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Gene Therapy Holds Promise for Future Cures
by Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Director General, Hadassah Medical Organization
Visiting HMO's Goldyne Savad Institute of Gene Therapy is an exciting and enlightening experience; speaking with the researchers and learning more about their work always gives me an insight into their hopes and dreams. The field of gene therapy presents the possibility of treatments and perhaps even cures for devastating inherited disorders and diseases, but the results may be many years away, as Prof. Eithan Galun MD, Institute Director and renowned researcher, often cautions us.
When escorting visitors through the Institute's laboratory, I point out the different research groups, each working at their "bench" under the direction of a Principal Investigator. Describing their projects, I am inclined to stress that in addition to their responsibilities to their patients, most Hadassah doctors conduct research and that some of them head projects at the Goldyne Savad Institute.
During a recent tour, Dr. Hilla Giladi, PhD, the Institute's Laboratory Chief and one of the 11 Principal Investigators, clarified how the laboratory functions and spoke about the research being conducted, including her own. "This is a very demanding field," Dr. Giladi said, but it was clear that the pursuit of innovative solutions to complex medical problems fascinates and energizes the scientists and physicians involved.
Some of the young scientists in the lab were bent over trays of beakers or working with complex machines. They shared their current focus and what they hoped to achieve. The scientific titles of their research projects do not nearly convey their exciting implications especially for people suffering from cancer of the liver. On one level, they are all involved in pure science; on another, they are seeking practical results.
Nir Rozenblum, a PhD candidate, is in a group dedicated to exploring the molecular mechanisms that transform normal cells into cancer cells in the liver. He is comparing the difference in treating patients with liver tumors surgically or using and Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA), an image-guided procedure for the destruction of solid tumors – and examining the relationship between stem cell activity and the RFA procedure. The group's results could considerably impact the treatment of liver cancer.
Another PhD candidate, Anat Gaiger, is part of the group that is involved in characterizing the role of the immune system in processes that support cell resistance to stress and limit tissue damage and disease progress – holding out another promise for the future.
"This is pure gene therapy," says research scientist Reba Condiotti MSc. enthusiastically describing her work on creating a genetically-engineered virus to insert into the liver to correct metabolic diseases. She is a member of Dr. Hilla Giladi's group, which is engaged in identifying the genes and exploring the pathways that are important mechanisms for the development of liver cancer.
Tali Lanton, a Master's Degree student, explained that they are working with a mouse model on chronic inflammation of the liver and the development of liver cancer, looking for ways to reduce the reoccurrence of tumors after surgery by inhibiting the inflammatory molecules. "Liver regeneration and tumor development are parallel developments," Principal Investigator Dr. Jonathan Axelrod PhD has noted.
Other Goldyne Savad groups are exploring equally powerful issues with great potential. One is examining cell migration with the emphasis on metastasis – the spread of cancer to other parts of the body – and exploring the interaction between the target group and the cells. They are currently involved in development of a drug that is in Phase II clinical trials testing their hypotheses. One scientist is investigating the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as a tool for the study of vascular remodeling; another is examining the molecular mechanisms of calcium signaling in the immune system; and yet a third, is conducting basic research on Molecular Genetics, mostly focused on diseases of muscle.
Prof. Benjamin E. Reubinoff, MD, PhD, Head of Hadassah's Human Embryonic Research Center and a Principal Investigator, continues to capture medical headlines with his groundbreaking research and results. Detailed descriptions of the Goldyne Savad Institute for Gene Therapy can be found on the Hadassah University Medical Center website
We know that Hadassah's history is filled with celebrated accomplishments and we believe that investing our time, energy and resources in future medical treatments and cures is part of our promise to our children and grandchildren. I know that you, our Hadassah friends and family who are so very much part of our present and our future, have faith as I do, that this can be Hadassah's greatest legacy.