a different side of Israel

Category: Health & Medicine (page 1 of 2)

Local medical news in Israel, medical technology breakthroughs, medical devices, Israeli medical start ups and developments.

Doctors on Strike

Magen David Adom Tel AvivTalks between the Israel Medical Association and the Treasury fell short of yielding results last Wednesday, causing fears the doctors’ strike that began last week could continue into the new week. Doctors began a warning strike last Tuesday, treating only emergency cases.

They are demanding higher wages and better working conditions, including an end to back-to-back shifts which leave hospital doctors on duty for more than 20 hours straight.

The ministry said it will publish “guidelines for hospitals and health funds, and set the limits of the strike to help the public.”
The Israel Medical Association responded, “It should be remembered that all instructions about the strike will be issued by the union’s strike committee.”

Globes reported:

“The gaps between the sides are still wide. The Ministry of Finance is prepared to grant doctors a 1% pay hike per year as part of a 5-8 year labor contract. It is also offering a special supplement of NIS 600-1,200 for specialists, doctors in the periphery, and doctors in professions where there is a shortage. The Israel Medical Association is demanding a 50% increase in doctors’ hourly wage, plus changes in employment terms which will amount to an estimated additional 50% pay hike.”

Medical Histadrut Permits Over-the-Counter Ritalin

RitalinThe Ethics Committee of the Medical Histadrut (Federation) will now be permitted to sell the psycho-stimulant drug that treats attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Ritalin (Methylphenidate) without a doctor’s prescription.

Professor Esther Shohami, a lecturer and researcher in the pharmacological department in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, is critical of the decision.

She told Yediot Achronot:

“A person who does not need Ritalin and only takes the medication to improve performance could cause certain things that were hidden inside him to erupt…There are people who arrive at the emergency rooms with psychotic seizures.”

The head of the IMA’s Ethics Board, Professor Avinoam Reches said:

“Everyone has the right to make the most of themselves so long as it doesn’t hurt or endanger others…Though a person may not suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, if Ritalin helps him concentrate then it is allowed. It is the same for memory-improvement drugs. If they help a person with slightly worsened cognitive skills then there is no reason not to give them to him…”

Reches stated, however, Israel will not assist in paying for the drug unless medical need has been proven. Students who need extra help during exams will have to pay the full price for Ritalin, and will not receive financing from their HMOs.

Assuta Tel Aviv Accused of Malpractice and Poor Ethics

Assuta Medical CenterThe Assuta Medical Center in Tel Aviv opened last year wearing an impressive reputation. But lately, that reputation has been blemished.

In a letter last week to Assuta Director General Eitan Hai-Am, Health Ministry Director General Roni Gamzu cited three cases in which women who had been operated on, at the hospital, died. In two such cases, the hospital neglected to notify the ministry and took no less than three months to hand over to the ministry a copy of one of the patients’ files.

Some of the files reflected a lack of surgeons at critical times after operations had been performed.

In one case, a surgeon failed to visit his patient for five days after her operation, despite her dangerous condition. Another time, a woman died after the surgeon decided to go into surgery on a different patient despite being told he was needed to stop the woman’s bleeding.

In a document, the head of the Health Ministry’s medical administration, Hezi Levy, wrote:

“From an analysis of irregular occurrences at Assuta, it is apparent that there are no clear standards as to what is required by the hospital in admitting a patient, in responsibility for following the patient’s whereabouts, the surgeon’s responsibility and the standards required of him and the consultation procedure with various consultants on complex cases.”

For its part, Assuta said:

“We regret that the Health Ministry’s director general is dealing with such an important subject as quality control in such a slanted manner, while acting [despite] a conflict of interest…. It would be good if the Health Ministry’s director general and the head of the ministry’s medical administration … would conduct quality control measures on the entire health care system in Israel, including the hospitals with which they are connected… Assuta would be pleased to cooperate with any such process and of course to contribute its own long years of experience to improve Israeli medicine.”

