
The product’s name was chosen in reference to a metaphor used to describe the immune system: “A song sung in a low octave or a high one is still the same song,” says Yahalom. “But if one or more of the notes is off key, it is a different song. The same goes for the immune system. One person’s may work slowly and another person’s may work quickly; what we detect are the off notes.”
Her team is now working to improve the test, while exploring other cancers to target in the future.
June 25, 2012
Israeli company grows new bones from fat
Bonus Biogroup’s major breakthrough generates new healthy bone from stem cells.
Make no bones about this technology: Bonus Biogroup, a regenerative medicine company in Israel, has found a way to grow human bone from a patient’s own fat, culled during liposuction.
The bone takes a few months to grow inside a unique bioreactor.
Following successful pre-clinical testing, clinical trials will begin within the next year in Europe or in Israel on applications ranging from growing bones for dental surgery to replacing bone tissue lost through trauma or illness.
“The standard of care today is autologous bone grafting — taking bone from other parts of the body, breaking it and putting it in where needed,” Bonus founder and CEO Shai Meretzki tells ISRAEL21c. “Two operations are needed for the treatment of harvesting bone from another part of the body,” he says. Obviously, this solution isn’t optimal.
“Our advantage is that the healing process is much faster, and patients of course don’t have to suffer the harvesting procedure,” he adds.
The new innovation pioneered by Bonus evolved from years of research and development at the NASDAQ-traded company Pluristem Therapeutics, which Meretzki founded previously. The technology involves extracting stem cells from a person’s own fat tissues, and transferring them to a special matrix that coaxes the cells to grow into real human bone.
Building bone in a bioreactor
Using a 3D imaging scan of the area of missing or damaged bone, the Bonus methodology builds a “scaffold” of the correct shape. Then, a live culture of cells is introduced onto the scaffold inside a unique bioreactor that mimics the cellular environment of the human body. After a few months, bone in the correct shape and size, compatible with the patient’s own body, is ready and can be sent by courier to wherever it is needed.
Dr. Shai Meretzki with the unique system for making new human bone.
This process allows for growing bone outside the body to be used a few months down the road in bone reconstructive surgery.
While the compelling notion of harvesting stem cells from our youth to grow a complete series of replacement bones and organs for our golden years is “a little farfetched” says Meretzki, he and his team are working on bone reconstructions several centimeters in size for now. Bigger bones like femurs pose a challenge because these bones also include cartilage. But theoretically it can be done, with the right science behind it.
The key is in the growing matrix and medium. Meretzki says: “When you grow cells not in 2D but in 3D, the cells are behaving completely differently. They express different markers and cytokines and react differently with the cells around them.”
Bonus has proven that the technology works in animal models, and expects it will be a success in human clinical trials.
The impact could be enormous. Bone transplantation following hip and knee injuries and fractures amounts to two million bone grafts costing some $15 billion a year. A second application with winning potential is in grafting bone for making dental implants.
Bones that leap over hurdles
Haifa-based Bonus Biogroup, which is looking to expand on its current staff of 12, was founded in 2008 as a publicly traded company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in order to raise sufficient funds for the expensive clinical trials required.
Meretzki hopes to fast track through these trials in about three years versus the typical 10 in drug development and other related medical areas.
“The regulatory processes for bone transplants are much easier than if we were using allogeneic bones [bones from a source other than the patient]. The cells come from the patient,” stresses Meretzki.
When the technology is made available, perhaps four years down the line, a bone graft is expected to cost several thousand dollars, most of which should be covered by healthcare insurance.
With decades of research under his belt, Meretzki says he is indebted to contributions in the field from leading Israeli research centers such as the Technion Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as biomedical researchers around the world.
Meanwhile, Meretzki’s Pluristem, a company specializing in stem-cell regenerative medicine, is now in advanced clinical trials on its first product for treating arterial disease.
June 1, 2014
Prof. Hossam Haick of Technion’s Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering is developing the Na-Nose
a nano artificial nose to detect cancer and other diseases
The newest technology straight from the Technion in Israel.
A highly sensitized artificial nose that will help us identify cancer early on.
What an incredible gift to the world!!
May 18, 2014
Times of Israel
Start-Up Israel: All news and views from Silicon Wadi
Israeli discovery could reverse Alzheimer’s damage
Research by a Tel Aviv University team may point the way to protecting cells from the damage wrought by Alzheimer’s disease, and even reverse damage that the disease caused before treatment. The method involves a protein similar to one which protects the brain from damage, but which is lacking in Alzheimer’s patients
What causes Alzheimer’s is still a mystery, but the direct physical conditions leading to the dementia associated with the disease are very clear to scientists. Plaque accumulations and tangles in neurons kill brain cells in Alzheimer’s sufferers, leading to the degeneration of cognitive function and the loss of memory associated with the disease.
