Hofstein says research could bring breakthroughs in curing major diseases

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Embryonic stem cell research could lead to breakthroughs towards cures of major diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, some forms of diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, according to Dr. Rafi Hofstein, president and chief executive officer of Hadasit, the technology holdings company of the Hadassah Medical Organization.

Hofstein, who earned his master of science and Ph.D. degrees from the Weizmann Institute of Science, with post-doctorate work at Harvard, was introduced by David Bohm and Robert Bohm, co-chairs of the group which organized the event, the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Israel Business and Technology Committee, a successor to the St. Louis Chapter of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

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In addition to describing the growth and success of Hadisit, which has helped Israeli scientists and inventors secure patents on new medications and to partner with phamaceutical companies to market them, Hofstein stressed the potential for embryonic stem cell research to eventually find cures or major improvements in the care and management of numerous diseases “provided that obstacles are removed from that research.”

Hofstein pointed out that the large number of scientists and medical specialists in the State of Israel, coupled with the active support and encouragement of Israeli universities, the government and the Hadassah Medical Organization, Israel now has “a cluster of companies and research projects in the area of regenerative medicine.”

The Israeli scientist-entrepreneur said stem cell research could “revolutionize the treatment of neurological diseases through human embryonic stem cell therapies.” He described the crucial role of the Israeli scientist Benny Rubanoff, one of the pioneers in the field, who met with colleagues from Melborune, Australia and Singapore, and helped raise the first $2 million in support of the research project, as well as publishing some pioneer journal articles on the subject.

“For a project of this scope to succeed, a minimum of $200 million will be needed, almost from the outset,” Hofstein said, pointing out that the government of Singapore has already contributed $l0 million in support of stem cell research.

Hofstein said that neuro-degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s could respond to embryonic stem cell research and procedures.

“Parkinson’s disease currently cannot be cured, only managed with medications like El Dopa, which can alleviate symptoms for a time, such as the tremors that accompany the disease. In Parkinson’s, a small nucleus in the brain gets destroyed. If we could manage to transplant healthy cells which can naturally produce the dopamine within the brain, we could potentially cure the disease.”

Hofstein said that “finding this kind of cure is doable, but we must first find the mechanism to convert the cells so that they can produce the dopamine. We believe that we can develop the ‘cues’ which can produce healthy dopamine cells to replace those destroyed in the nucleus in the brain.”

Hofstein stressed that the “transplantation of human embryonic stem cells holds the greatest promise of any of the existing methods of stem cells, including adult stem cells and what is called ‘cold blood’ stem cells.'”

Asked when such cures might result from stem cell research and trials if all obstacles were removed, Hofstein said, “perhaps within five to seven years we could see such cures if all goes according to schedule.”

Hofstein joked that Hadasit, which is a separate corporation from the Hadasah Medical Organization, is the only “for profit entity associated with Hadassah,” and that this arrangement has helped the technology holdings company to develop numerous new start-up companies, to protect patents for breakthrough medicines and cures developed in Israel and to provide income and employment which “greatly benefit Israel’s economy, and which also helps save and improve the quality of lives all around the world.”

Hofstein addressed about 100 people who attended the program, which was held last week at the Ethical Society on Clayton Road.

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