In a response to Gamzu’s letter, Assuta’s Director General, Hai-Am, alluded to a conflict of interest on Gamzu’s part in his dealings with the medical facility.

“I am convinced that your inquiry, does not, heaven forbid, stem from your prior position…Of course, there is nothing stopping you from clarifying the situation, investigating and holding meetings to satisfy yourself that there is no problem whatsoever in the medical system at Assuta, including anything related to medical supervision and oversight. At the same time, it seems to me that fairness requires that such an investigation would be carried out in an unbiased manner and based on genuine findings.”

Jordan Wants Teva Off Their Turf

Teva (at NASDAQ)A group of Jordanian pharmaceutical companies fear that operations of the Israeli company Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. may affect them should it decide to cooperate with a local company.

Representatives of the Israeli pharmaceutical giant met with local companies in the framework of a Brazilian industrialists’ delegation. The meeting took place on Thursday in Amman under the guidance of the Amman Chambers of Commerce and Industry, provoking anger from bodies which object to the normalization of relations with the Jewish Country.

They who opposed the meeting had learned of it only a short time before it actually took place. They sent faxes and SMS messages to Jordanian companies in protest, but the messages came too late.

Talal Elabu, a spokesman for the Islamic faction in the Jordanian pharmacists’ union, warned Jordanian companies not to give the Israeli firm “a foot inside the Hashemite Kingdom”.

In the anti-Israel periodical al-Sabeel, Elabu was quoted as saying:

“Teva is one of the biggest companies in the world operating in the field of generic drugs. Every step it takes into the Jordanian market will have a negative effect on our national industry. If it enters the market, we can see this as the end of part of our pharmaceutical industry.”

He hinted that in addition to the Amman Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Jordanian Ministry of Health was also involved in hosting the Israeli company, in contravention of the Pharmacists Union guidelines that forbid commerce with Israeli companies.

“We will respond harshly to any company that cooperates with Teva.”

The Valley of Dry Bones?

Recently Dr. Eitan Hai-Am resigned from his post as Health Ministry director-general because of the cabinet’s decision to relocate the emergency room at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center because there are ancient graves found on the site.

Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said at a committee meeting:

“You’ve been discussing graves for the past two hours. Patients will die as a result of this decision and you are talking about (graves)…Building an emergency room far from the hospital’s main building means killing patients. You do not realize that.”

Demonstration outside the KnessetAround 70 doctors held a demonstration outside the Knesset in protest against the government’s decision. The doctors warned that moving the ward to a new location, as demanded by the haredim, “may end up costing us lives”.

Revising plans to relocate the ER would cost an extra NIS 136 million (about $36 million) and would delay the project for two years and put the facility too far from the hospital’s main building. Netanyahu instructed his director-general, Eyal Gabai, to head a task force which would reassess the decision.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the new task force:

“will determine, together with all the relevant authorities, the possibility of erecting the secure emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in a way in which lives will not be endangered. The task force’s conclusions will be presented immediately after Pesach. Until then there will not be any work done on the facility.”

Outside Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical CenterCommittee members toured the site Wednesday morning with Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority and an aide to Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman.

Dorfman told the committee that he cannot guarantee that there are Jewish graves at the site designated for the new emergency room, “The fact that there was no Jewish community in Ashkelon does not mean that there were no Jews there at all. We cannot reach a decision until we dig in the entire site.”

Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, who also attended the Knesset meeting, said:

“I personally witnessed how the distance between the different hospital wards resulted in the loss of life…Building the ER at a different location will take at least three years, during which more lives will be lost.”

MK Arieh Eldad, a physician by training, said “a situation has been created in which a few bones are worth 130 million shekels,” he added “Jews know how to transfer Jewish graves from place to place, not to mention bones of Philistines.”

Israel Gets another Nobel Prize

GERMANY NOBEL CHEMISTRYWe’re still on the ball, guys! Israeli scientist Ada Yonath has won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. She works at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, named after Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann, who also happened to be a chemist.

