Looking for a first in stem cell treatment: Dr. Benjamin Dekel, a senior physician and scientific researcher at Sheba Hospital in Israel.He’s 42 and just at the beginning of his career, but with a new prestigious cancer research award under his belt, the world is expecting more than great things from Dr. Benjamin Dekel. A senior physician and scientific researcher at the Department of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Nephrology Unit at Sheba Hospital in Israel, Dekel has also recently founded Israel’s Pediatric Stem Cell Research Institute, a first in the world.
Although renal cancer in children and infants is quite rare at about one in every 100,000, learning how to treat it using stem cells from the kidney itself, has broad applications for treating adults as well, says Dekel who has made the area a focus for his research. Reaching epidemic proportions, renal diseases in general are affecting “every other adult person” these days, Dekel tells ISRAEL21c, with diabetes and hypertension as the main culprits.
The married father of three, who lives in Tel Aviv, is ultimately set on finding solutions to renal failure which will benefit humankind. Sadly, when on the phone with ISRAEL21c he had to take an emergency call about a child with renal failure that needed to be put on dialysis.
“Children are a small a minority of people suffering from chronic renal failure,” he says. “I see children with renal malformation. If both kidneys are dysplastic [growing abnormally] both kidneys could fail. We are trying to find stem cells that can halt this process. If we halt renal failure, it would be the first time in the world.”
Not quite there yet, the work is challenging Dekel says, “because our emphasis is not on using bone marrow stem cells. We want to use stem cells in the kidney itself… the big question is what are the kidney stem cells? The whole scientific community is trying to locate them.”
Physician, scientist and humanitarian
As a pediatrician he’s treating kids in Israel, as well as Palestinian kids from Gaza who suffer disproportionate rates of renal problems due to inbreeding: “When a renal stem cell doesn’t differentiate well into an adult cell, one gets renal deformation,” says the global leader in both adult and embryonic kidney stem cell manipulation.
Dekel’s current research concentrates on isolation and characterization of cancer stem cells from renal tumors for targeted therapy of these cells and eradication of the tumors.
To recognize the achievements in his work, the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) — based in North America — has just given Dekel its highest award, the Clinical Research Career Development Award, for his devotion to supporting cancer research. Totaling $135,000 for a period of three years, it will allow him to continue his quest to develop a stem cell treatment for diseased kidneys.
Paved the way for growing kidneys
Six years ago, the Sheba Medical Center identified Dekel as one of the brightest young clinicians and research scientists in Israel. “We selected him for the first class of our ‘Talpiot’ medical leadership advancement program. Clearly, the investment has paid off,” Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the Sheba Medical Center director tells ISRAEL21c.
Numerous bodies have recognized his contributions to science, including the “Outstanding Scientific Presentation” and “Outstanding Young Scientist’ awards from the European Renal Association, the Israel Pediatric Association, the American Pediatric Academic Society and more.
When completing doctoral studies at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Dekel was one of the first in the world to isolate adult kidney stem cells. Studies of his have appeared in journals such as Nature Medicine, and have paved the way for the “growing kidneys” concept, where functional miniature human and pig kidneys were developed in situ. Some hope such research could lead one day to replacement therapy in patients with end-stage kidney disease.