One of the most important objectives of Alzheimer’s research has been to figure out ways to protect brain cells from these senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. In a study published in the May edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Tel Aviv University Prof. Illana Gozes describes how NAP, a snippet of a protein essential for brain formation, has been proven in previous studies to protect cognitive functioning. Loss of NAP exposes cells to physical damage that eventually destroys them, but applying proteins with NAP-like properties makes them healthy again.
It’s just such a protein that Gozes and her team have discovered. The research, she said, could eventually lead to development of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s.
Gozes holds the Lily and Avraham Gildor Chair for the Investigation of Growth Factors and is director of the Adams Super Center for Brain Studies at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and a member of Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience. “Several years ago we discovered that NAP showed efficacy in Phase 2 clinical trials in mild cognitive impairment patients, a precursor to Alzheimer’s,” she said. “Now, we’re investigating whether there are other novel NAP-like sequences in other proteins.”
NAP, also known as davunetide, is an eight-amino acid peptide that has been shown to provide potent neuroprotection in several human trials. NAP is derived from activity-dependent neuroprotective protein (ADNP), a molecule that is essential for brain formation.
“NAP operates through the stabilization of microtubules – tubes within the cell which maintain cellular shape. They serve as ‘train tracks’ for movement of biological material,” said Gozes. “In Alzheimer’s disease, these microtubules break down. The newly discovered protein fragments, just like NAP before them, work to protect microtubules, thereby protecting the cell.”
In the study, Gozes and her team examined the tubulin (a subunit of the microtubule) and the protein TAU (tubulin-associated unit), important for assembly and maintenance of the microtubule. Abnormal TAU proteins form the tangles that contribute to Alzheimer’s. The larger the tangles, the more cognitive function is damaged.
In tests on mice suffering from dementia-like characteristics which found the abnormal TAU proteins, a tubulin fragment with NAP-like sequences was applied to cells with very promising results, Gozes said. As NAP “evaporated,” the brain cells were less protected and deteriorated. The tubulin treatment reversed the damage. “We looked at the mouse ‘dementia’-afflicted brain and saw there was a reduction in the NAP parent protein, but upon treatment with the tubulin fragment, the protein was restored to normal levels,” she said. In addition, the treatment restored the size of mice brains, which had shrunk due to the disease.
Further tests are set to be conducted on more animal cohorts. Eventually, an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases could come of this research, Gozes believes. “We clearly see here the protective effect of the treatment,” she said. “We witnessed the restorative and protective effects of totally new protein fragments, derived from proteins critical to cell function, in tissue cultures and on animal models.” Further work is needed, she said, but the team’s research could one day turn into a treatment to alleviate, or even reverse, Alzheimer’s disease.
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Israeli Discovers Cell-Destroying Protein that Could End Cancer
Sophie Imas, NoCamels, Israeli Inovation News
September 9, 2013
“Killing these cancer stem cells is the holy grail of cancer treatments and therefore holds promise for complete eradication of cancer,” says Dr. Sarit Larisch of the University of Haifa.
These are not words pronounced lightly; instead, they follow more than a decade of research that could give hope to cancer patients worldwide. Along with her colleagues, Larisch has established the basis for developing a new, more effective treatment for cancer using a protein called ARTS.
ARTS is a protein, which along with a number of other proteins and enzymes, regulates what is known as apoptosis. Apoptosis is the process of programmed cell death which occurs when a cell is damaged, mutated or no longer functional. ARTS acts as a trigger for cell death, its presence allowing for enzymes called caspases to destroy the non-functional cell.
But this process is missing in cancer cells.
Destroying cancer cells using the natural process of self-destruction
Larisch’s research shows that unlike normal cells, cancer cells have an absence of the ARTS protein. “Without the ARTS protein, cells can’t be triggered to self-destruct. As a result cancer cells can survive and develop into a tumor,” she tells NoCamels.
“We have found that ARTS is lost in many types of cancers. Therefore, determining levels of ARTS in blood could provide a marker to alert to the possibility of developing certain types of cancers.” Consequently, Dr. Larisch believes that small molecules that mimic ARTS could restore the ability of cancer cells to be killed selectively using the natural process of apoptosis.
Reinventing cancer treatment
“ARTS-based cancer drugs could potentially change the treatment method of cancer worldwide,” Larisch tells NoCamels. “We have found that ARTS is particularly important for the death of defective stem cells. We therefore believe that ARTS-based drugs will specifically eliminate cancer stem cells (the cells that drive the growth of a tumor and are often resistant to chemotherapy or radiotherapy).
The therapy would also minimize common side-effects of conventional cancer treatment. “All currently available cancer drugs have unwanted side effects because they harm normal cells as well. In contrast, ARTS-based cancer drugs should only kill cancer cells because they act by specifically correcting the defect in their cell suicide program, caused by the loss of ARTS,” says Larisch.
