Arab-Israeli scientist Amal Ayoub is going for the gold –not aiming for a medal in an Olympic sport, but to help cure cancer.
Ayoub’s startup, Metallo Therapy, is premised on her earlier research showing that metal nanoparticles – especially gold – introduced into malignant tumors can enhance the effects of radiation therapy while reducing damage to neighboring healthy cells.
“Gold is a big atom containing a lot of electrons,” she explains to ISRAEL21c. “Under radiation it can absorb the rays better than smaller atoms can, and its electrons can emit secondary radiation efficient in destroying the cancer cells.”
Working with two Arab-Israeli employees – a male chemical engineer with a degree from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and a female biologist – Ayoub is perfecting a method to produce the gold nanoparticles efficiently on an industrial scale, and has developed a molecule to coat them so that they do not cause toxic interactions with body tissues.
Isn’t gold a very expensive material to work with? “Yes, but since we are talking about very small amounts — a couple of milligrams — the price is not an issue,” she explains. “It’s the same cost as developing any other drug.”
So far, she’s done all this with three years’ worth of funding provided by the Israeli Chief Scientist’s Office through the NGT Technology Incubator in Nazareth, the only applied sciences company devoted specifically to the Arab-Israeli community’s scientific, technological and entrepreneurial potential.
In addition, Metallo Therapy recently received $300,000 from the pharmaceutical division of Arkin Holdings, a fund established by Israeli healthcare entrepreneur Mori Arkin, to begin advanced animal trials using mice.
“They are waiting for results before deciding if they’ll invest more,” relates Ayoub, who is the company’s chief executive and chief technology officer. “We are now fine-tuning [in the lab], and at some point in a couple of months we will move on to more in-vivo studies when we know the exact amounts and concentrations to use.”
Arkin Holdings’ Pini Orbach stated: “We decided to invest in Metallo Therapy because we believe it has innovative technology for treating cancer, excellent basic science and management with the necessary skills. We also believe that the Arab community has much talent in the life sciences, and that investments of this kind will help promote Jewish-Arab cooperation in various fields.”
An international team that studied Israel’s medical services after the country became a member of the Organization for Economic and Development has stated in a preliminary report that it became one of the best healthcare systems in the world since the National Health Insurance Law went into effect in 1995.
The team, consisting of OECD and external experts, arrived a year ago and visited the country’s five largest hospitals, community health fund clinics in Jewish development towns and Arab villages, and a baby care center in an unrecognized Beduin town in the Negev, also meeting with representatives of patient rights organizations in the Arab and Ethiopian Jewish sectors and with heads of professional medical groups.
With their work completed, the final report will be published on November 26 when OECD officials will again come to Israel to attend a conference on health systems and present their findings in a press conference.
The government allocated health funding at relatively low levels during years of tight cost control with relatively low demand, attributed to a young and healthy population. Yet Israel made it possible to build a high quality health system, the OECD said.
Israel’s health system is considered especially good for its early diagnosis of chronic diseases that prevents unnecessary hospitalization, the European experts said.
For example, diabetes has been diagnosed early, lowering the rate of complications that would have required hospitalization compared to average OECD rates.
In addition, primary care in Israel benefited significantly from the immigration of large numbers of doctors and nurses from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, the OECD said. But because these professionals are beginning to retire, it is important for the country to ensure that young doctors and nurses will choose primary care and be trained appropriately.
While medical data from community health fund clinics are assessed by the insurers, this trend should be expanded to monitor improvements in care, the OECD team said. They also urged that hospitals be encouraged to improve the quality of their treatment, and that hospital data must become more accessible to health system professionals in the community.
In addition, there must be more competition on quality among health funds and providers of care, they said.
Despite the high marks, there is a complex mix of gaps in the health system between the rich and the poor, the center and the periphery, and various ethnic groups, said the OECD. More equity and accessibility will require additional efforts.
The OECD also bemoaned the growing use of private medical care, which makes it harder for the economically disadvantaged to enjoy the best healthcare.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman welcomed the report for its praise of the system, adding that those issues that were criticized must be improved.
“We will not disregard these. I asked the [Health Ministry] director- general, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, to present me a program for applying the recommendations in the report,” he said.
