While most people were soaking up the sun this summer (hopefully, with sunscreen), researchers in Israel were busy cracking the code of the human body. It’s not by chance that there are over 250 major R&D Centers in Israel owned by multinational companies, including Apple, General Electric, Johnson and Johnson, and Google. Known worldwide as the start-up nation for its technological innovations, Israel is also a leading country in medical innovation.
Helping people in wheelchairs stand with ReWalk, using breathing to detect life-threatening diseases with NaNose, screening for cervical cancer with smartphones from MobileODT, and even a special drinking cup that helps keep track of individual hydration needs called Pryme Vessyl, Israel is paving the innovation path with thousands of medical breakthroughs.
NaNose and ReWalk were invented by professors and alumni of Technion Institute of Technology, one of the leading Israeli hubs developing technology and medical innovations. With Technion’s American Medical Program, that provides students from abroad the opportunity to learn in a cutting-edge environment, and the opening of Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute (TCII) in New York, Israeli innovations will make an even bigger impact around the world.
2016 Technion American Medical Program graduate, Allen Pimienta, from Toronto, matched at Mayo Clinic in Family Medicine. While studying at Technion, Pimienta published papers in four different journals and is the first author on two. “I can’t get this research opportunity anywhere else,” Pimienta said. “Not only do renowned researchers teach our classes, but they also give us their cell phone information and say, ‘Please contact us with any questions.’ ”
Another Israeli-American partnership that has already seen promising results is a recent study conducted by Technion and Harvard University. Through a time-lapse video, they have captured the study that illustrates bacteria mutating to overcome drugs meant to stop and destroy them. This is the first time antibiotic resistance has been documented in such a clear way and will have enormous ramifications on understanding antibiotics and bacteria.
Another Technion alumni, Dr Amit Goffer, invented ReWalk, the ‘bionic’ suit, which relies on motion sensors to help paralysis victims to stand upright and even walk again. Just less than two weeks ago, 36 year-old Claire Lomas used a ReWalk suit to walk the Great Northern Run; the largest half-marathon in the world. In 2007 Clair Lomas was paralyzed from the chest down in a riding accident. Although it took her 5 days to complete the run, she never expected to walk again. “It felt surreal,” Lomas described. “When I was walking the last bit it was really hard not to start crying.”
Goffer was inspired to invent ReWalk, after an accident in 1997 left him in a wheelchair. However, due to limited function in his arms, he was unable to utilize his own technology, so he invented a new product; UPnRIDE Robotics. UPnRIDE is an innovative, upright, self-stabilizing chair that goes from sitting to standing with the push of a button and can handle rough terrains and inclines. “I was able to stand with my colleagues and drink coffee,” Goffer said. “Being able to stand was an experience out of this world, the psychological effect is dramatic.”
Other Israeli innovations that are having an enormous impact are NaNose and Mobile ODT’s device to screen for cervical cancer. Early detection is the key to saving lives when it comes to the big C word and these technologies are doing the job.
NaNose was created when Technion professor, Professor Hossam Haick set out to non-invasively discover traces of cancer in the human body. When there is a cancerous growth in the body, it releases distinctive volatile organic compound (VOC). Upon release they travel in the bloodstream and when these molecules reach the lungs they are emitted to the breath. The number of molecules is extremely small and detecting them is like trying to find the one 5 petal tulip in a massive field of 6 petal tulips.
When they leave the mouth with the exhaled breath is when NaNose can identify the molecules and detect the cancer. In four out of five cases, the device differentiated between benign and malignant lung lesions and even different cancer subtypes. It is currently being customized to detect other diseases, to ensure early detection and help save lives.
Unlike other types of cancer, cervical cancer is relatively easy to identify and treat, but is responsible for the deaths of more than 270,000 women annually, and is a leading cause of death in developing nations. Thanks to routine Pap smear screening, cervical cancer rates in the U.S. have been drastically reduced, but this kind of medical infrastructure is hard to come by in developing countries, especially in rural areas.
Ariel Beery, CEO and co-founder of Tel Aviv-based startup MobileODT wanted to increase life expectancy in developing countries. “There’s no reason a woman should die of cervical cancer just because she’s not screened on time,” said Beery, “so we make sure that women get screened on time.”
MobileODT develops and sells relatively small and cheap colposcopes, designed for developing countries without a strong healthcare infrastructure. Their secret weapon? They integrated the colposcopes with smartphones, which are readily available everywhere in the world and have built-in imaging technology. Co-founder David Levitz helped design the mobile colposcope. “With a smartphone, you’re getting a much better camera with much better specifications than you are on this expensive medical device,” said Levitz. “It seems counterintuitive, but there’s just so much more innovation happening on the phone side that the phone cameras are just better, and going to get much better.”
New Israeli innovations continue to emerge daily and R&D centers, Technion’s American Medical Program and many other institutions are helping bring the life-changing technology to the rest of the world.
If you aren’t paying attention yet, keep an eye on the Middle East for the next innovation that will change your life and may even save it.Raizel Druxman