13 years in the making
Dr. Sarit Larisch discovered the protein during her post-doctoral studies at the NCI/NIH , Bethesda, MD. This discovery was first published in the journal “Nature Cell Biology” in the year 2000. She has been working on this project ever since and has revealed how ARTS is essential for cell death on a molecular level. Cancer research was Larisch’s initial interest, which she returned to after the discovery of ARTS.
“After completing my PhD in Tumor Immunology, I became very interested in apoptosis. The decisions a cell makes which determine whether it will live or die fascinated me.” It was not until further in her career, when Larisch discovered the connection between the ARTS protein and cancer, that she began focusing on using the information gathered about this protein for the development of novel ways for cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Despite the success of her work, Larisch says that finding support and funding was not always easy. “I consider myself very lucky with the research support that we’ve gotten. Unfortunately, developing cancer drugs is very costly and goes beyond typical academic budgets. Right now, we’re ready to start developing ARTS-based cancer drugs. But we need more funding, to move full speed ahead.”
Her research received funding from the Israeli Science Foundation, the United States – Israel Binational Research Foundation (BIRD), as well as some private donors.
Larisch completed her education at the Hadassah Medical School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She moved on to obtain her post-doctorate degree at the National Cancer Institute/NIH in the United States. Upon discovering the ARTS protein, she returned to Israel and founded her own research laboratory. She is currently the head of the Biology and Medical Sciences department at the University of Haifa. Larisch has had a Visiting Professor appointment at the Rockefeller University in New York for the past 12 years, where she works in close collaboration with Professor Hermann Steller and members of his lab.
Currently, she and her colleagues are in contact with several investors and pharmaceutical companies to obtain funding for ARTS-based cures. Larisch hopes to start developing ARTS-based cancer drugs as soon as possible and establish the ARTS protein as a biomarker of susceptibility to cancer.
.ORG-Connection: NoCamels.com is the leading news website on Israeli innovations in English. It covers all the latest Israeli innovations in the fields of technology, health, environment and lifestyle.
Israeli Discovery Creates New Diagnosis, Treatment for Brain Cancer
October 3, 2013
A postdoctoral fellow at Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School identified a genetic protein involved in the development of glioblastoma, a common and aggressive brain cancer.
Regina Golan-Gerstl’s discovery could help create new diagnosis and treatment options for more than 20,000 Americans diagnosed with brain cancer each year. The Israel Cancer Research Fund supported the research, which detected higher than normal levels in some protein genes within glioblastoma samples.
In a laboratory study, researchers injected mice with gliobastoma cells, causing the mice to develop large tumors. But when the researchers reduced the levels of the protein gene, hnRNP A2/B1, the mice developed small tumors or no tumors.
“These results suggest that hnRNP A2/B1 is… a gene that… probably directly contributes to glioblastoma development,” said Dr. Rotem Karni, whose laboratory was used in the discovery, according to Israel National News.
“Down-regulating hnRNP A2/B1 levels in glioblastoma cells should be considered as a new strategy for glioblastoma therapy,” Karni said.
Israeli Team Finds Mechanism for Producing Stem Cells Efficiently
October 2, 2013
Medical researchers anticipate that adult and embryonic stem cells will soon be able to treat some of the world’s most serious diseases, including cancer, Parkinson’s and cardiac failure. That is why the discovery that showed embryonic-like stem cells can be created from skin cells was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in 2012. But the process has remained frustratingly slow and inefficient, and the resulting stem cells are not yet ready for medical use.
Research in the lab of the Weizmann Institute’s Dr. Yaqub Hanna, which appeared in Nature earlier this month, dramatically changes that: He and his group revealed the “brake” that holds back the production of stem cells, and found that releasing this brake can both synchronize the process and increase its efficiency from around 1 percent or less today to 100 percent.
These findings may help facilitate the production of stem cells for medical use, as well as advancing our understanding of the mysterious process by which adult cells can revert back into their original, embryonic state.
Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means they can morph into any of the cells in our bodies. This is what makes them so valuable: They can be used, among other things, to repair damaged tissue, treat autoimmune disease and even grow organs for transplant.
Using stem cells taken from embryos is problematic because of availability and ethical concerns, but the hopes for their use were renewed in 2006 when a team led by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University discovered that it is possible to “reprogram” adult cells into embryonic stem cells.
The resulting cells, called “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs), are created by inserting four genes into their DNA. Despite this breakthrough, the reprograming process is fraught with difficulty: It can take up to four weeks; the timing is not coordinated among the cells; and less than one percent of the treated cells actually end up becoming stem cells.
Finding and removing the obstacle
Hanna and his team asked showed that there was only one main obstacle to reprogramming these cells and showed that removing it can dramatically improve the reprogramming of cells.