She shared the prize together with two American Scientists Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz. Her work focused on how cells build proteins, which I’d imagine is pretty complicated. My cells make proteins all the time, but when it comes down to it, I really have no idea what they’re up to. I just know it has something to do with ribosomes and tRNA or something.

For a picture of what she found out, check out this computer model. And if you want to read the technical reports on her findings…good luck trying to understand them.

Yonath is the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry since 1964.


Israeli Researcher Close to Alzheimer’s Vaccine

MonsonegoThis man, Dr. Alon Monsonego of Ben Gurion University, could be the face put on a real, workable Alzheimer’s vaccine. Alzheimer’s being one of the scariest, most devastating mental diseases imaginable where you pretty much die before you die since your mind is practically erased, this is very encouraging news. That, and cases have increased by 33% since 2005, with over 36 million people expected to be diagnosed with the disease this coming year.

Alzheimer’s destroys the sufferer’s brain by building up plaque deposits in the brain tissue and replacing grey brain matter with chunks of amyloid-beta protein, which gathers like tartar on your teeth. Except it’s in your brain. It starts with memory loss and progresses all the way to total bodily breakdown as the brain literally melts away.

Monsonego determined that introducing A-beta protein into the brain, the very protein that causes the disease, triggers a natural immune response which can be detected in humans. “Stimulating an immune response to A-beta in these humanized mice not only resulted in a highly efficient clearance of A-beta (plaque) from the brain, but also in a markedly reduced inflammatory reaction,” he said.

More research will be needed to ensure that the vaccine is safe before it can be marketed. A few years ago, an Israeli company had received a patent on an Alzheimer’s vaccine, but the vaccine was determined to be too dangerous for human use. We’ll see if this one is safer.

Cancer Breathalizer Comes out of Technion at Haifa

Wow. These Israeli inventions just keep coming, don’t they? We’ve heard of cancer sniffing dogs, so why not program some artificial intelligence to do the same thing? Revealed this week in Nature Nanotechnology journal, the “cancer breathalyzer” can detect lung cancer with 86 percent accuracy. It can even detect cancers that are not even large enough to show up on X-rays or CT scans. Detecting cancer that early could really save lives. The wonders of affordable technology!

HossamHow does it work? It tests for chemicals that are produced in cancer cells. They are ethylbenzene, decane, heptanol, and trimethylbenzne.

From what I remember from my organic chemistry days, these are all very flammable, but no, the detection does not involve attempting to set a patient’s breath on fire. There isn’t enough of it for that. Decane is a very long chain of hydrocarbons (ten carbons long actually) found in jet fuel, and heptanol is a 7-carbon chain with a hydroxide group at the end, making it an alcohol. Ha, college. The alcohol we drink, ethanol, is a 2-carbon alcohol. Don’t drink heptanol. It won’t make you any more drunk, but it will likely cause you, in drinkable amounts that is, to become dead.

The chemicals are detected using gold nanoparticles and an electric circuit. If the breath contains heptanol etc, the circuit goes off.

The research team was led by Hossam Haick, an Israeli Arab, pictured here, also the inventor of the electric nose.

Haick and his team have patented their device, but will continue to work to perfect it. The device must pass further clinical trials before being put to use. Good job Hossam!

Israeli Medicine at it Again – Heart Repaired after Heart Attack

heartIt has often been assumed that after a heart attack, where by definition a piece of the heart dies for lack of blood and oxygen, the damage is irreparably permanent. However, Israel has done it again, this time by proving that, indeed, it is not.

Over a month ago, OneJerusalem reported an Israeli breakthrough as a possible cure for radiation sickness, as well as a kickstarter pill for a damaged pancreas in diabetics. Now, they’ve done it again by making a dramatic breakthrough in treating heart disease, growing heart muscle in rats’ abdomens and using it to patch the hearts of rats that suffered heart attacks.

