Israel Changing Medicine Forever

2015 has been a remarkable year for Israel when it comes to innovation in health and medicine. In the wake of humanitarian crises such as the earthquake in Nepal, the flooding in Myanmar, the mudslide in Guatemala, the tropical cyclone of Vanuatu, the war in Syria and even performing a life-saving surgery on the brother-in-law of Mahmoud Abbas, the medical assistance and humanitarian aid from the Israeli Army, along with numerous Israeli organizations such as IsraAID, were evident and pronounced.

Israeli scientists, researchers and startups had a remarkable year of medical breakthroughs that will change our lives. Science and technology in Israel are one of the country’s most developed sectors. The percentage of Israelis engaged in scientific and technological inquiry, and the amount spent on research and development (R&D) in relation to gross domestic product (GDP), is the second highest in the world. Israel ranks thirteenth in the world in scientific activity as measured by the number of scientific publications per million citizens.

Below are the top 18 medical breakthroughs to keep a close eye on:

Cancer Treatments

Israel is at the forefront when it comes to developments in cancer treatments and research. From improved detection to targeted killings of cancer cells, Israel is proving that a cure for cancer may not be so far away.

1. BioSight’s Astrabine “Trojan Horse” Technology

BioSight, a medical technology startup, has been able to develop a technology that targets only cancerous cells, leaving healthy ones alone. Astrabine closely resembles a protein called asparagine that leukemia cells depend on and the cancer cells are fooled into self-destruction. According to Dr. Ruth Ben Yakar, this technology could become very important in the field of cancer treatment. “This really could be the cure for cancer,” she says. While BioSight’s “Trojan horse” chemo technology is currently being tested on leukemia patients, the company believes it will be effective in many other kinds of cancer as well.

Read more about BioSight’s breakthrough:
Times of Israel
PR Newswire

2. Vaxil’s ImMucin Vaccine against 90% of Cancer Types

Vaxil BioTheraputics has developed an immunotherapy vaccine that trains the immune system to attack cancerous cells. The vaccine is effective in the early stages of cancer detection and during remission. It will not help in the advanced stages of cancer. Clinical trials have so far showed that ImMucin triggered a response in 90% of cancer types.

Read more about Vaxil’s breakthrough:
Medical Daily

3. Predicting the Spread of Cancer

Most cancer-related deaths occur from metastases (secondary cancer) than by the primary tumor. Dr. Daphne Weihs, from Israel’s Institute of Technology, developed a method to predict the spread of cancer from one organ to another. According to Dr. Weihs, the practical concept is that “during or immediately after a biopsy or surgery on a malignant tumor, the system will enable the medical team to quantitatively evaluate the likelihood of the presence or development of tumor metastases in other organs, and to propose which organ or organs are involved. Such knowledge will make it possible to act at a very early stage to identify and curb these metastases and, moreover, to prevent the primary tumor from metastasizing further.”

Read more about Dr. Daphne Weihs’ breakthrough:
Technion Israel Institute of Technology
New Journal of Physics (for in-depth explanation of the technology)

4. Nanotechnology Against Killer Cancers

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is one of the most aggressive and incurable forms of cancer. Professor Dan Peer of Quiet Therapeutics and his team at Tel Aviv University devised a technology using nanoparticles to transport drugs to target cancer sites while minimizing adverse effects. Restricted passages across the blood–brain barrier make the majority of potential drugs for the treatment of GBM ineffective. But with Peer’s nanotechnology, the drugs can be administered precisely to attack only the cancer cells, like a nanotech cancer bullet. The technology was tested successfully on ovarian cancer cells and is in the early stages of testing on brain tumors with promising results for the future.

Read more about Prof. Dan Peer’s breakthrough:
ACS Publications
BioMed Microdevices Publication (for in-depth analysis of this nanotechnology)
Times of Israel

5. Immunotherapy Cocktail to Cure Melanoma and Terminal Cancer

According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, clinical trials on 945 patients with advanced melanoma skin cancer using a combination of immunotherapy drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab proved to cure 58% of the patients by shrinking or eliminating cancerous tumors. Prof. Jacob Schachter, head of the Ella Institute at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, took part in developing this drug which was hailed by the scientific community as a major breakthrough in cancer research that can potentially replace chemotherapy to treat many types of cancer.