Hanna’s group, led by Dr. Noa Novershtern, Yoach Rais, Asaf Zviran and Shay Geula of the Molecular Genetics Department, together with members of the genomics unit of the Institute’s Israel Structural Proteomics Center, looked at a certain protein, called MBD3, whose function was unknown. MBD3 had caught their attention because it is expressed in every cell in the body, at every stage of development.
This is quite rare: In general, most types of proteins are produced in specific cells, at specific times, for specific functions. The team found that there is one exception to the rule of universal expression of this protein: the first three days after conception.
These are exactly the three days in which the fertilized egg begins dividing, and the nascent embryo is a growing ball of pluripotent stem cells that will eventually supply all the cell types in the body. Starting on the fourth day, differentiation begins and the cells already start to lose their pluripotent status. And that is just when the MBD3 proteins first appear.
Almost four times as fast
The researchers showed that removing MBD3 from the adult cells can improve efficiency and speed the process by several orders of magnitude. The time needed to produce the stem cells was shortened from four weeks to eight days. As an added bonus, since the cells all underwent the reprograming at the same rate, the scientists will now be able, for the first time, to actually follow it step by step and reveal its mechanisms of operation.
Hanna points out that his team’s achievement was based on research into the natural pathways of embryonic development: “Scientists investigating reprograming can benefit from a deeper understanding of how embryonic stem cells are produced in nature. After all, nature still makes them best, in the most efficient manner.”
Dr. Yaqub Hanna’s research is supported by Pascal and Ilana Mantoux, France/Israel; the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; the Sir Charles Clore Research Prize; the Benoziyo Endowment Fund for the Advancement of Science; Erica A. Drake and Robert Drake; the European Research Council; and the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung.
May 16, 2013
In the not-so-distant future, people blinded by retinitis pigmentosa may be using Israeli technology to see beyond shadows once again.
About one in 4,000 people in the United States suffers from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disease of the retina that causes light-sensing cells to degenerate and eventually leads to vision impairment. Symptoms might start as night blindness.
Recent advances in optogenetics have opened the possibility of restoring light sensitivity to vision cells using a simple injection and gene-based therapy. But how can these newly programmed cells reconnect with the brain to process images? This is the million-dollar question.
Israeli researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have found a futuristic and bionic way to bypass neural circuitry and directly stimulate restored vision cells with a computer-driven technique called holography.
The researchers have developed a tool to photo-stimulate retinal cells with precision and high resolution, suggesting that one day in the not-so-distant future, people blinded by RP may see beyond shadows once again.
“It’s something like Google Glass for the blind,” Prof. Shy Shoham from the Technion tells ISRAEL21c, referring to Google’s wearable computer with a head-mounted display, set to be released later this year.
“We did not develop optogenetics and it’s a young technology, but it is firmly established and the potential is recognized. What is missing, and what we are offering, is a powerful solution driving the neural networks of these optogenetically restored cells.”
Shoham explains, “What our system will do is activate these cells with patterns. It’s a system that drives the projection of ‘movies’ powerful enough to stimulate retinal cells artificially.”
Like any responsible scientist, Shoham, an engineer and lead scientist of this new research presented in Nature Communications, is not offering false hope to people who are already blind. Unfortunately, he cannot help them.
But if a significant financial investment were to be made in the project, “clear” results could be seen in the future.
Restoring sight in mice; humans next?
“The basic idea of optogenetics is to take a light-sensitive protein from another organism, typically from algae or bacteria, and insert it into a target cell, and that photosensitizes the cell,” Shoham explains.
However, the genetically repaired cells are less sensitive to light than normal healthy retinal cells, so they need a bright light source — a laser, or in the new research project, a holograph — to be activated.
The researchers plan to develop a prosthetic headset that looks like the new Google Glass, or create an eyepiece that would translate visual scenes into light, which would stimulate the genetically altered cells.
The Israeli scientists used computer-generated holography to stimulate repaired retinas in mice. The light stimulus was intense, precise and capable of stimulating many cells at one time, which are all necessary for proper vision.
They previously tried lasers and digital displays used in projectors, but both approaches had their drawbacks.
“Lasers give intensity, but they can’t give the parallel projection” that would simultaneously stimulate all the cells needed to see a complete picture, says Shoham. “Holography is a way of getting the best of both worlds.”
This new approach could power new retina prostheses being tested in the United States. One called Argus II was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) early this year, but offers only rudimentary vision to the wearer.
“You need to be careful with these things so the technology doesn’t run ahead of us,” Shoham cautions. “The system we are working on can potentially restore vision that is very high quality. But it will take at least five to 10 years.”
The technology also has many potential applications in the field of virtual reality.
July 5, 2012
Orthodox Rabbi May be First ALS Patient Cured by Israeli Drug
Rabbi Refoel Shmulevitz. Photo: Channel 2.
