Dear Hadassah Family,
It has been two months since I began serving as Director General of the Hadassah Medical Organization; two months of concentrated effort, two months of difficult decisions and two months of continuing to learn more about the Medical Center.
During these two months, I have often thought about my very personal connection to Hadassah and the tremendous impact its life-saving treatment and groundbreaking research has had on my life and the lives of people I love. Almost everyone I know or meet has a "Hadassah story." Mine centers on a close relative, a 26-year-old I will call Yael, who had been married a year when all this took place.
For Americans, July 4th is an especially meaningful date; for this Israeli, it is as well. On July 4th 1990, Yael received a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister at Hadassah. It was the only possible cure for her very aggressive cancer of the blood and bone marrow. There was – and still is – no treatment for her disease. Bone marrow transplantation from a matching donor was – and still is – the only hope.
Before the transplant even took place, Yael received high doses of chemotherapy and radiation of her entire body to prepare her for the procedure. Probably the most significant aspect of the preparation treatment was an innovative new technique that was developed by Hadassah's bone marrow transplant team. Called total lymphoid irradiation, it was administered to generate a novel way of suppressing her immune system to help ensure that her body would not reject her sister's cells.
To also help prevent the severe post-transplant complication known as graft versus host disease (GVHD), Yael was enrolled in an unusual clinical trial where the bone marrow she was about to receive was treated before it was transplanted. Hadassah's unique approach was recognized by the scientific world as T-cell repletion therapy for the induction of Graft vs. Leukemia effect.
The transplant and subsequent innovative cell therapy entirely eliminated Yael's aggressive leukemia. After 80 days of hospitalization at Hadassah, we were overjoyed when this now healthy young woman returned home. And although it was considered a highly unlikely possibility, she subsequently became pregnant and gave birth to a healthy child; a miracle that was followed by the birth of two more healthy children.
A little over a year ago, a seven-year-old girl's life was saved with another Hadassah innovative procedure – an outgrowth of outstanding research on the use of enhanced placental-derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) to combat Graft-versus-Host Disease. That achievement was followed by two other successful procedures – on a young woman and a 45-year-old man. Prof. Reuven Or, Head of our Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cancer Immunology, received special permission from the Ministry of Health to administer the vital treatment, which is based on Hadassah research and ongoing collaboration with Pluristem Therapeutics, an Israeli biotech company.
"One of the many obstacles to bone marrow transplantation is still GVHD," he says. "Once it develops it is very difficult to treat. I believe that the use of MSCs to treat resistant GVHD is a breakthrough that will move us forward. The current treatment, the use of immune suppressants, is very toxic and opens the door to very invasive infections." Using MSCs that were produced at Hadassah in Prof. Or's lab, the concept was tested and proved in 2007.
"The placenta is a miraculous machine of nature," Prof. Or says, pointing out that it allows the ultimate mismatch of foreign bodies, the introduction of a fetus into the mother's womb. "The placenta supports building the body tissue and inducing immuno-modulation to prevent rejection," he explains.
Last month, Prof. Or and his team announced another research breakthrough. In a project conducted with Yale University and Bio-Incept, an American biotechnology company, they proved that a peptide released by a fetus during pregnancy effectively prevents GVHD in mice, following a bone marrow transplant. The peptide, labeled "pre-implantation factor" (PIF), is released during its early stages of development, enabling it to become safely implanted in the mother's uterus. Prof. Or and his team have already proved that the peptide treatment has no toxic or negative side effects in healthy animals and are now preparing to conduct clinical trials in humans. This research complements other studies conducted by the Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation that demonstrated the effectiveness of the peptide in preventing diabetes and central nervous system inflammation.
I joined you in the Hadassah family so that together we could continue to do what we do best – provide outstanding patient care and produce lifesaving medical research for all the Yaels' in the world.
Avigdor Kaplan, PhD