Cure For Terminal Cancer Discovered With Breakthrough Immunotherapy

CellsBy Einat Paz-Frankel

Clinical trials of a new drug cocktail developed by Dr. Jacob Schachter, head of the Ella Institute at Sheba Medical Center, have been shown to cure 58 percent of terminally-ill patients by shrinking cancerous tumors or eliminating them altogether. The scientific community is hailing this discovery as a major breakthrough in cancer research.

The new cocktail is a form of immunotherapy, a relatively new class of drugs that harness the body’s immune system to extinguish fatal tumors. Prof. Jacob Schachter, who took part in the development of the drug and in the recent clinical trials, told Israel’s Channel 10 that the newfound drug cocktail could serve as the basis of treatment for many types of cancer, potentially replacing chemotherapy. “It’s an explosion,” he said.

In one of the trials, over half of the terminally ill patients saw their tumors shrink or disappear completely. The drug, which was developed by a team led by Schachter, was used in an international study led by Dr. James Larkin of UK’s Royal Marsden Hospital. The results of the study were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The worldwide clinical trial involved 945 patients, suffering from advanced (or metastatic) melanoma, which causes 55,000 deaths annually and is considered the deadliest type of skin cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Since melanoma is typically treated by chemotherapy, radiations and/or surgery, this cocktail gives new hope to thousands of families.

“Significantly more effective”

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), to whom Schachter and his colleagues from around the globe presented their findings this week, for patients with previously untreated advanced melanoma, the combination of immunotherapy drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab were “significantly more effective at delaying cancer progression than ipilimumab alone.”

The two drugs were previously used separately, but the groundbreaking study shows that combining them leads to much better results. This study “provides a powerful new immunotherapy option for patients with melanoma,” according to the ASCO.

Schachter, head of the Ella Institute at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, told Channel 10 that the side effects of this new drug are fewer than those of chemotherapy. It’s important to note, however, that the new drug is still experimental at this stage, and is not available on the market.

The melanoma findings were among several cancer studies presented this week at ASCO’s annual meeting in Chicago. “These advances are expected to immediately influence oncology practice, leading to improved survival and quality of life for patients,” ASCO said in a statement.

First Ever Graduation Ceremony of the Cyprus International Medical School in the Presence of HE Nicos Anastasiades, President of the Republic of Cyprus

May 15th, 2015, marks the first graduation class of the Cyprus International Medical School of the University of Nicosia: a dream come true of international collaboration between academic institutions in the Republic of Cyprus, the State of Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

This very unique project is the fruit of vigorous labor and determination invested by all the parties involved: the University of Nicosia, Sheba Medical Center in Israel, and its partner, Tel Aviv University, St. George’s University of London, and the Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago.

The mission of this International Medical School is to help students become educated individuals, achieve their academic and professional goals, and assume responsible roles in a changing world of European cooperation and global interdependence.  This school challenges the best and the brightest minds to learn the science of medicine and the art of compassionate care. These students are not only graduates of a Medical School, but have the privilege to graduate from an International Medical School, with an MBBS degree from St. George’s University of London, which is ranked among the world’s top 200 universities. They now belong to a very elite group of young physicians who have the tools and training to improve the lives of so many…whether it is through medicine, research, or public service. They will benefit from added knowledge, professionalism, and open the doors to medical research opportunities between countries in this very special region.

During his graduation speech, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, Director and CEO of the Sheba Medical Center, addressed the graduates as follows: “During the course of your clinical studies, some of you had the opportunity of experiencing two years of international medicine at the Sheba Medical Center. You were able to see and learn how the amazing staff of the hospital practices medicine. I sincerely hope that they were also able to pass on to you their values of tolerance, love of your fellow-man, and compassionate care for all people without any prejudice – Israelis, Palestinians and Foreigners alike. This we call the ‘Sheba Spirit’! I recommend that you adapt these values in your careers as future physicians; and never forget that medicine is an art as well as a science practiced by doctors and researchers who bring to the bedside not only technology and training, but also their humanity, compassion and concern. Their patients do not put their trust in machines or devices. They put their trust in YOU!”

