Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine

Closing in on a Cure for Cancer

World-renowned Dr. Polina Stepensky, director of Hadassah’s Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Immunotherapy, returns to discuss her groundbreaking cancer research.


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IN THIS Episode

Dr. Polina Stepensky

Area of specialty

Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cancer Immunotherapy

Episode Transcript

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About this episode

To say that Dr. Polina Stepensky is a medical superstar would be an understatement. Quite frankly, while Hadassah has more than a few doctors who are leaders in their chosen specialties, there is none like world-renowned expert Dr. Stepensky. In this month's episode of Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine, host Maayan Hoffman sits down with Dr. Stepensky, who is currently head of Hadassah-University Medical Center's Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cancer Immunology. While Dr. Stepensky appeared on a previous episode titled Destiny and Determination: Becoming a World-Renowned Genetic Disease Expert, she's back with an update that has to be shared with our listeners.

Dr. Stepensky has developed Israel's first blue-and-white CAR T immunotherapy for treating multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell, and it could potentially give thousands of sick patients a chance at lifesaving treatment. To make CAR T-cell therapies, a patient's own T cells are collected and genetically engineered, giving doctors a better chance to "see" and kill cancer cells, and then returned to the patient. The research in of itself is groundbreaking. So much so that California-headquartered company Immix Biopharma in-licensed the therapy and agreed to sponsor ongoing clinical research and development at Hadassah over the next four years.

The idea of CAR-T treatment was born in Israel in the 1980s but was implemented mainly in the United States, Dr. Stepensky explains. However, in the States, scientists developed a treatment for lymphoma. In Israel, Dr. Stepensky's team has developed a treatment for myeloma. Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy is a treatment in which a patient's T-cells are altered in a lab to attack cancer cells.

This is just one of the many accomplishments of Dr. Stepensky. During the interview, she also talks about her work to train Ukrainian doctors during the war and earlier efforts to save the lives of children from the former Soviet Union who suffered from a rare disease that caused blindness, deafness and death.

She's performed over 4,000 transplants with her team, is considered one of the world's leading experts in genetic diseases, and yet Dr. Stepensky is also quick to mention that none of her research and work would be possible without the donations and the support of Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. This, along with an environment where all people are treated equally, Dr. Stepensky says makes it all worthwhile. "I think we have something very special at Hadassah ... we are working together and it's amazing."

Further learning:

"Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine" is a production of Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah enhances the health of people around the world through medical education, care and research innovations at the Hadassah Medical Organization. For more information on the latest advances in medicine please head over to hadassah.org.

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The show is hosted by Maayan Hoffman and produced by the team at the Hadassah offices in both New York and Israel

This episode includes promotions for:

Our recent episode with Dr. Esti Galili-Weisstub & Efrat Dreizner:
If you are enjoying this episode, you’ll want to check out our previous episode with Dr. Esti Galili-Weisstub, Director of the Herman Dana Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Efrat Dreizner, Coordinator of Social Work. They talk about the eating disorder pandemic that is sweeping Israel and the world.

You can find that episode of "Hadassah On Call" on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcast. Or on the web at hadassah.org/hadassahoncall.

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Israel at 75 is not a one-day celebration. You can be a part of Hadassah's yearlong celebration and presence, honoring 75 years plus. We have tailor made trips to serve a wide variety of interests, including you, your family and friends. Be there and share your pride, passion, and purpose with us. Visit our new Hadassah and Israel Together at 75 landing page at hadassah.org/Israel75 for free resources throughout the year and easy access to registration for all events. We can't wait to see you.

About our guest(s)

Dr. Polina Stepensky heads Hadassah Medical Organization's (HMO) Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cancer Immunotherapy for Adults and Children. A trained nurse before becoming a doctor, Dr. Stepensky is a graduate of the Hadassah–Hebrew University School of Medicine. She has identified previously unknown genetic mutations that cause various immunological deficiencies in children and threaten their lives. Dr. Stepensky is the world's foremost expert on the very rare children's disease osteopetrosis.  With a cure rate of over 90 percent, she treats children worldwide and was awarded prestigious European Union research grants—including one for a trilateral collaboration of Israeli, German, and Palestinian researchers to work on congenital diseases of the immune system.

She was a visiting physician in the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and the University of Minnesota Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. Stepensky has written scores of published scientific papers that have appeared in professional journals, many of which present world-firsts—whether it is identifying unknown genetic mutations, describing the mechanism through which the defective cell causes particular diseases, or revealing how she cured a child with a specific genetic disease and been a keynote speaker at medical conferences around the world. She is a member of the American and European bone marrow transplantation groups and has won numerous international awards for her research activities.