700 Club Special
Made in Israel: Medicine
By Gordon Robertson & Erin Zimmerman
The 700 Club
On January 8, 2011, a gunman opened fire in Tucson, Arizona. His target was congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was shot in the head at point-blank range. To stop the bleeding, EMTs (emergency medical technicians) used a specially designed bandage that puts pressure on wounds and prevents infection. First responders said the bandage saved Giffords’ life. It’s one of many medical breakthroughs that got its start in Israel.
“Israel has one of the highest life expectancies in the world,” says Jonathan Medved, one of Israel’s leading high-tech venture capitalists. “Actually, the life expectancy here is about four years longer than the U.S. So if anyone wants to move to Israel, on average, you’re going to add about four years to your life.”
From sniffing out cancer to giving sight to the blind and making the lame walk again, Israel is leading the world in medical innovation.
Every day, millions of Americans use some kind of medical treatment that came from Israel. From Sambucol, a cold & flu medicine made from elderberries to amniocentesis, used to detect prenatal abnormalities.
There’s a wireless laser that will someday replace the dentist’s and the pillcam, a tiny camera in a capsule. It takes pictures from inside your colon, eliminating the need for a colonoscopy.
“Millions and millions and millions of these procedures are done every year,” says Dan Senor, author of Start Up Nation. “What if you could make them painless, pain-free and non-invasive. It would take a lot of the risk out of that procedure. That’s a classic Israeli solution to a problem.
Cancer: Diagnosis & Treatment
For many in the field of medicine, the ultimate goal is to find a cure for cancer. Although a full cure is still in the future, Israeli scientists are making huge advances.
The news is full of stories about dogs that can smell everything from epilepsy to cancer in their owners. So, one scientist took that idea and refined it.
“If the dogs can smell cancer, we for sure can do it in a little bit more sophisticated way,” states Dr. Hossam Haick. “We can communicate with the device much better than we can communicate with the dog.”
Dr. Haick developed an “early warning system” for cancer. The “nano artificial nose” can detect tumors before they’re even visible on x-rays just by analyzing a patient’s breath.
“The device can give the results in five minutes to one hour, more or less,” Dr. Haick explains. “Many diagnostic tools require a patient to swallow a radioactive or active material in order to make the diagnosis possible. We don’t expose to any risk x-rays or beams that might make cancer by themselves.
The artificial nose is still in clinical trials where the accuracy rates range from 86 to 97 percent. It’s also being customized to sniff out other diseases as well like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
Says Dr. Haick, “Our ultimate vision is to bring this device in a very inexpensive and portable way to everybody, whether they live in western countries, or whether they live in the third world.
Other Israeli scientists are focusing on the treatment of cancer. They’re doing everything from burning tumors with thermal heat to freezing them with liquid nitrogen.
One doctor is even developing a vaccine for cancer. The ImMucin vaccine trains the body’s immune cells to attack a specific molecule found only in cancer. And since only the cancer cells are targeted, the vaccine has no side effects like chemo and radiation. With one shot every few months, the body’s immune system will keep it under control.
“We’re just educating the immune system to do what it would try to do itself,” offers Dr. Lior Carmon, inventor of the ImMucin vaccine. “We are not inventing anything.”
In the first clinical trial, the vaccine successfully triggered the immune system in all 15 patients.
“As you will see in the future, I think we enter a field which is very attractive and we just scratched the beginning of it,” Dr. Carmon says. “I think we have a lot more thing to come, and I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen.”
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened … Isaiah 35:3
In 1829, the introduction of Braille revolutionized the way blind people read and write.
Today, Israeli inventors are taking that revolution a step further. For people with limited sight, there’s a new device called the Or-Cam. It’s a pocket-sized computer linked to a small camera that clips onto your glasses. The camera sees what you see and when you point your finger at something, the Or-Cam will read it for you -- everything from menus to street signs.
For those with total vision loss, there’s Project Ray, the first-ever smart phone for the blind. With the tap of a finger, users can make phone calls, send text messages and even surf the web.