Learn more about the Sheba Medical Center at

The Legacy of Saul Kagan, z”l
Founder of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany

On March the 19th, the ceremony honoring the legacy of Saul Kagan took place at Sheba Medical Center’s Geriatric Rehabilitation Center in the presence of Julius Berman from the US, President of the Claims Conference, Greg Schneider from the US, Vice President of the Claims Conference, Ms. Colette Avital from Israel, Chairperson of the Organizations Center of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, director and CEO of Sheba Medical Center, and many Israeli and American guests and representatives of the Claims Conference. The highlight was the unveiling of a stone erected in Saul Kagan’s memory.

(from l to r) Julius  Berman, Avi Dichter, Colette Avital, Prof. Zeev Rotstein,      Avner Shalev - Yad va Shem, Ben Helfgott from the UK (Holocaust survivor and Olympic gold medalist)

(from l to r) Julius Berman, Avi Dichter, Colette Avital, Prof. Zeev Rotstein,
Avner Shalev – Yad va Shem, Ben Helfgott from the UK (Holocaust survivor and Olympic gold medalist)

The event was a tribute to Saul Kagan and his life’s work. Kagan passed away two years ago at the age of 91. He dedicated his life to championing the rights of Holocaust survivors.

Prof. Rotstein saluted Saul Kagan in his speech:

“Saul Kagan was the architect of Holocaust compensation and restitution. He made it his life’s calling to attain a small measure of justice for those Jews who had managed to survive the Shoah, and in so doing, became the backbone of an unparalleled historic endeavor.

Saul Kagan never thought any credit for himself. His work was always about making something happen, finding the way through, solving the problem – it was never about him. All that mattered was that the cause was right and that the result would benefit those who needed the most.

Saul Kagan left his birth town Vilna, a city claimed by both Lithuania and Poland between the two world wars. It was then occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, the year he left at the young age of only 18 – just in time before it was invaded by Germany. He settled with relatives in New York, joined the United States Army in 1942, and afterwards became the founding director of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, which was created in 1951. Even after retirement in 1998, he remained involved in compensation negotiations into his last years.

In November 2013, at the age of 91, Saul Kagan passed away. Some called him an overlooked hero of postwar Jewish history. He himself described his achievement as only “a small measure of justice” and remarked that “a thousand years of history, destroyed in 12 years” were beyond compensation.

During more than 60 years, hundreds of thousands of holocaust survivors received payments.

At the same time, due to the special situation in Israel, with many medical departments over populated by aging people, we encountered the situation that many holocaust survivors are patients in those departments. These under-budgeted departments created a reality of corridor and dining room spaces filled with hospitalization beds – actually, a very humiliating condition for the patients.

We salute the Claims Conference for not ignoring the needs and nurturing the respect for these “public patients” in a variety of hospitalization departments.

The decision of the Claims Conference to recognize this specific and necessary need resulted in the renovation and improvement of facilities, adding more spacious department rooms than before, thus avoiding unnecessary suffering for holocaust survivors due to hospitalization conditions. This dramatically improved their stay at the hospital.

We at Sheba, as the committed guardians of these survivors, salute the late Saul Kagan and the Claims Conference. For many years already, due to their support, not only the holocaust survivors but also our general elderly patient population benefit from these blessed activities.

Thank you for enabling Sheba Medical Center to build and renovate our hospitalization departments and provide dignified care, treatment surroundings and ambience for the holocaust survivors.

The Day a Victim of Terror was Discharged from Sheba’s Rehabilitation Center

Gadi Yarkoni, a victim of terror during the “Protective Edge Operation”, lost both his legs from a mortar that exploded next to the Nirim Kibbutz where he lives – only one hour before the ceasefire started. Walking independently now, Gadi was discharged from Sheba’s rehabilitation center after almost half a year of hospitalization in the orthopedic rehabilitation department, headed by Dr. Itzhak Ziev-Ner.

