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 Operating Room of the Future
UltrasoundSurgery, Incision Free
How Orcam Works, Helping the Blind See
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.
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.”