Haredi leader Rabbi Refoel Shmulevitz, a victim of the motor neuron disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), may be the first known patient cured of ALS, which he was diagnosed with two years ago. ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrigs’ disease after the iconic baseball player who contracted it in 1939, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that features a gradual breakdown of muscle groups, paralysis, and respiratory problems, and is usually fatal within three to five years of diagnosis. Gehrig himself succumbed to the disease at age 37, but other famous victims, notably British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, have survived, albeit with no ability to move or communicate save with the use of the eyes. According to the American ALS association, the disease effects about 5,600 people a year, and has no known cause.
Doctors have until now been unable to cure or reverse the effects of ALS, and have been confined to slowing down the disease and easing its pain through various drug treatments. But that bleak diagnosis may change, through BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics, an Israeli biomedical company based in Petah Tikva that has been conducting trials on NurOwn, a treatment for ALS utilizing stem cell technology. NurOwn was found to have no side effects in January of this year, and was approved for clinical trials on human beings, as well as meriting orphan drug status by the FDA, which means that the drug is financially incentivized because it is for rare diseases. The hope is that NurOwn will be able to cure patients with even advanced stages of ALS, and return them to healthy living.
Such was the case with Rabbi Refoel Shmulevitz, a son of Haredi scion Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz and a head of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Rabbi Shmulevitz was diagnosed with the disease in 2010 at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, and as of one month of ago, his disease had progressed to an advanced stage, constraining Shmulevitz to a wheelchair and limiting his ability to speak and breathe. His condition was coupled with another rare disease, Myasthenia Gravis, and the resulting combination barred him from participating in clinical trials of NurOwn at Hadassah Hospital, where he is currently being held. Instead, he was approved for so-called “compassionate treatment”, intended for patients with no hope for recovery from the disease.
“Within a few weeks following injection with NurOwn cells, the patient showed dramatic improvement in a variety of functions including breathing, speech, walking, muscular strength, and overall well-being,” said Professor Dimitrios Karussis, a neurologist at Hadassah and the principal investigator of BrainStorm’s clinical trials, to Israel’s Channel 2 News, adding “While we cannot draw scientific conclusions based on the outcome of an individual patient, these results are extremely encouraging.”
Rabbi Shmulevitz is thankful for regaining his ability to walk, talk, and even climb stairs, calling his recovery a miracle and profusely thanking God. The euphoria is shared by BrainStorm’s executives; Chairman of the Board Professor Avi Israeli said the company was “moved” by the “remarkable results observed” and Chaim Lebovits, BrainStorm’s founder said “Its hard to describe the excitement that took hold of us as a result of the amazing results.”
It is far from clear if Shmulevitz’s results are indicative of the drug’s healing qualities, and the company is looking for more evidence of efficacy. BrainStorm expects to have results of its clinical trials conducted in Hadassah Hospital this month, and plans to conduct more clinical trials in the United States as well, through a joint effort with Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Massachusetts’ Medical School. But if the drug indeed proves to be a viable treatment for ALS, the results would be game changing, and would help people afflicted with ALS across the world. “There is no doubt that a great drama is taking place here” said a Hadassah doctor to Channel 2.
The Jerusalem Post
January 14, 2012
A researcher at Tel Aviv University PillCam technologies to the next level.
The PillCam capsule that people swallow to provide images of pathology in the gastrointestinal system – developed by the Israeli company Given Imaging – is known and used around the world. The PillCam system travels at random and snaps pictures every half second to give doctors an overall view of the intestines.
But now a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s school of mechanical engineering claims he and his colleagues are pushing the technology ahead by developing a capsule endoscope guided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It moves through the digestive tract to detect problems independent of any attachments, says Dr. Gabor Kosa, who adds that unlike the existing capsule, the new wireless capsule will use both MRI and and electronic signals manipulated by those operating the capsule to forge a more precise and deliberate path.
Kosa maintains that it will be a more accurate way for doctors to get a good look at the digestive tract, where difficult-to-diagnose tumors or wounds may be hidden. It will also be used for biopsies and local drug delivery, with the Giving Imaging product does not. The technology, which was recently reported in Biomedical Microdevices, was developed in collaboration with Peter Jakab, an engineer from the surgical planning laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
What sets this endoscope apart is its ability to actively explore the digestive tract under the direction of a doctor, says Kosa. To do this, the device relies on the magnetic field of the MRI machine as a “driving force. An MRI has a very large constant magnetic field,” he explains. “The capsule needs to navigate according to this field, like a sailboat sailing with the wind.”
To help the capsules “swim” with the magnetic current, the researchers have given them “tails,” a combination of copper coils and flexible polymer.