Gadi & Dr. Ziev-Ner

Gadi & Dr. Ziev-Ner

Yarkoni warmly thanked the rehabilitation team: the physiotherapists, the occupational therapists, the team of the hydrotherapy swimming pool, the nurses and doctors, and said “All of you represent what we call the beautiful Israel. When I arrived even lifting my hand hurt me. Because of you I am leaving now on my own two legs and run ahead to continue my active life in Nirim.”

Dr. Ziev-Ner parted from Yarkoni and said that “this was a farewell with mixed feelings. We are happy and very proud of you for the amazing rehabilitation process you went through and mastered, but we will also miss you. You are a very special person.” Dr. Ziev-Ner remarked further that, “It always takes two to tango: the professional and experienced team needs a partner in order to achieve such impressive and successful rehabilitation results like in this case. Gadi Yarkoni was a perfect partner and the results can be seen today, the day of his discharge.”

Sponsor a Victim of Terror

A new Imaging Device for Spinal Cord Surgeries: Allowing for more secure procedures with higher success rates

Dr. Nachshon Knoler (r) and Dr. Ran Harel

Dr. Nachshon Knoler (r) and Dr. Ran Harel

Sheba’s spinal cord unit, headed by Dr. Nachshon Knoler, only recently started to use a new imaging device of type O-arm for spinal cord surgeries. This new device enables imaging during the course of the surgical procedure and provides real-time information of the exact location for a variety of surgical incisions.  The device produces 3-dimensional pictures which are transferred to an advanced navigation system that allows the surgeons to cut in the precise places, to insert the screws and  implants perfectly, and even perform an additional scan to make sure that the implants are in place.

The new system plays an important role in surgeries with minimal invasive access and with the need for smaller surgical incisions, in reduced damage to the muscle tissue surrounding the spinal cord, less bleeding during surgery, decreased infection risk after surgery, lesser need for pain medication due to reduced damage to the tissue, and shorter hospitalization time following surgery.

Dr. Ran Harel, a senior physician of the unit, remarked that “the guidance of an advanced navigation system is essential because it allows for more precise orientation during surgery, and radiation protection for the medical team is no longer needed.

Though navigation systems during surgery have been in use for years already in the field of neurosurgery, but only during recent years they have been technologically improved, and the O-arm device enables us to perform spinal cord surgeries efficiently and safely.”

In the framework of the spinal cord unit of Sheba’s neurosurgery department, four successful surgeries were performed during the course of the last few months with the help of the O-arm imaging device in tandem with the advanced navigation system.

First Time in Israel: A new Unit for Young Cancer Patients

A new Department, including a Unit for young oncology patients aged 18-35, was recently inaugurated in Sheba Medical Center’s Cancer Center. This unique Unit will provide treatment and hospitalization conditions tailored to the needs of the young patient population embedded in a supportive atmosphere and ambience, and with a specially trained medical team. This Unit is located separately from the other departments in the cancer center, with various public areas and hospitalization rooms that allow the patients, some of whom have young families, to host their loved ones in a relaxed environment.

Prof. Mark Kaufman and Zoe Sever

Prof. Mark Kaufman and Zoe Sever

The design is of young appearance, decorated with Arie Berkovich’s woodworks and Daniel Landau’s video art, and receives a colorful touch, contributed by vivacious works, donated by Zoe Sever. She chose cityscapes because they suit the entire concept of the urbanite unit design best.

When the ribbon was cut, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, director and CEO of the Sheba Medical Center, said that “it is and will always be our goal to provide the patients with the best possible treatment experience, and today we fulfill this duty towards these young patients who need a different kind of treatment and care. We aim to give them this special environment and will not rest until we achieve it”.

Dr. Damien Urban, director of the Unit for Adolescents and Young Adults, remarked “All around us are stories representative for the kind of special needs these patients have. Take, for example, a young lady with breast cancer who plans to get pregnant in the future. In this Unit she can find genetic fertility counseling. Or an 18-year-old youngster who can find psychological and social support adapted to his young age. The support and the warmth the young patients need, this makes us special.”

The Unit for Adolescents and Young Adults in Sheba’s Cancer Center was established through a donation of the Kaufman Foundation and with the help of Keren Hayesod. The Kaufman Foundation is dedicated to bettering the lives of young cancer patients. This was the first international project supported by this foundation and its founder, Prof. Mark Kaufman.