Gamzu also expressed his satisfaction with the OECD conclusions and promised to work toward repairing the faults that remain.
Though chemotherapy for cancer can save lives, it also can have severe side effects, including an increased risk of infection. Currently, the major criterion to assess the risk of infection is the blood cell count, where the risk of infection is considered high if the number of white blood cells falls below a critical threshold. Neutropenia occurs when levels of white blood cells, mainly neutrophils, are dangerously low. This condition often emerges after chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant, and severe infections can develop if the immune system does not perform its crucial function of devouring and destroying bacteria.
“Our mathematical model has revealed previously unknown mechanisms responsible for the variability in the vulnerability of neutropenia patients to infections,” says research leader Professor Vered Rom-Kedar of the Weizmann Institute’s Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department.
The model finds that variety in the effectiveness of neutrophils between healthy people usually has no significant consequences. However, for patients with neutropenia, the individual variability can make the difference between life and death. The study has drawn this conclusion based on analyzing blood from four healthy volunteers, and the analysis needs to be applied to large populations for the model to be used in the clinic.
The model explains why acute infections develop in certain patients after chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant, even if their neutrophil levels have returned to relatively normal levels. Chemotherapy lowers both neutrophil levels and function, so the tissues of these patients are more penetrable to bacteria. The model suggests that this results in a rapid increase in bacterial concentrations that gives a head start to the bacteria, and then the neutrophil recovery is insufficient to overcome the infection.
“Our study suggests that to achieve optimal results in applying chemotherapy, and/or in patients with innate neutrophil dysfunction, it is of value to assess the patient’s neutrophils periodically, as well as the bacterial concentration. Such assessments will help reduce the morbidity and the mortality, as well as the cost, associated with unnecessary hospitalizations and the administration of expensive medications. Moreover, by cutting down on the use of antibiotics, these assessments can help in preventing the rise in antibiotic resistance,” stated Professor Baruch Wolach, MD, of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and one of the study authors.
One out of every eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. It is the most commonly diagnosed non-skin cancer in women worldwide, and also strikes thousands of men.
Though the three areas with the highest breast cancer rates are Western Europe, Australia/New Zealand and Northern Europe, Israel has taken a leading role in researching causes and treatments. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s very first international research grant was awarded in 2001 to Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s Dr. Ephrat Levy-Lahad to do a comprehensive Israeli Breast Cancer Study, now an international model for genetic breast cancer prevention screening.
Over the past 12 months, ISRAEL21c has reported on exciting news in cancer research from Israeli laboratories. We present 10 of the most promising advances here with our hope that breast cancer may soon be relegated to history.
The novel Israeli medical device IceSense3, made by IceCure, is already helping American doctors destroy benign breast lumps by freezing them. In June, a leading Japanese breast surgeon started clinical trials using the minimally invasive, ultrasound-guided procedure to successfully obliterate small cancerous tumors as well. Similar trials will soon begin in the United States.
The cryoablation process takes five or 10 minutes in a doctor’s office, clinic or breast center under local anesthesia. No recovery period or post-care is necessary, and there is no scarring.
The Israeli company Real Imaging offers a no-radiation, no-contact alternative to mammography pioneered by electro-optical engineer Boaz Arnon and named in memory of his mother, who died of breast cancer in 2004.
RUTH uses a new trademarked platform that enables automatic quantitative analysis of 3D and infrared signals emitted from cancerous and benign breast tissue. Results are interpreted by computer, with unprecedented accuracy in patients of all ages — 90 percent as opposed to 80% for mammography. Thousands of women have been involved in clinical trials for RUTH since 2007. The next step is CE and FDA approval.
Dune Medical, a graduate of the Misgav Venture Accelerator, in June received pre-market approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for MarginProbe, its trademarked system that uses electromagnetic waves to identify possibly cancerous tissue on the edges of a breast tumor in real time. The application was based on data from a 600-patient study conducted primarily in the United States.
MarginProbe is meant to improve on the current rate of 30 percent to 60% of women who must undergo secondary breast cancer surgery after a lumpectomy because the initial surgery failed to get rid of all cancerous tissue at the margins of the tumor.
