Medical Research

Holding a deep conviction that research is the essence of medicine, Hadassah is committed to advancing and developing the field of medicine in Israel by translating research insights into practical advances that not only prolong but enhance the quality of life.

In light of this, Hadassah has set excellence in research as one of the highest of its goals and made research activity its norm.

Every department, unit and clinical institute at Hadassah includes a research arm with state-of-the-art laboratories.

A substantial proportion of research at Hadassah is done in cooperation with researchers from the Hebrew University, as well as other institutes in Israel and worldwide.

Hadassah’s research labs are an inseparable part of the hospital’s clinical departments. In addition, research also takes place in designated research units and in multi-disciplinary research centers, such as the Women’s Health Center, the Gene Therapy Center, the Bone Marrow Transplantation Center, Cancer Immunotherapy and Cell Therapy, the Bone Calcium and Metabolism Research Center, and others.

Hadassah is establishing cooperative centers for the prevention, treatment and research of specific diseases, such as the Diabetes Center, the Lupus Center, the IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) Center, the Cardiovascular Disease Research Center, and others.

Currently, Hadassah researchers are looking into ways of stopping the lethal recurrence of melanoma; how to prevent a fatal heart-valve disorder from occurring; how to know whether a lung cancer treatment will be effective before its administered; and how to prompt pancreatic cells to produce more insulin.

“There is a golden triangle in which education and research go hand in hand with clinical excellence. We believe that cutting-edge medicine is practised when physicians are actively involved in research.”
Prof. Eyal Mishani, Ph.D

Head, Research & Development Division. Head, Cyclotron/Radiochemistry Unit. General Director, Research funds of HMO. Hadassah Medical Organization, Jerusalem, Israel.

Professor Michal Lotem, Head of Hadassah’s Centre for Melanoma and Cancer Immunotherapy.

Read about how Hadassah’s Professor Michal Lotem, a trailblazer in Melanoma research and healing, cures a patient with stage IV metastatic melanoma, who was given a 5% chance of survival.

The Woman Behind the Trailblazing Treatment.

Hadassah’s Prof. Michal Lotem, a trailblazer in melanoma research and healing, is treating her patients with a personalized protocol that only a handful of oncology centers around the globe are able to offer.

When her patients come to her with Stage IV metastatic melanoma, where standard treatments have failed, Prof. Lotem uses a cutting-edge immunotherapy protocol called adoptive cell therapy (ACT). The treatment involves extracting immune cells from a patient’s tumor and expanding their number into the millions to make them more powerful cancer killers. They are then re-injected into the patient, who is now armed to fight the disease with a greatly enhanced immune system.

Having trained at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., Prof. Lotem, head of Hadassah’s Center for Melanoma and Cancer Immunotherapy, tweaks the protocol based on her years of experience and the patient’s disease pattern. In this way, she saves lives when the prognosis is poor. As she explains: “We have to take into account each person’s unique mutation landscape because each person’s cancer, though it exhibits common attributes, has its own profile.”

Consider Esther, for example. A 62-year-old oncology nurse, Esther was diagnosed with melanoma in 2012; 14 months later, despite treatment, her cancer had metastasized to her chest wall. Prof. Lotem treated her with a personalized vaccine, using her own tumor cells that had been enhanced in culture with a drug called Keytruda. In January 2017, she was completely free of metastatic melanoma.

Moshe, diagnosed in August 2013 with melanoma, did not respond to traditional treatments. Prof. Lotem treated him with ACT and about three and a half years later, in January 2017, he was free of cancer.

Hannah had a unique variant of melanoma. Prof. Lotem recalls that Hannah’s cancer “looked like someone had put black ink all over her leg and thigh. The typical survival for this sort of metastatic melanoma is one and a half years. Fast forward 15 years and, today, Hannah is alive and well. As Prof. Lotem expresses: “My belief is that Hannah is not only alive, but she is actually cured–by all medical standards–since medical protocol is to declare a patient cured when free from cancer for 10 years.”

Although one of her American patients whose life she saved believes Prof. Lotem is way too humble, she has a different perspective: “There is a lot of hubris and pride in the field of medicine,” she says. “But I feel that the credit should not be given to doctors. If we are lucky to be physicians, or to be researchers–I am lucky twice–we can witness the knowledge of the human race and witness how it can save lives. I am so lucky to be a doctor at a time when we have effective drugs. I am lucky to be able to sit in front of my patients and see their happiness instead of their misery.”