While these inventions are giving blind people more independence, another one is actually restoring their sight.
A company called Nano Retina is focusing on people who have lost their sight from macular degeneration. They’ve created the “bionic eye,” an implant that provides users with grayscale vision, a big improvement over total blindness.
“Necessity is mother of all inventions,” says Naty Barak, CEO of Netafim. “Israelis sometimes tend to think outside of the box. If there is an obstacle, we do not hit our forehead at the obstacle, but we go around it. We found a solution.”
One of these solutions is giving new life to people who were told they would never walk again.
“I couldn’t understand why wheelchairs are the only solution for paralyzed person,” Amit Goffer remembers.
In 1997, Goffer was paralyzed in a car accident. Since then, he’s been on a mission to put the wheelchair out of business. So, he designed something called the Rewalk, a brace that uses motors to help paraplegics walk, and even drive a car.
Ironically, Goffer couldn’t use his own invention since he’s a quadriplegic and the device requires the use of the arms. But he soon found a disabled veteran who was more than willing to try it.
“When the doctor told me that I'm lucky to be alive but my injury would leave me paralyzed, everything became dark,” recounts Radi Kaiof, a Rewalk user.
Kaiof is a former Israeli paratrooper who was injured in South Lebanon.
“In one of the rehabilitation centers, I met Amit Goffer,” says Kaiof. He told me that he had developed a device that helps paraplegics in my condition, to walk. I didn't believe I'd be able to stand up. After I tried it and the device made me stand up, I was amazed.
My daughter was three years old back then. She looked at me and said, ‘Dad you are tall!’ That made my day!”
“The bottom line is seeing the families,” exudes Goffer. “It is very exciting. Then you want to cry when they see their beloved one stand. This is the first time I was really excited.”
Radi started using the Rewalk six years ago. Since then, the device has gone global.
In 2012, a young woman named Claire Lomas used the Rewalk in the London Marathon. She walked the 26 miles in 17 days, earning her the nickname “bionic woman.”
The Artificial Pancreas
“I dance four times a week, and I love it,” says Shai Bar-Shira. “I knew that I am not going to stop just because I am diabetic.”
Bar-Shira is a dancer, a student and a type 1 diabetic. She’s also a pioneer. Bar-Shira was one of the first people to try a new Israeli medical device, the artificial pancreas. It’s still in the experimental stage and right now, it’s just a laptop with a series of sensors that monitor the patient’s blood sugar. Eventually, the laptop will be replaced by a microchip in an insulin pump.
“I promised my patients many times that one day they will get rid of their diabetes,” says Dr. Moshe Philip, one of the developers. So despite the fact that we are not able to cure diabetes yet, we would like to enable our patient to live their life without thinking of their diabetes all the time. You have to understand, type 1 diabetes, especially during childhood, is something that keeps you busy the entire day. It’s there all the time.”
Dr. Philip oversaw clinical trials for diabetic kids in Israel, Slovenia and Germany. But Bar-Shira was the first person to use the device at home without medical supervision.
“Each time that my levels drop, it gives me a very, very strong alarm and tells me that I need to eat right away,” Bar-Shira explains. If my levels go too high, it edit fixes my levels. It calculates itself how much insulin I should take and it gives an automatic order to my pump to give me that insulin. And I’m all balanced – even more balanced than I was when I went to sleep. That’s amazing.
“I think we are going to change the life of our patients,” Dr. Philip says. “This is the entire idea – to bring back the spontaneity to the life of our patient, to free them from being busy with thinking about how to control their blood glucose level all the time and especially during the night.”
“I feel that there is so much effort to help the diabetics,” Bar-Shira adds. “I feel like you know what? You have this disease, but don’t worry, we’re trying to cure it, we’re trying to make the treatment better, more comfortable, and we’ll get there.
Feeling that I help other people too, it gives me the strength to keep on. If I am a part of something big I feel that I’m not alone in this business and it gives me a lot of hope.”
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