Abigail Klein Leichman
December 5, 2011, Updated September 11, 2012

Israeli medical advances and inventions get a check-up during the first-ever Medical Breakthroughs Tour for Doctors.

ViRobe by Prof. Moshe Shoham

The ViRobe developed by Prof. Moshe Shoham is a one-millimeter robot that can deliver chemotherapy directly to cancer cells.

A group of Canadian physicians recently got a first-hand glimpse of the medical breakthroughs coming out of Israeli universities, medical schools and startups.

Amir Amedi’s “virtual cane” for the blind, Hossam Haick’s NaNose for diagnosing disease from breath samples, Moshe Shoham’s ViRobe robot that delivers cancer meds directly to tumors, Jacob Barak’s device to prevent blood clots without drugs – these and many more inventions were explored during the Medical Breakthroughs Tour for Doctors organized by Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel, sponsor of ISRAEL21c’s Travel Channel.

“The theme of our tour is technological innovations, and we’ve seen ‘better’ cars — electric vehicles — that in a way are a metaphor for the kind of innovation that Israel is doing in biotechnology,” says Dr. John Mail, a family practitioner.

The tour was organized by Keshet at the suggestion of Vancouver family physician Larry Barzelai. Reading the bestseller Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle gave Barzelai the idea.

“I was blown away by the caliber of medical technology going on here, and I thought people would be interested,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Dr. Larry Barzelai

Dr. Larry Barzelai, initiator of the Medical Breakthroughs Tour.

Keshet was already offering “Start-Up Nation” tours focusing on technology, and worked with Barzelai to make his idea a reality.

“I used some ISRAEL21c materials to locate people in the field,” explains trip coordinator Rabbi Bill Berk. “I would sift through 40 to 50 stories on doctors doing amazing things and send Larry articles. He chose the topics that most interested him and did the legwork of contacting doctors here, while we arranged for company visits. The companies were excited about having a group of doctors coming to see what they do.”

Among those firms were Given Imaging, a world leader in developing patient-friendly solutions for visualizing and detecting disorders of the GI tract; and Neuronix, maker of a novel electromagnetic stimulation system to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

“The doctors explored the subterranean halls of the 12th century Hospitalier knights in the World Heritage Site of Acco [Acre], provided some exercise for their cardio-vascular systems on a bike ride on a desert trail in the Negev and were treated to a multicultural tapestry of modern and ancient Jerusalem,” said Barzelai.

“Given the location in the center of the great monotheistic religions, lectures on Islamic and Jewish medical ethics were also part of the offering as well as exploring the role of faith in the ancient and modern healing arts. Not overlooked was a sampling of the increasingly renowned Israeli cuisine and its award winning wines.”

Advances for blind and deaf

The doctors, some accompanied by spouses, learned of many Arab-Israeli cooperative ventures in medicine. One of these was described by professors Karen B. Avraham of Tel Aviv University and Moien Kanaan of Bethlehem University, who are jointly studying the causes of genetic deafness.

Dr. Rhona Gordon

Dr. Rhona Gordon.

“It was clear that in the Israeli academic community there is no issue as to where people studied, where they go home at night or what their politics are,” notes Dr. Rhona Gordon. “That really gives hope for the future if we can extrapolate that to how the general society can move forward.”

Gordon tells ISRAEL21c that Abraham and Kanaan arrived early for their presentation and sat in on a talk by Nano Retina’s Ra’anan Gefen about his company’s telescopic implants to treat macular degeneration.

“As they listened to him describe how the artificial retina uses an electrode array to magnify signals and improve vision for someone still partially sighted, you could see the wheels beginning to turn in their minds about applying this same science in their field,” says Gordon. “Ten to 15 years down the road, when we hear they are about to improve hearing using a similar technology, we can say we were there when the penny dropped.”

The operating room of the future

Seminars at leading Israeli medical centers gave participants a chance to earn CME (continuing medical education) credits. A session with paleopathologist Dr. Mark Spigelman, of the Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, led to an unexpected discovery.

In describing his research on tuberculosis, Spigelmen mentioned that his Palestinian graduate student had introduced a rapid screening test, called PCR, in the West Bank.

The doctors exchanged surprised glances, because PCR isn’t yet the norm in Canada. “This is a minor example of a scientific advance that Israel has adopted faster than Canada has,” says Mail.

A lecture on “the operating room of the future” by Dr. Arie Orenstein, director of the Center for Advanced Medical Technologies at Sheba Medical Center, struck a chord with Gordon, a family physician from Vancouver.

“One of the techniques he discussed is spectroscopy, which I studied almost 30 years ago in relation to stars,” says Gordon. “Now we see a biological application for imaging in surgery. I figured this was something that could take another 10 or 20 years, but Dr. Orenstein said they are doing this already in Israel.”

The visitors heard a report from Israeli medical teams that responded to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, toured an IDF medical unit and learned about Islamic medical ethics from Dr. Kassim Baddarni. “It was interesting how close Islamic medical ethics are to Jewish medical ethics,” comments Barzelai.

Dr. Barry Nathanson

Dr. Barry Nathanson.

Dr. Barry Nathanson, head of medicine programs at the Toronto-area Southlake Regional Health Centre, says he noted “the juxtaposition between Israeli contributions to medicine and healthcare, and Judaism’s contributions to medicine. One is the science of healthcare, while the other is the art of medicine, and to see them both come together is really beautiful to me,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

The doctors also had opportunities to tour Ben-Gurion University’s medical school and check out Israeli tourist spots such as the Carmel Mountains, the Baha’i Gardens, the City of David, the Mitzpe Ramon crater, the Roman ruins of Caesarea and Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall and Nahalat Binyamin crafts fair.

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