Herceptin, a frequently prescribed drug for blocking the chemical signals that stimulate uncontrolled growth of breast cancer cells, is one of an advanced class of pharmaceuticals called monoclonal antibody drugs. Currently, these drugs must be administered together with chemotherapy.
The two-year-old Israeli company Immune Pharmaceuticals is developing a “guided missile” system, licensed from the Hebrew University, which encloses thousands of chemotherapy molecules inside a monoclonal antibody nanoparticle. The drug payload isn’t released until reaching the cancerous tissue.
In addition, Immune is collaborating with the Weizmann Institute to develop antibody therapeutics targeting a growth factor that causes chemotherapy resistance in many patients with breast and ovarian cancer.
Tel Aviv University PhD student Livnat Jerby won a prestigious 2012 Dan David Scholarship for performing the first genome-scale study of the metabolic progression of breast cancer — an algorithm that can profile the traits of each individual patient’s tumor. These profiles help in studying the underlining mechanisms of the disease, classifying patients according to their prognosis and identifying potential metabolic biomarkers as a non-invasive, cost-effective means for early diagnosis and monitoring treatment efficiency.
“The Holy Grail of our work is to provide the basis for rational drug discovery, aiming to find drugs that — unlike most conventional treatments — will harm only the tumor, and not the healthy cells,” Jerby tells ISRAEL21c. “We had some success with providing a new potential target for treating renal cancer and published those results in Nature. With breast cancer, we can apply the same computational tools to better diagnose and choose the best treatment for the individual patient.”
At a time when rockets are being fired from the Gaza Strip at the communities of southern Israel, four young residents of Gaza are receiving treatment in northern Israel. The four children, suffering from kidney insufficiency, have been hospitalized for several months in the Children’s Hospital at Rambam Health Care Campus, where they have been receiving lifesaving therapy while awaiting kidney transplants.
Several months ago, three of the children – Mohamed and Hadeel (both 12) and Hadeel’s brother Ahmad (15) – arrived at Rambam in serious condition. Since then, they have gone from hemodialysis treatments (in which blood is cleaned via an artificial kidney) to peritoneal dialysis (administered through the abdomen). The latter therapy is given overnight, which enables patients to lead more active lives. Soon, for the first time in three years, the kids will be able to go back to school like every normal child of their age. The fourth youngster, six-month-old Lian, is still being treated with hemodialysis, which is appropriate for her medical condition.
Now that their health has improved, the three schoolchildren are due for release to their homes, Mohamed within the next few days, and siblings Hadeel and Ahmad shortly afterward. The families have recently spent time with the staff of Rambam’s Pediatric Nephrology Unit, under the direction of Prof. Israel Zelikovic, and learned how to perform peritoneal dialysis by themselves.
“Peritoneal dialysis is preferable for children because it can be performed by an automated dialysis device at the child’s home, in his natural surroundings,” Prof. Zelikovic says of the method’s advantages. “The treatment is performed at night while the child sleeps, which frees him for regular activities during the day. It also makes possible better nutrition and metabolic balance and reduces the burden on the heart and blood vessels.”
According to Mahdi Tarabia, Head Nurse of the Pediatric Nephrology Unit, who has accompanied the families during their stay at Rambam, until now it has not been possible to receive peritoneal dialysis in the West Bank and Gaza. “The hemodialysis treatment that these children were given before their arrival at Rambam was associated with medical complications, resulting in a worsening of their condition and many hospitalizations,” he explains.
“Now, these families have the skills to administer peritoneal dialysis, which represents a significant improvement in the children’s circumstances and will enable them to function almost normally.” The families will receive the equipment required for peritoneal dialysis and the solution used with it from Teva Pharmaceuticals, which will convey it to the Erez Checkpoint.
Mr. Tarabia noted the cooperation between the Pediatric Nephrology Unit at Rambam and the medical authorities in Gaza and the West Bank, who together have the children’s best interests at heart.
Over the past year, the Pediatric Nephrology Unit has cared for tens of Palestinian children from the West Bank and Gaza, who have arrived at Rambam Medical Center with various kidney diseases. The Unit, which specializes in dialysis for infants and small children, has performed more than 4,000 dialysis treatments this year.