Center 2

Israel makes dramatic advance in blindness prevention

According to the World Health Organization, 80% of blindness is preventable or treatable–but it remains a severe health concern across the globe, even in industrialized countries.

Now hope is on the horizon–especially if countries are willing to emulate Israel’s approach to eye health, says Prof. Michael Belkin of the Goldschleger Eye Research Institute at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Sheba Medical Center in a new study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology. In the last decade, rates of preventable blindness in Israel have been cut by more than half-from 33.8 cases of blindness per 100,000 residents in 1999 to 14.8 in 2010. This improvement, found across all four main causes of avoidable blindness-age-related deterioration, glaucoma, diabetes, and cataract–is unmatched anywhere else in the world, he says.

The secret is not only the innovative methods of treatment that were added to the Israeli medical system, but their universal availability and accessibility, as well as good patient compliance with treatment regimens, including the correct use of prescribed medications.

Israel also offers community-based programs, such as dedicated diabetes clinics, which promote early prevention and timely treatment for diabetes-related complications that can lead to blindness. Prof. Belkin notes that such programs save public and private health care money in the long term.

Advancing eye care
To evaluate the effectiveness of eye health care in Israel, Prof. Belkin and his fellow researchers Alon Skaat, Angela Chetrit and Ofra Kalter-Leibovici from TAU and Sheba, conducted a statistical study measuring rates of blindness in the Israeli population over twelve years. They discovered that Israel has emerged as a world leader in preventing avoidable blindness, reducing rates by over 56%. The rates of untreatable genetic causes of blindness remained steady over the same period.

Several solutions are employed by Israel, which approaches the problem of blindness from medical, public health, and cultural perspectives. For example, age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in the industrialized world, is treated with a drug therapy originally approved for colon cancer tumors. By diluting the drug to create smaller doses for the eye–an idea that originated in the United States–it is possible to provide inexpensive therapy to thousands of patients.

From the public policy standpoint, Prof. Belkin notes that the decline in blindness due to cataracts is due to a change in health care policy rather than any technical advance. Since the 1990’s, patients have been able to choose their doctors privately for cataract surgery. This practically eliminated wait times for surgery and prevented the condition from growing worse over the long term.

Long term savings
Prof. Belkin believes that it’s possible for any country to adopt Israel’s strategies for reducing blindness. Although the initial costs can be daunting–such as the price of top-notch medications and setting up clinics–it’s a worthwhile investment. Treating blindness as it develops rather than preventing it from the start is much more expensive for the healthcare system in the long term. Diabetes clinics in Israel pay for themselves in about two years’ time, he says, factoring in their impact on preventing greater health concerns.

But even the most advanced and widely available treatments can’t be effective if patients are not examined by an ophthalmologist and don’t adhere to the treatment regimen. In Israel, an exceptionally high rate of adherence to these regimens is a major contributor to the prevention of blindness.

Sheba Medical Center Receives the Highest Level of International Accreditation as an “Outstanding” Clinical and Academic Institution

The Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Israel was awarded on Friday the highest level of international accreditation as an “outstanding” clinical and academic institution. The accreditation was awarded to Sheba following a grueling three-year review process conducted by the American-based “Joint Commission International” (JCI), the world’s leading testing and standards institute for the healthcare profession.

The JCI evaluated over 1,600 parameters in reviewing the clinical treatment, safety standards, education protocols and scientific research activities of the medical center. The final JCI report contains 16 lengthy chapters, and was termed an “excellent” report by the JCI chief investigator and her team of five investigators.

Sheba Medical Center is the first Israeli hospital and one of the first in the world to receive JCI accreditation as an academic teaching center, in addition to being a clinical treatment center. The standards for such additional academic accreditation were introduced by the JCI only one year ago. This additional element involved investigation of human clinical trials at Sheba, as well as education protocols for medical interns, residents and medical personnel from around the world who train at Sheba.