The results of the experiment were published this week in an American journal. Many researchers have attempted this approach to fixing damaged hearts in the past but haven’t succeeded in keeping the grafted tissue alive to join with the adjoining heart tissue. The difference in approach by the Israeli team is that instead of transplanting the cells directly to the heart, they implanted them in the abdomen first in order to get a system of blood vessels going. This means the tissue has less of a chance of dying of oxygen deprivation and can attach itself to the vessels of the heart.

The process took 28 days until the two linked up, and more than that, the patch actually improved the damaged heart. The problem with heart attacks is that they usually leave a scar on the heart, which tightens up over time and often leads to another heart attack. The patch prevented the scar from forming.

When do human trials start on abdomen-grown cardiac tissues? HA, we have no idea. But hopefully soon.

Insulin Shots for Diabetics a Thing of the Past?

How’s THIS for the only democracy in the Middle East: Thanks to a Tel Aviv University student named Adi Mor, Insulin Shots may become obsolete very soon.

insulinAdi has developed a tablet-based treatment for Type 1 diabetes, which tests show restores insulin production in animals. The drug is based on something called a Ras protein inhibitor. The Ras protein is found in 30% of all cancerous tumors, and completely disrupts a cell’s normal function. The inhibitor allows cells to continue with business as usual by taking the protein out of the equation. The drug was initially designed for patients with pancreatic cancer but Mor modified it to function for diabetics.

The great news about that is, since the previous version of the drug already passed most of the hurdles for FDA approval, this spin off could skip straight to clinical trials, cutting the wait for the drug to about 5 years.
The same drug is also effective against autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus. The drug helps autoimmune diseases, which occur when the body’s immune system begin to attack the body itself, by increasing the production of a protein called Foxp3 that keeps the immune system cells in check. This is the same thing which keeps diabetes in check.

If it works, Israel chocks up another victory against common worldwide diseases. See our article on radiation sickness for further good news.

Kissing a Mezuza Risks Swine Flu? Doctors Say Yes

swine flu virusIn a country where it’s a nearly ubiquitous custom to kiss a Mezuzah upon entering and exiting a building, at a time when said country is all up in arms about Swine Flu, is probably a bad combination. But the question has already been asked. Can kissing a Mezuzah contribute to the spread of the disease?

What’s the need for the question? Of course yes. Flu is extremely contagious, and it stands to reason that an object that collects bits of saliva from passersby can function like a hub for H1N1. But the Rabbis were asked anyway. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had this to say on the subject, “If a specific order is given in the matter, the mezuzah must be kissed from the air, to ensure that the custom is not forgotten.” That’s a pretty fair compromise, but why must an order be given? We all know that the flu spreads from salivary contact. Do we need an order to tell us so?

Dr Ilan YoungsterMeanwhile, six out of seven doctors interviewed on the subject declined to comment about Mezuzahs in particular, for fear of getting in trouble with the Rabbis. No comment. There was only one doctor brave enough to tell the truth. Kissing Mezuzahs (sans Rabbi Amar’s air-kissing technique) increases the spread of Swine Flu, is dangerous, and people should refrain from doing it. His name is Ilan Youngster, and he based his warning on research he presented a year and a half ago sampling 70 Mezuzahs, which all turned out to contain many dangerous bacteria.

“Perhaps,” he continued, “because of the fact that the mezuzah is a religious object, people are afraid to sterilize it.”

Rabbi Amar responded to Youngster’s recommendation with ambivalence. On the one hand, he didn’t want the Health Ministry to issue an advisory against the practice, however, he recommended that anyone who wants to follow Youngster’s advice, “…put his hand near the mezuzah and kiss it, so as not to miss out on this good and important custom.”

I would ask Rabbi Amar about the commandment of “shmor et nafsheha” which is a Biblical obligation that a Jew watch over his health and well being, which I’m guessing should override a mere custom, but Amar wasn’t available for comment. I also didn’t call him for one either, for fear of getting in trouble with the Rabbis.