Read more about Prof. Jacob Schachter’s breakthrough:
The New England Journal of Medicine

6. Nobel Prize Winner and Team Find Proteins to Suppress Cancer

New research from the Haifa laboratory of Nobel Prize winner Prof. Aaron Ciechanover has uncovered two proteins that suppress cancer cell growth and development. Ciechanover, who is also the president of the Israel Cancer Society, notes that many more years are required “to establish the research and gain a solid understanding of the mechanisms behind the suppression of the tumors. The development of a drug based on this discovery is a possibility, although not a certainty, and the road to such a drug is long and far from simple.”
Read more about Prof. Aaron Ciechanover’s breakthrough:
Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology
HaAretz (printed article)
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

7. Hacking the Cancer’s Communication System

Rony Seger from the Weizmann Institute of Science and his team developed a way to treat a number of cancers by blocking off messages from the nucleus of a cancer cell. By shutting off the information that creates cancerous mutations the spread of cancer can be halted.

Read more about Rony Seger’s breakthrough:
The American Society for Cell Biology (and its Supplementary Information)
Journal of Cell Science
Nature Communications

8. Biop Medical Device to Provide Early Detection of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women, and the #1 cancer killer of women in the developing world. According to Biop Medical, the startup company developed an innovative technology for the identification of cancerous and precancerous cells in epithelial tissues. The Biop system will enable point-of-care diagnosis of the entire cervix, generating a real-time map of the cervix. Immediately after testing, patients will receive a near-certain diagnosis, eliminating the prolonged waiting time and anxiety, associated with the current, inefficient process. This technology can reduce the time needed to diagnose one of the biggest killers of women – from weeks, to minutes.

Read more about Biop Medical’s breakthrough technology:
Times of Israel

Ginni Rometty, President and CEO of IBM, speaks about Biop Medical as being one of the cusps of the future of medicine, in her plenum speech at the Cleveland Clinic Summit.

Heart Treatments

9. Study Advances Understanding of Heart Cells’ Regeneration

If heart cells are damaged, e.g. by a heart attack, there is little than can be done to help repair and restore the heart. This is why heart disease is so fatal. A study conducted by Dr. Eldad Tzahor at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that a protein called ERBB2 may hold the key to regenerating heart cells. While the study was conducted on adult mice, the findings can prove to be a major breakthrough for heart disease treatments.

Read more about Tzahor’s breakthrough:
Nature Cell Biology (and accompanying videos)
Cardiovascular Disease News
World Health
Weizmann Institute of Science
Weizmann Wonder Wander

10. Blue Light to Replace Pacemakers Using Optogenetics Technology

Israeli researchers have successfully established a new approach for pacing the heart and synchronizing its mechanical activity without the use of a conventional electrical pacemaker. This novel biologic strategy employs light-sensitive genes that can be injected into the heart and then activated by flashes of blue light. The study was conducted at the laboratory of Professor Lior Gepstein from the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Research Institute at the Technion.

If the biological pacemaker can be adapted for humans, it could help patients avoid many of the drawbacks of electrical pacemakers. These include the surgical procedure needed to implant the device, the risk of infection, the limitation on the number and locations of the pacing wires used, the possible decline in cardiac function resulting from the change in the normal electrical activation pattern, and the limitations on implantation in children.

Read more about Lior Gepstein’s breakthrough:
Nature Biotechnology
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Science Daily
American Technion Society

11. Cardioband Facilitates Surgical Annuloplasty Through A Catheter

Valtech Cardio developed the Cardioband to allow for minimally invasive reconstruction of the mitral valve using a transfemoral, transseptal delivery system, avoiding open heart surgery that can be dangerous for fragile patients. Cardioband recently won European CE Mark approval to introduce its Cardioband annuloplasty system. Clinical trials were so successful that Valtech Cardio was recently acquired for nearly $1 billion by Heartware. Besides Cardioband, Valtech Cardio has developed other products in its expansive portfolio of innovative technologies for the treatment of mitral and tricuspid valve disease.

Read more about Cardioband:
Cardiac Interventions Today
Diagnostic and Interventional Cardiology
Valtech Cardio (Cardioband Highlights)


HIV/AIDS Treatments

More than 37 million people worldwide are affected by HIV/AIDS. Israeli researchers are looking to tackle this problem as well.

