As 2019 comes to a close, a year that has not been easy for many people around the world, we decided to look back at the stories that made us the happiest this year and to share them with you.
Some of them moved us, some impressed us, and some just made us smile. All of them gave us hope.
1. Eliminating Tumors
Health breakthroughs are always exciting. In January, we covered the company Alpha TAU, which has developed a breakthrough alpha radiation technology that can eliminate cancerous tumors in 70% of cases.
In November, the results from the company’s first clinical trial were in—and nearly 80% of 28 patients with squamous cell carcinoma received a complete response rate in managing their tumors. All patients responded to the treatment to some degree. What’s particularly noteworthy is that prior forms of therapy had failed in 61% of the patients.
There’s still a long road ahead, but this is most encouraging news.
2. VR in Surgery
Two-year-old Ari Ellman of San Francisco probably wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for revolutionary technology developed in Israel.
Ari had a massive tumor on his brain, and experts at several U.S. hospitals didn’t think it could be removed. But in a historic surgery at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital of Stanford University this year, surgeons managed to remove the tumor in an endonasal procedure that lasted 18 hours.
The surgeons were able to do it because they rehearsed the risky surgery repeatedly using the Surgical Theater virtual reality system, developed by two former Israel Air Force officers.
The VR system is like a flight simulator. Using a VR headset, surgeons can fly through a 3D digital reconstruction of patient scans to help them plan the procedure and print a 3D model to practice the surgery.
Surgical Theater is now in 15 leading U.S. hospitals, and is also being used for cardiac and spinal surgery preparation.
3. Groundbreaking Operations
In April, a surgeon at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem carried out an unprecedented live vein transplant to save 60-year-old Israeli Avi Yavetz from having his leg amputated.
Yavetz, who suffers from peripheral vascular disease (PVD), had an obstruction in the veins and arteries in one of his legs, and no veins suitable for transplant. Prof. Ron Carmeli, chief of vascular surgery at Hadassah, came up with a crazy solution—he removed a vein from Yavetz’s son, Snir, and transplanted it. The transplant, the first vein transplant from a living person ever undertaken, was a success.
In November, Israeli surgeons also carried out the world’s first implantation of an artificial meniscus in two Israeli patients. One operation was performed at Shamir Medical Center, and the other at Ramat Aviv Medical Center. The NUsurface Meniscus implant was developed at the Netanya R&D center of U.S.-based Active Implants.
4. Hope for Multiple Myeloma Patients
Israeli-Massachusetts company Karyopharm was this year awarded FDA approval for XPOVIO, the first drug aimed at helping the body’s natural tumor-suppressing proteins do their job.
XPOVIO (generic name Selinexor) has been approved for multiple myeloma patients who have relapsed and were resistant to at least four prior therapies. Multiple myeloma, the second most common type of blood cancer after non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, can be slowed by medication, but ultimately it always returns and progresses. When a patient has gone through all of the available options, there’s nothing left to try. That’s where XPOVIO comes in.
Because of its dire prognosis, multiple myeloma was the starting point for XPOVIO, but it’s far from the end game. Next up the company is looking at lymphoma, uterine cancer and brain cancer.
5. A Test for Stage 1 Lung Cancer
Israeli company Savicell has developed a simple but revolutionary blood test that can detect stage 1 lung cancer.
Why is this important? Of all cancers, lung cancer is the most deadly because it’s so difficult to diagnose early on. Symptoms don’t begin until the tumor is already quite large, and by then it’s often too late. Diagnosed at stage 1, however, the survival rate is 80%.
The Savicell test, which is not yet commercially available, measures the metabolic signatures of immune cells circulating in the blood. It can diagnose lung cancer in hours, rather than days or weeks. Development and clinical studies continue.