Kabbalists Trumpet Swine Flu to Death

Good news! A whole group of famous Kabbalist Rabbis have decided to do away with swine flu and protect Israel. Have they decided to be an example to others by condemning the attack on Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s car? Or perhaps call for mutual understanding in the case of the Safra Square parking lot instead of rioting and burning garbage and attacking sanitation workers? No, no.

TrumpetsTheir solution: Fly around the country while tooting trumpets and shofars, in order to envelope the Holyland in a virus-tight hermetically sealed spiritual shield. No, we are not joking. But we are laughing, and inside, crying softly over the deterioration of Judaism into an irrelevant voodoo joke.

While interviewed, the Rabbis had a bit of trouble saying the word “swine,” which, for some reason unknown to us here, is a bad word. Instead, they called it “the plague” and “the Mexican flu.” This is probably because swine is not kosher. Yet the thought occurs, what if the Bible had refrained from using the word swine itself, and instead forbidden the eating of Mexicans?

Also, we wonder what would have happened if, heaven forbid, the plane had crashed with all the top-rated Kabbalists on it? My mother always told me never to put all your Kabbalists in one basket, or plane, as the case may be. Who would be the spiritual leaders then? Perhaps saner Rabbis who have a moral message that is relevant to our lives.

And what did they ever do before airplanes when enveloping an entire country in a spiritual trumpet-induced shield was impossible? Perhaps they actually provided a leading voice of understanding, morality, and good will that people could listen to and take seriously. But now, I guess it’s all techno-trumpeting.

We hope it works out. But something tells us it’s a waste of good trumpets.

Pot Bellies can be Health Hazards

fattyGot a pot belly or “beer gut” as we Westerners often refer to them? If so, you could be likely to have all kinds of health problems, including being susceptible to a number of serious (and even fatal) diseases.

In a recent study by Ben Gurion University’s Clinical Biochemistry Department, people who carry a large amount of abdominal fat have fat cells that send the wrong kind of internal “communication” to other parts of the body; which eventually results in the onset of a number of serious diseases, including those affecting the heart, liver, pancreas, and other organs.

This Shawarma has nothing to do with the post - but look at it. Now you understand why people in Israel have pot bellies?

This Shawarma has nothing to do with the post - but look at it. Now you understand why people in Israel have pot bellies?

The study, carried out jointly with a group of German scientists (due to this increasing problem among their own citizens) from the University of Leipzig published their findings in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. The findings determined that large amounts of fat calls store a number of secretions and other unhealthy substances that cause problems in the effective communication between healthy cells and various parts of the body. These communication problems send the wrong messages to important parts of the body, including the brain, resulting in “miss-communication” that can cause problems with proper body metabolism and weight management.

Dr. Assaf Rudich, a senior lecturer in BGU’s Clinical Biochemistry Department, noted that “in obesity, fat (adipose) tissue becomes dysfunctional, and miss-communicates with the other tissues. This places fat tissue at a central junction in mechanisms leading to common diseases attributed to obesity, like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”

As fat cells become overgrown, they cause a problem with proper amounts of oxygen being delivered to various body tissues, causing inflammation and even death to important body cells. The fat cells also result in high amounts of glucose and fatty acids being send through the bloodstream which put a lot of stress on vital body tissues, resulting in diseases and other harmful conditions.

Samples of abdominal fat tissue were taken during operations in order to study how these tissues affect the normal body “pathways”. In addition, a body protein known as ASK1 was also monitored, as this protein is tied closely to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, as it predicts whole body insulin resistance. The conclusion is that people need to reduce abdominal fat as much as possible; especially people over age 40.

Acute Radiation Sickness a Thing of the Past?

