Hadassah honors Danforth for stem cell advocacy

Left to Right: Paul Gallant, Diane Gallant, Dr. William Danforth, Sam Fox, Marilyn Fox and Nancy Falchuck. Gallants were the event Co-Chairs, Danforth was the Honoree, Foxes were the Honorary Chairs and Falchuk is the Hadassah National President.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The vast potential for embryonic stem cell research to lead to advances in the treatment of such diseases as diabetes and macular degneration was the focus of the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah’s “Framing the Future” event, which honored Dr. William Danforth, former Chancellor of Washington University, for his strong advocacy of protecting the legality of stem cell research in Missouri.

More than 230 people turned out for the event Sunday night at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, named for Danforth’s father.

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Two professors from the Hadassah Medical Organization, Shlomo Mor-Yosef and Benjamin Reubinoff, traveled from Israel to speak at the event. Reubinoff is Director of Hadassah’s Stem Cell Research Center, which has won worldwide acclaim for its breakthrough research and practical application.

Nancy Falchuk, national president of Hadassah, extended warm greetings to the attendees. “I gate-crashed this event because of my great respect for the work of the St. Louis Chapter under the leadership of Judy Kramer [St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah President] and for the spectacular work of (co-chairs) Diane and Paul Gallant and (honorary co-chairs) Sam and Marilyn Fox for this evening,” she said.

“Back in 1912, when Henrietta Szold organized Hadassah, there were no Blackberry phones or email, and yet the organization has grown over the years to be the largest of its kind in America. Hadassah is helping Israel’s economy and contributing to the potential for peace, by serving all of the people of the Middle East region. Even before the establishment of the State of Israel, Hadassah was there serving all the peoples of the region.”

Professor Shlomo Mor Yosef, Director General of the Hadassah Medical Organization, encompassing Hadassah’s two hospitals, five schools and Hadasit, Hadassah’s biotech transfer company, addressed the audience on “Hadassah’s Impact on Jerusalem, Israel and the World.” Yosef said that during the season of the High Holidays and Sukkot, “there is no better place on earth to be than in Jerusalem, but to be here in St. Louis to speak of the contributions and importance of Hadassah is a great honor.”

Yosef pointed out that Hadassah has more than 300,000 members worldwide among 1,100 chapters. He added, Hadassah is involved not only in Jerusalem and Israel, but all over the world, helping African nations fight HIV, providing emergency rescue and medical relief to the earthquake victims in Haiti and similar work after the Tsunami in East Asia.

In Israel itself, the Hadassah Medical Organization is one of the world’s leading institutions in healthcare. It includes two medical campuses in Jerusalem, with two hospitals, research facilities and five schools. “We place great emphasis on clinical and scientific research with the aim of advancing and improving medical care, while transcending politics, religion and geographical boundaries,” he said. “In this way, Hadassah is serving as a bridge to peace, with many cooperative ventures with Arab institutions and individuals.”

Dr. Benjamin Reubinoff then spoke about the groundbreaking research being conducted by Hadassah, which has received widespread acclaim in leading medical and cell research journals worldwide. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2005.

“During the past decade we have made great strides in moving the benefits of stem cell research from the laboratory bench to the patient,” he said. ” The goal is to get stem cells that are suitable for transplant into patients for clinical use.”

Reubinoff said scientists have learned to grow human embryonic stem cells in large enough quantities to treat the millions of patients who can benefit from treatments. He illustrated a successful experiment in which Hadassah scientists transplanted cells in mice to replace harmful cells, and the improvements were dramatic. Similar results were achieved in reversing the effects of macular degeneracy, which can cause blindness among a large percentage of people age 75 or older.

Reubinoff stressed that experiments on mice and rats thus far has turned up no complications among those treated, but that the research still needs to be vetted to assure its efficacy and safety. “If things go as planned we could start a clinical trial on humans of these procedures within two years, bringing this research from the bench to the patient at last,” he said.

Diane and Paul Gallant, along with Judy Kramer, praised the research being done at Hadassah by Reubinoff and his colleagues, as well as applauding the work done in Missouri by former Washington University Chancellor William Danforth. Danforth, himself a medical doctor, was the leading advocate for legislation to assure that stem cell research in Missouri would be protected from contrary laws by opponents of such research.

“Dr. Danforth helped secure passage of legislation in 2006 to enable Missouri to continue doing stem cell research,” said Paul Gallant. “There are still some roadblocks, but Dr. Danforth, with the support of Sam and Marilyn Fox, worked hard to protect the legality of stem cell research in our state.”

Kramer presented Danforth with a framed copy of a resolution passed by the Missouri House of Representatives congratulating him on his work and commending the work of Hadassah. She then presented him with the Hadassah “Framing the Future Award” in tribute to his efforts on the stem cell legislation.

Danforth noted it was a special honor to be recognized by Hadassah, “who were such staunch allies back in 2006,” and praised the work of Hadassah researchers.

“…There are still opponents of [stem cell] research,” he continued. “I wish they all had the opportunity to hear Dr. Reubinoff describe the amazing positive benefits of such research.”