The director of the hospital, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, expressed great satisfaction at the JCI announcement, and thanked the medical and administrative faculty of Sheba for its commitment to excellence and patient well-being.

Organ Transplants Bring Israelis, Palestinians Close

“If you look for a light at the end of the tunnel, you’ll find it in Israeli hospitals,” Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the director of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, once told me. “A bridge to peace is being built right before our eyes. Its foundations should no doubt run deeper and its columns be shored up. But the fact remains that hospital wards turn people who were just shy of death into lifelong ambassadors, ambassadors of coexistence.”

Indeed, in the corridors of Israeli hospitals, almost on a daily basis and away from the media, human stories are woven. Stories that can only be found there–on the fine line between life and death, where all preconceived notions, prejudice and hatred are set aside. Here are a few of the tales that have unfolded since the beginning of this month at Israeli hospitals.

At the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, 32-year-old Muhammad Aqrat from Haifa and 57-year-old David Ben-Yair from the nearby suburbs lay side by side. Muhammad’s wife donated a kidney to Ben-Yair, and in return for the noble act that saved his life, Ben-Yair’s son donated a kidney to Muhammad.

In the medical world, this is called a crossover transplantation. When the blood types of the patients in need of a transplant do not match those of family members willing to donate an organ, doctors search a database shared between all the hospitals. In the case of Aqrat and Ben-Yair, it was discovered that their relatives matched each other, and a cross kidney transplant was possible. When doctors suggested the procedure to Aqrat and Ben-Yair, they both agreed with no hesitation.

“Destiny brought us together. We bonded in body and spirit,” Ben-Yair said after the operation. An excited Aqrat added, “We’re now inseparable. Truly like a family.”

Sarit and Avi Naor, an ultra-Orthodox couple from Ramleh, lost their three-year-old, Noam, when he fell out of the window at home and was pronounced brain-dead at Sheba Medical Center. In Israel, organ donation among the ultra-Orthodox is not common. Yet the parents were told that donating their son’s kidney would save a 10-year-old Palestinian who had been on dialysis for seven years. They, too, didn’t hesitate a second.

“It doesn’t matter where he comes from and who he is,” they explained. “We would like to help others, for they are human beings.”

The third story took place at Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheba, where 38-year-old Efrat Cohen from the town of Kiryat Malachi passed away as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her husband, Benny, and their three children decided to donate her organs. The person given new life thanks to Cohen’s kidney is Malika Jama’in from Hura, a small Bedouin town in the Negev. Malika had been suffering from terminal renal insufficiency for ten years. Efrat’s husband arrived with the children to see Malika Jama’in bid farewell to the dialysis machine that had been her companion for so many years and go back to normalcy.

“Efrat’s death caught us unprepared. To this day, we still can’t process this. We took the first step to donate her organs, almost with no second thoughts. Those who knew Efrat know how charming, kindhearted and giving she was,” Benny said with great emotion. “I’m sure that that’s what she would have wanted us to do.”

In the photo distributed by Soroka Hospital, Roni, the deceased’s daughter, is seen sitting close to kidney transplantee Malika Jamai’n. There’s no need to gild that lily.

Let’s go back to Rotstein. At the end of December 2008, in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, the director of Sheba Medical Center addressed a fundraiser in Switzerland, saying:

“The state of Israel, my homeland, and the Sheba Medical Center, my home, are topping the headlines at this time. In the past three days, Israel has been striking Hamas objectives in Gaza, as a result of which it has unintentionally inflicted great suffering to many Palestinians. It was only this morning that Sheba Medical Center took in Israeli citizens from the south of the country who had been hit by Hamas missiles, as well as Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who had been wounded in the fighting. Among them was a terrorist…we also took in dozens of Palestinian children from Gaza suffering from cardiac diseases and cancer.”

Rotstein concluded his address with, “Our medical center is an island of sanity in a turbulent sea of violence and hopelessness. We give Israelis, Palestinians and the entire region hope.”

Rotstein is correct. In a region where demonization, racism and hatred dominate the scene, it seems that the bonds created in the hospital wards between the people walking the fine line of life and death are indeed the light at the end of the tunnel.

Shlomi Eldar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

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