The magnetic field creates a vibration in the tail that allows for movement, and electronics and microsensors embedded in the capsule allow the capsule’s operator to manipulate the magnetic field that guides the movement of the device. The use of copper, a non-ferro magnetic material, circumvents other diagnostic challenges posed by MRI, Kosa adds. While most metals interfere with MRI by obscuring the picture, copper appears as only a minor blot on otherwise clear film. The ability to drive the capsule, Kosa says, will not only lead to better diagnosis capabilities, but patients will experience a less invasive procedure in a fraction of the time.
In the lab in Boston, the TAU researcher and his colleagues have tested the driving mechanism of the capsule in an aquarium inside the MRI. The results have shown that the capsule can successfully be manipulated using a magnetic field. Moving forward, the researchers are hoping to further develop the capsule’s endoscopic and signalling functions. Kosa, who is a new member of TAU’s faculty, says the project is part of a bright future for the field of microrobotics. At the university, his new research lab, called RBM2S, focuses on microsystems and robotics for biomedical applications, and an educational robotics lab will teach future robotics experts studying at TAU.
Two patients who undergo the same type of surgery with the same clinical results may each regard their own operation differently, with one saying it was successful while the other is disappointed. A researcher at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva who studied 63 patients between the ages of 18 and 68 says that the patient’s personality, formed at a very young age, is the reason for these differences. Prof. Eitan Yaniv, director of the nasal and sinus institute in the hospital’s ear, nose and throat department, and Hamutal Saragusti studied patients who underwent surgery to separate the two sides of the nasal septum. They were asked before and after the operation to answer questions on their quality of life, pain and ability to breathe freely. They also underwent a test reflecting their interpersonal communication abilities and a Rorschach test, the results of which were compared with the reactions to black blotted images of people from the general Israeli population.
The Beilinson researchers found that while most of the patients’ objective condition was improved by the surgery, those who had an anxious personality type were much less satisfied by the results than those who did not; their higher satisfaction rate correlated to the rating they gave their quality of life and pain.
In September we ran a story on Vecoy Nanomedicines, a biotech company that has developed a cunning new way to disarm viruses by luring them to attack microscopic, cell-like decoys. Once inside these traps, the viruses effectively commit suicide.
Today viruses are considered one of the biggest threats to humankind. In 1918, a Spanish flu outbreak killed 40 million people in two years. A new super virus could wreak even worse havoc in today’s uber-connected world, experts fear. There’s still a long road ahead, but Vecoy may have developed the solution that will keep us safe.
The inventor, Israeli entrepreneur Nimrod Elmish, started out with a low-cost cardboard bicycle made from recycled materials, but when a leading charity asked if he could also make a cardboard wheelchair, he realized it was a perfect match for his innovative technique.
Now his company, I.G. Cardboard Technologies, has entered into an agreement with an international non-profit to set up a $6 million factory for the production of cardboard wheelchairs in Africa.
The cost of these wheelchairs, which are made of recycled cardboard, plastic bottles, and recycled tires, is likely to be in the region of $10 each.
What’s next? Cardboard toys, wagons, chairs for airplanes, and yes, even cars.
For nearly two years, a novel Israeli medical device has been changing the way American doctors remove fibro-adenoma tumors – benign breast lumps. Now the device, developed by IceCure Medical, is being tested for small malignant tumors as well.
During an ultrasound-guided procedure, the IceSense3 probe penetrates the tumor and destroys it by engulfing it with ice. Needing only local anesthetic, the cryoablation process takes up to 10 minutes in a doctor’s office, clinic or breast center, and the patient can get up and leave afterward. No recovery period or post-care is necessary.
Israeli researchers have developed a simple and cheap blood test that was found to provide early detection for many types of cancer in clinical trials.
The promising new test, developed by scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheva, can detect minuscule changes in the blood of a person with a cancerous growth somewhere in the body, even before the disease has spread.
Early diagnosis of cancer could save thousands of lives. Every day in the United States alone, 1,500 people die of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Early detection greatly increases the chances for successful treatment.
One in three people suffers from a brain-related disorder such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ADHD, chronic pain or depression. But because of the complexity of the human brain, blood tests and imaging are of limited value for diagnosis or documentation of treatment. The Israeli company ElMindA could revolutionize this field by opening a new window into how the brain works. Its non-invasive BNA (brain network activation) technology, which expects FDA approval early in 2013, has shown promise in clinical studies.
The procedure is simple and painless. Patients sit at a computer for 15 to 30 minutes, performing a specific task many times while the device maps network activation points in the brain. The result is a three-dimensional image of nerve cell connectivity and synchronization that is highly sensitive, specific and reproducible.The tool is sensitive enough to show subtle differences in the severity of the condition from one day to another. It can also optimize drug dosing by monitoring the changes in brain network activities as the drug takes effect.