Radiation CureHow’s the for potentially life-changing news: Radiation sickness may now be a thing of the past. Thanks to Jewish-American scientists working together with researchers and investors from Israel, researchers now believe they have isolated a certain intestinal protein that can be administered as an injection to protect people against acute radiation poisoning from 24 hours before exposure up until 72 hours afterward.

Andrei Gudkov, chief science officer at Cleveland Biolabs, pioneered the research and developed the medication, which has already passed trials on mice as well as primates, where controlled groups were given the medication and subjected to lethal doses of radiation. Almost all survived, and more amazingly, few showed any signs of radiation exposure at all. The amount of radiation administered was equal to the amount of the highest doses received from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. FDA approval may even happen within a year or two if the bureaucracy allows some flow.

The implications of this are no less than enormous, both politically and medically. If the medication, which testing thus far has revealed has no serious side effects, gets approved, countries with access to it will have a major advantage in protection against nuclear attack and/or dirty bombs, which is especially significant in Israel’s case in its struggle with Iran.

On the medical front, there is of course the issue of radiation therapy for cancer patients, who could be better protected against the radiation that is administered to destroy cancerous tumors.

The Israeli connection here is Elena Feinstein, a longtime cancer researcher at the Weizmann Institute, who partnered with Gudkov on the project.

The medication works by suppressing the “suicide mechanism” activated by cells exposed to radiation, while at the same time enabling them to repair themselves from the damage.

Autism’s Awareness

For many who are not aware, Wednesday, April 2nd was World Autism Awareness Day. Many media programs have devoted some of their viewing time to include informative public awareness programs dealing with this world-wide developmental problem that afflicts more than 35 million people worldwide. Due to the fact that autism seems to be on the increase, international health organizations finally convinced the U.N. to create an annual day in which this scourge will finally be put before the public eye.

World Autism Awareness DayAutism is defined as a moderate to severe mental developmental disorder which prevents children from being able to make normal personal contact with others, develop normal language skills, and engage in interpersonal communication. There are a wide range of autistic conditions, which cause it to be known as a “spectrum disorder” since it can range from almost normal behavior to something at the opposite end of this range, or spectrum. As of mid 2007, around 3,000 people in Israel were diagnosed with this affliction, affecting around 1 in every 250 births. In countries such as the USA, however, the percentage of children born with autism is even higher at 1 in 150 births. Male children are 4 times more likely to be born autistic; and those conceived by men aged 40-49 are 5.5 times more likely to be autistic (children from men 50-60 are 9.4 times more likely to be autistic!).

What causes autism in children, especially boys, has not yet been discovered. But the fact that older men are more likely to father autistic children, may be why the ratio of autistic born children in North America is higher than in other countries (including Israel) since people are marrying in the USA and Canada at a much older age than in other countries. The reason that the condition is more prevalent in boys than in girls is still a mystery, and is perhaps linked to the fact that male sperm containing chromosomes more likely to produce boys is more prone to such conditions.

The success in being able to teach autistic children to speak and interact with other people depends on the seriousness or “degree” of the disability. Many people who are autistic can be taught to take care of themselves and even work in certain careers. The amount of assistance and/or supervision they require is connected with what level of autism they are diagnosed with.

There are several organizations in Israel that deal with providing therapy and education to children who are autistic. These include the TOMI organization, started by a couple whose own child was diagnosed as autistic; and the Meir Autism Treatment Center, that uses the well known Son-Rise Program that concentrates on teaches autistic children a variety of basis skills, including social skills, language and conversation, eye contact and attention span (a big problem with many autistic children) as well as academic and self help skills.

Although much progress has been made in assisting autistic people, there is still a lot more to be done, and one of the most important things is early diagnosis of the condition in order for the right treatment to be started. Many autistic children, especially those who are considered as “borderline” between being autistic and having some other kind of learning disability ,such as ADD (attention deficit disorder) for example, can be taught to live an almost normal life and be contributing members of their communities.

With Autism Awareness Day, this tragic and often misunderstood condition, is finally receiving to attention it so much deserves.

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