Prof. Lotem also does not believe that doctors should tell patients they have x number of months to live–or as she calls it, “practice prophecy.” She focuses rather on trying to help them live. To that end, Prof. Lotem continues to do research to find ever more powerful ways to boost the immune response of the enhanced immune cells. Last year, the Hadassah Medical Organization was awarded a three-year, $337,500 grant from the Washington-based Melanoma Research Alliance for developing a protein that will make immune cells better cancer killers.

Prof. Lotem, who already knew she would become a doctor when she was only five years old, has been doing immunotherapy for 20 years. She was a pioneer in the field when it was not yet a mode of treatment most medical professionals were willing to take seriously. She and her team at HMO began by first administering personalized vaccines to their advanced-stage melanoma patients, derived from the patient’s own tumor cells, following surgery. Then came the next generation of vaccines, made with genetically engineered tumor lines. As Prof. Lotem explains, the HMO vaccine was designed as a preventive treatment–as a memory of the disease for the immune system so it could recognize the enemy and, therefore, prevent a recurrence.

Treatment strategy then switched to the creation of a vaccine made from immune system cells themselves, fortified to fight an enemy they already knew. HMO began taking part in early clinical trials with biological treatments, aimed at enhancing the immune system. It was then, Prof. Lotem explains, that they realized that they could achieve a synergistic effect by combining biologic treatment with her vaccine. “The immune system is a complex system,” she says, “so you have to approach treatment in a complex way.”

As Prof. Lotem brings out, “the world is now convinced that immunotherapy is the way to go.” She believes that immunotherapy “will become the main platform for treating melanoma as well as other types of cancer.”

Professor Dimitrios Karussis, Professor in Neurology, Hadassah.

 

Read about the innovative stem cell research of Professor Dimitrios Karussis. He is treating multiple sclerosis, with patients showing real improvement.

Malia’s 18-year Odyssey with MS – and back to life as she knew it.

Malia was a top Dallas trial attorney-a senior partner in a law firm-and a mother of three children, the youngest, aged five. Her energy level was high and her life was full. And then, in 1999, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

In the beginning, her symptoms were mild-for example, she was a little unsteady in her walking. She began taking a weekly injection of Avonex which she continued for ten years. Still, her life became a journey of declining energy and mobility. Her biggest fear was that she would lose her vision and not be able to drive her children around. Fortunately, she didn’t experience any problems with her vision, but her gait did get worse, as did the fatigue.

Ultimately, she could only walk a very short distance with a walker and her speech was harder to understand. The fatigue got so bad, that even taking a shower was so exhausting that she needed a nap afterward.

Malia tried four or five different medicines, none of which seemed to help. In any case, they only offered to slow the progression of the disease, not to improve symptoms.

Malia began to extensively search the internet for other treatments. This was how she came upon the innovative stem cell work of Professor Dimitrios Karussis, Senior Neurologist at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and head of its Multiple Sclerosis Center. Professor Karussis was conducting a unique MS clinical trial involving the injection of a patient’s own bone marrow-derived stem cells directly into the spinal cord.

When she met Professor Karussis for the first time, she was walking with a walker, but couldn’t walk any real distance. Malia had a bone marrow extraction and received her first infusion in 2016.

Eight hours after receiving the treatment, Malia did something she had not done in two to three years. Before the infusion, whenever she tried to get back into bed, she would have to lift her right leg with her hands. This time, post infusion, she was able to get back into bed by just lifting her right leg onto the bed-without holding it! She called the kids and her husband made a video. She showed the doctors when they came in that next morning to see how she was doing, she showed them her new skill. “Everyone was sobbing,” she recalls; “we were all so excited by how amazing it was.”

Yet, Malia says: “The most important thing of all was that “the level of my fatigue was so improved.” Recalling the night she returned home from that first infusion Malia said, “We arrived back home at midnight. The next morning I was up at 8:00am writing my blog. Then I unpacked, did laundry, and made a five-course dinner for my husband, after which he went to bed, exhausted from the jet lag. I, however, stayed up to crochet a new blanket until midnight.”