Israel today has one of the most progressive medical marijuana programs in the world. Thousands of Israelis suffering from cancer, MS, Crohn’s and chronic pain receive pot as medication. Israel’s inroads into legalizing cannabis for pain relief and managing terminal illness rest on the seminal research of an award-winning professor, Raphael Mechoulam from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His work has inspired generations of research teams around the world to look to marijuana for alleviating medical conditions from chemo-induced nausea to chronic pain. His work also led to the discovery of anandamides, naturally occurring THC-like chemicals in the brain.
The ReWalk is a product developed by Israeli electrical engineer Dr. Amit Goffer to enable wheelchair users with lower-limb disabilities to walk, climb stairs and drive cars. The lightweight brace uses motors, motion sensors and computers to restore a person’s mobility functions. “What we want to do is have the person
wake up in the morning, put on clothes, put on the ReWalk, go to work and go throughout the day wearing it,” said Goffer.
A robotic suit developed by a wheelchair-bound Israeli engineer could soon be helping disabled people to sit down, stand up, walk about, and even climb stairs.
Taking his inspiration from the robotic exoskeletons being developed to help military personnel carry immense weights, the inventor of the so-called ReWalk system, Dr Amit Goffer, explained that the suit is not simply a hi-tech replacement for the wheelchair but has been developed to address the huge list of day-to-day problems faced by people with lower limb disabilities.
Goffer hopes the system, undergoing clinical trials at the Sheba medical centre in Tel Hashomer, Tel Aviv, will enable users to move more freely about their own homes, improve their physical health by standing more frequently, and enjoy the dignity of eye-level communication with others.
Strapped to the user’s waist and legs, ReWalk consists of four servomotors located at the hip and knee joints. These power gears and levers which in turn drive additional motors — dubbed cybermuscles — that bend the joint and feed back information on the angle it moves through. Each servomotor is controlled by an individual processor which, in turn, is governed by a small central computer that is carried along with rechargeable batteries in a backpack.
Goffer explained that the wearer initiates movement by leaning in the direction he or she wants to travel. This action is detected by a tip sensor which triggers ReWalk to take a step, sit or stand up as required. The current device weighs 14kg (30lbs), and with no integral balancing mechanism, most users would be expected to augment the system with crutches. But Goffer claims it is exceptionally easy to use.
‘Like learning to drive a car, once someone learns how to use ReWalk, he or she no longer has to think about it,’ said Goffer. ‘It’s not really a robotic device — it’s semi robotic because the user is involved in the process. If he or she is walking along and stops, the ReWalk gait stops, stands, then shifts to idle mode. If the user tilts forward again, nothing will happen until the walk mode is manually initiated again.’
As well as walking on the level, ReWalk can move the user from recline to sitting, sitting to standing, and can cope with upward and downward slopes. On stairs, they can ascend or descend with either a hand on the banister or with help, depending on their level of ability.
‘In my opinion, the hardest part is moving from sitting to standing, which the device carries out very well with the aid of crutches for balance,’ said Goffer.
He started work on the project eight years ago from his home. The device was further developed by the company he founded, Argo Medical Technologies, and designed by Taga, both based in Israel.
After creating the initial designs, Goffer was awarded sponsorship through the Israeli government’s Chief Scientist fund, which is dedicated to small entrepreneurial technology initiatives. This resulted in the initial model and a proof of concept, which included a study of the battery needed to power it and an examination of the potential market.
Taga was then brought in to produce ReWalk’s industrial design. ‘We produced a simulation of a man and experimented with changing the angles in his limbs,’ said Jeffrey Meyer, Taga’s vice-president of engineering. ‘We did some kinematics work with the preliminary design, then went into the detailed design using SolidWorks to analyse forces and the strength of the device.’
There followed a two-year study at the Technion — The Israel Institute of Technology — which ended this February, resulting in an industrial design. The commercial model is now in development.
At the Sheba medical centre, where the clinical trials are taking place, there is a neurological and rehabilitation unit. Further trials will take place under Prof Alberto Esquenazi at the MossRehab hospital in Philadelphia, US, to satisfy regulatory requirements.
Goffer said that based on experience to date, depending on the user’s ability, it would take up to around three weeks to learn to walk using ReWalk. ‘When he or she takes it home, after a couple of months the user will really have mastered it and will come back and teach us how to use it,’ he said.
He said ReWalk would also bring huge improvements in medical conditions of those confined to wheelchairs, which would pass on savings to the healthcare system. Extensive studies were carried out on the medical benefits of another device, RGO, or reciprocating gait orthosis, which allows users to stand upright.
A passive device, the RGO allows users to stand upright or walk with locked knees. Although mainly used for physiotherapy and not very practical, time spent in a vertical stance and moving around has proven beneficial for users confined to a wheelchair.
‘It stimulates the cardiovascular system, improves cholesterol levels and helps prevent infections and pressure wounds, which alone cost millions a year in treatment and rehospitalisation expenses,’ said Goffer.