12. Self-destructing HIV Positive Cells

Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, led by Professors Abraham Loyter and Assaf Friedler, has led to development of a new method to destroy HIV-positive cells without damaging the healthy ones. According to a study printed in Future Science, certain peptides (amino acids) can interfere in the DNA-transfer process, and ultimately cause the infected cell to self-destroy. Mapping the interactions between viral and host proteins is a fundamental target for the design and development of effective treatments and a possible cure for HIV/AIDS.

Read more about this HIV/AIDS breakthrough:
Future Science (PDF publication)
Scientific Reports

13. Trapping the HIV-1 Virus

Prof. Akram Alian of the Technion Faculty of Biology offers a new strategy to combat the HIV-1 virus. By mapping the HIV-1 rerouting landscape in order to be able to predict the hidden, alternative routes that the virus takes when trying to spread. This will eventually help develop a drug that targets the critical nodes of the host cell’s proteins so it won’t be able to find other pathways to spread.

Read more about Prof. Alian’s research:
Journal of Virology (American Society for Microbiology)
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

14. Similarities Found Between Leukemia and AIDS May Lead to Cure

Dr. Ran Taube from Ben-Gurion University and his team discovered similarities between the HIV virus and leukemia. This breakthrough will enable researchers to develop more comprehensive therapies that could ultimately treat the virus itself by seeking innovative ways to “wake up” the virus from its silent active state, while at the same time applying anti-retrovirals to essentially eradicate the virus completely.

Read more about Ran Taube’s breakthrough:
Jerusalem Post
i24 News


Other Notable Breakthroughs

15. Addiction Treatment Using Epigenetics

Research by Professor Gal Yadid of Bar Ilan University and his team reveals that changes in our DNA during drug withdrawal may offer promising ways of developing more effective treatments for addiction. They found that withdrawal from drug use results in reprogramming of the genes in the brain that lead to addictive personality. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows addictive behavior can be stopped by influencing the epigenetic markers that were triggered by withdrawal using epigenetic drugs.

Read more about Prof. Gal Yadid’s breakthrough:
The Journal of Neoroscience
Medical Xpress
Daily Mail

16. Antibacterial Nanotechnology To End Implant Infections

Israeli biotech start-up called NanoLock has developed technology that kills bacteria inside an implant before they can invade the body and cause infections. Dr. Ervin Weiss says “The NanoLock technology enables the production of implants that contain specially designed components (consisting of a total of 1% of the entire implant) that mechanically kill bacteria” by punching a hole in the middle of a bacterium, rendering it impotent. Their first product will be for the dental industry, but the implications of this research will help with contact lenses, stents, breast implants and many other man-made devices that are subject to infection.

Read more about NanoLock’s breakthrough:
Times of Israel
Jerusalem Post

17. Diagnosing Blood Diseases Using Computer Vision Technology

Sight Diagnostics, an Israeli, tech startup, developed a novel platform for diagnosing blood diseases using computer vision technology. It’s Parasight Platform can detect malaria in blood in only three minutes. Their first application is for malaria testing. 500 million tests are done annually for the blood-borne disease, yet it still kills about 600,000 people each year. Early disease detection is crucial for proper treatment, and with a third of the world’s population at risk of malaria (let alone other blood diseases), Sight Diagnostic’s technology can help save millions of lives.

Read more about Sight Diagnostic’s breakthrough technology:

18. Combating Antibiotic Resistance

Dr. Udi Qimran and his team at the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology of Tel Aviv University managed to devise a way to restore antibiotic sensitivity to drug-resistant bacteria, and also prevent the transfer of genes that create that resistance among bacteria. This breakthrough is crucial for slowing the rapid, extensive spread of antibiotic resistance around the world, especially in hospitals. The system, if ultimately applied to pathogens on hospital surfaces or medical personnel’s hands, could turn the tide on untreatable, often lethal bacterial infections.

Read more about Dr. Udi Qimran’s breakthrough:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (and Supporting Info)
Science Daily
Tel Aviv University
While the list really goes on and on when it comes to scientific and medical breakthroughs in Israel, I focused on the ones I found to have a global impact.

May the good that comes from Israel bring the coming 2016 new year with more innovation, health and happiness for mankind.