That renewed energy has never disappeared since Malia started getting stem cell infusions at Hadassah. She received two more in 2016 and the most recent in February 2017. The kind of improvements varied with each infusion- sometimes the improvement in her gait was most noticeable; other times, it was the clarity of her speech or her balance.

Malia’s recovery is not without its setbacks. As the stem cell treatment wears off, she does experience some backsliding in her improvements-perhaps in her speech or the way she walks. Nevertheless, after she has a treatment, the improvements return or surpass the previous ones.

“I had forgotten what it was like to feel like a regular person- like someone with a normal level of energy; I had forgotten what it was like to feel good,” Malia says.

Malia had stopped practicing law when she was diagnosed with MS. But just recently she reactivated her law license, took on a case, and will be going to trial. “When you feel like you can do things you used to do, life is as it should be,” Malia says.

Malia no longer takes any medication for MS and being an MS patient is no longer a central focus of her life. But, she is now a stem cell activist and fundraiser on behalf of Hadassah because “I feel I have been given a gift and I want to ensure that more people with MS can be helped.”

“What I would like Hadassah supporters around the world to understand,” Malia relates, “is that yes, I get the wonderful benefits of Professor Karussis’ stem cell treatments, “but I also was surprised to learn that I have this large Hadassah cheering squad that gives me hope and supports me-making me believe in possibilities for improvement. “There are many things I want to do with the rest of my life,” Malia says, “and raising money for Hadassah is at the top of the list.”

 Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable and often disabling autoimmune disease, where a patient’s own immune cells attack the nerve covering—an insulating layer called myelin—of the brain, which disrupts the flow of information from the brain to other parts of the body.

Prof. Chaim Lotan, head of Hadassah’s Heart Institute, and Diabetes Expert Prof. Jonathan Shaw of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, display the Memorandum of Understanding signed between their respective medical institutions.

Hadassah and Australia Research Institute Sign MOU to Collaborate

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate on scientific research in the fields of cardiovascular and diabetes medicine was signed on August 31st between the Hadassah Medical Center and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

The connection between Hadassah and Baker, an independent research institute that focuses on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, was forged about 18 months ago when Prof. Chaim Lotan, head of Hadassah’s Heart Institute, visited Baker while in Australia, working on a joint project with the University of Melbourne. Prof. Ronen Beeri, head of Hadassah’s Cardiovascular Research Center, and his colleagues organized an annual seminar for a group of Baker researchers visiting Israel, which included researchers from medical institutions throughout Israel.  As a result, multiple research collaborations have been formed.

Hadassah is currently working on a collaborative research project investigating the pathophysiology of takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Known also as “broken heart syndrome,” or stress cardiomyopathy, the event mimics a heart attack, but there is no angiographic evidence of obstructive coronary artery disease or acute plaque rupture. The term, takotsubo is taken from the Japanese name for an octopus trap, because during the acute phase of the syndrome, the heart’s left ventricle bulges and takes on a balloon shape similar in appearance to this trap used by Japanese fishermen.

One joint diabetes research project underway between researchers from the Baker Institute and Hadassah is a study of the death of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Understanding this may lead to new ways of treating the disease.

Baker Diabetes Expert Prof. Jonathan Shaw, who is involved in this groundbreaking study, traveled to Jerusalem to sign the Memorandum of Understanding. He brings out: ‘We have enjoyed a strong relationship with Hadassah Medical Center for several years and the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding formalizes this relationship.”

Another collaborative project is taking place in the endocrinology laboratories of Prof. Benjamin Glaser, head of Hadassah’s Department of Endocrinology. The project is focused on the genetics of diabetes. Last year, Prof. Glaser participated with more than 300 scientists from 22 countries in an international study, which revealed that most of the genetic risk for developing type 2 diabetes can be attributed to common, shared differences in the genetic code, each of which contributes a small amount to an individual’s risk of disease.

For over the last 15 years, Prof. Glaser has led the Middle East charge on type 2 diabetes and its genetics. “When we started working on this, almost two decades ago,” he relates, “we naively thought that we could find the genetic cause of diabetes by studying a thousand individuals using a few hundred genetic markers. We now know that we need to study hundreds of thousands of individuals, using millions of genetic markers, just to begin to understand the genetics of this common and devastating disease.”  Read more.

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