Hadassah breakthroughs saving lives

Aharon “Arik” Tzukert sounds like a proud father when he talks about the place that pays his salary.

Tzukert is the director of research and development for Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem. And with Hadassah being responsible for about 50 percent of all medical research in Israel, there’s a lot to be proud of.

He believes Hadassah is the only Israeli hospital where scientists with Ph.D.s work alongside physicians on the latest medical breakthroughs.

“We are trying to make research a mandatory norm in the institution, and that kind of philosophy is paying out dividends,” he said in an interview from his home in Israel. “Our management is committed to it.”

When asked how the hospital could afford to put so much of its resources into research, he said it was largely due to “300,000 women in the United States that support us.”

Which is why in a few days, Tzukert will fly to San Francisco to personally thank several hundred of them.

Hadassah is holding “Once in a Lifetime Affair” on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco to honor pioneers in stem-cell research and raise the necessary funds to make such research possible. The event also will celebrate its nomination for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

One breakthrough Hadassah researchers have made is a vaccination for AIDS patients that works in tandem with the so-called “cocktail” that suppresses the AIDS virus in the blood.

The vaccine does not prevent people from getting AIDS, but forces the body to produce antibodies against the virus and raise the white cell count in the blood.

Then there is Hadassah’s research on the connection between chronic inflammation and cancer.

“We know it empirically because we see patients with inflammation, and then they get cancer in the mouth, skin or whatever,” said Tzukert.

A Hadassah pathologist “really cracked the mechanism and discovered how it happens,” he said. Now, researchers are trying to find out how they can intervene in the process, stopping the cancer from occurring at all.

In the field of fertility, Hadassah is making great strides in enabling cancer survivors who have undergone chemotherapy to bear children.

They are looking into a method in which part of the ovary is cut out and frozen, and then transplanted back into the body of the healthy female. This has not resulted in a pregnancy yet, but they are making significant progress with sheep and calves.

One of the most exciting discoveries at Hadassah, according to Tzukert, was published recently in Molecular Psychiatry about posttraumatic stress disorder.

“Everyone who is exposed to a trauma will develop some kind of PTSD,” he said. “For some, it will pass in a few days, but for others, it will persist, and become chronic, and for those, it’s really a problem.”

In a mass-casualty situation, he said, an emergency room cannot treat everyone at once, and priorities must be set. The researchers discovered a special gene profile in blood cells that determines who will suffer from chronic PTSD, so they can be treated first.

“It’s a simple blood test,” he said.

Tzukert once again praised the women who belong to the women’s organization, saying that without their support, none of these medical advances would be possible.

“We owe a huge dept to Hadassah,” he said. “We have to give them huge thanks.”

Hadassah’s “Once in a Lifetime Affair” starts with cocktails at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. and a casino with silent auction at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, 335 Powell St., S.F. Tickets: $300 entire evening, $100 casino and dessert party. Information: (415) 771-5900.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."