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.
"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 Abraham of Tel Aviv University and Maien Kanaan of Bethlehem University, who are jointly studying the causes of genetic deafness.
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.
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.