ReWalk could also save a great deal of money by replacing a variety of home help technology wheelchair users need to retain a degree of independence. ‘You wouldn’t need, like I do, a device that allows you to stand. It’s called Easy Stand — a lifting device, and a crawler for stairs,’ said Goffer.
‘The paraplegic or quadraplegic person in a wheelchair has to stand at least an hour a day if they want to stay healthy. When I go home, Easy Stand lifts me from my wheelchair to the standing equipment, where I stand for an hour or two, read, sleep, watch TV and work on a laptop — and I’m not the only one.’
Argo hopes to pilot production at the end of next year, deploying a worldwide sales network. The company is also seeking funding to continue its work. Although Goffer was unwilling to comment on the price of the system, he did say that it is likely to cost considerably less than Dean Kamen’s stair-climbing wheelchair the iBot, which costs around $25,000 (£13,000).
Future plans include ongoing improvements to the ReWalk. ‘The version you see now is going to be commercialised,’ said Goffer. ‘As with cars we will go on to produce further generations of it. We also have other ideas in the field of walk assistance for rehabilitation we will go on to develop.
‘But the biggest benefit of the ReWalk in my opinion is dignity,’ said Goffer. ‘As an adult, you are the height of a child in a wheelchair. I cannot say how important it is for someone’s psychological health to move from the status of a wheelchair user to that of crutch user, and deal with others at eye level.’
‘My main motivation is to make a difference to people’s lives. I don’t want another assisting device, I want something complete to replace the wheelchair.’
Israel is a world leader in cardiovascular technology, says one of Israel’s top cardiologists – and much of that is due to the plethora of start-ups working in the biotech, and especially cardiology, sectors
Times of Israel
December 7, 2012
Israel is the start-up nation not only for Internet and computer technology — it’s also the start-up nation in medicine and biotechnology, according to Professor Haim Lotan, director of the Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem Heart Institute. “There are hundreds of start-ups in Israel working just in the area of cardiology, among the many other start-ups in the medical area, and the technology sector overall,” he said
Lotan was the co-chair of one of the world’s most important cardiology conferences — “Innovations in Cardiovascular Interventions” (ICI) conference, which took place in Tel Aviv this week. Over 1,200 attendees heard lectures and saw presentations about all aspects of heart care, from new techniques, products, and services. Discussions and presentations included everything from novel stent technologies to the use of stem cells in battling heart disease, to the technology behind heart care.
Most of the world’s largest health care companies and universities were represented; among the keynote speakers were Omar Ishrak, chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic, Stanton Rowe, chief scientific officer of Edwards Lifesciences, Martin Leon, director of the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy of Columbia University Medical Center, and many others.
While most people wouldn’t associate the idea of a start-up industry with cardiology, Lotan told the Times of Israel on the sidelines of the ICI conference that there was actually a strong connection between the two, especially for Israel. “Israel is the leader in stent technology, and a top country in imaging, valves, and other important areas of cardiology,” said Lotan — and much of that success has stemmed from developments by Israeli companies that eventually made their way to the wide world, either through marketing and sales by local companies, or through partnerships and buyouts by medical multinationals.
To that end, ICI dedicated a whole day to teaching medical industry entrepreneurs how to succeed in the business, sponsoring an event called Academy of Innovation. “You can be born an inventor, but with out start-up savvy your idea will never get out of the lab and benefit people,” said Lotan. “We want to show young entrepreneurs how to use their skills and ensure that their ideas are a success.”
Among the topics covered at the event were ““How to Develop Your Innovative Cardiovascular Therapy Idea,” “How to Determine if a New Device is Needed,” “Essentials of Creativity,” and much more.
In addition to the Academy program, ICI held a competition for start-ups, with companies strutting their stuff at a “technology parade” and a panel of judges picking the best one, based on technology, market need, and business plan. The contest was open to all comers, and the winner turned out to be a British company, Sky Medical Ltd, which won the title for a device called “geko,” a noninvasive method to prevent deep vein thrombosis.
The device uses patented technology to stimulate the nerve at the back of the knee, and stimulate contraction of the calf, shin and foot muscles, improving blood circulation and oxygen levels almost equivalent of walking but when the patient is not mobile, such as after surgery or during a long haul airplane journey. The company believes that the technology can replace cumbersome foot pumps or other mechanical devices that are the standard equipment for treatment of this condition.
The fact that a British company won the contest at an Israeli event just shows how important the Israeli contribution to cardiology has become. “There have been many acquisitions of Israeli start-ups, and many Israeli companies have opened sales offices in the U.S. and Europe, so Israel has a reputation as being a world center in cardiology,” said Lotan. “I am sure that some of the Israeli start-ups that presented at ICI will be making big news in the future, as many of the start-ups that exhibited here in the past already have.”