Ben-Gurion University scientists seek to advance healthcare
In the U.S., healthcare is big business — patients want the most advanced care, and healthcare providers seek to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of their clinical services. Israeli start-up companies have a strong focus on health care innovations, such as better ways to diagnose and treat disease, monitor health conditions, and analyze imaging and other health data.
Faculty and alumni of Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU) are among the country’s leading scientists with promising ideas to improve healthcare. They have developed innovative ways to evaluate concussions and neurological diseases; screen more cost-effectively for some cancers; provide better information from echocardiograms; and develop solutions for big healthcare needs. Their ideas are being brought to fruition by start-up companies that think and operate globally.
According to officials at EIMindA, 2 billion people of all ages suffer from brain-related disorders including concussions, autism, depression, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Scientists at this high-tech company, led by BGU Professor Amir Geva, are developing ways to diagnose brain conditions more accurately and earlier.
They are using new technology to understand brain networks and assess such brain functions as memory, attention and sensory processing. Their goal is to “map the functions of the brain similar to the way that Google maps neighborhoods.”
EIMindA’s BMA uses a cap with 64 electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain while patients complete tests for stimulation. These results, along with data from other sources, enable brain activity to be classified as normal or abnormal.
Geva says existing baseline tests (such as EEGs and PET scans) don’t provide as much information. With 1,000 patients who have been tested with its systems, the company claims to have the largest database for electrical activity in the brain. Currently, 35 clinical studies are under way.
Concussions, a very common sports injury among young people and professional athletes, are a particular focus. EIMindA worked with the National Football League to develop methods for determining when players with concussions could safely return to the playing field.
Todos Medical is a biotech company developing cancer screening tests with better results and lower costs than current tests for breast, colorectal and lung cancer. CEO Rami Zigdon and Chief Technology Officer Udi Zelig, Ph.D., both BGU alumni, have developed blood tests that identify immune response to cancer.
Their tests require only a routine blood draw, and then white blood cells are exposed to a spectrum of light. The nature of light absorption can indicate an immune response to solid tumors.
“We’re not measuring cancer cells. We’re measuring how the body responds to cancer,” Zelig explains.
More than 1,000 clinical samples have been tested in Israel and Ukraine, and they have achieved greater accuracy than ultrasound, mammography and colonoscopy, he says. Also, blood tests are less intrusive and less costly than other screening methods.
Their research results have been published, a patent registered and the company hopes to begin sales in 2018-19. Todos, located in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, was established in 2010.
DiACardio is one of a number of Israeli companies using algorithms and other advanced analysis to learn more from medical imaging and other tests. The company was founded by Dr. Noah Liel-Cohen in 2006, when she was a medical student at Ben-Gurion University.
Liel-Cohen and BGU’s Professor Hugo Guterman developed the technology and software to automate and improve the evaluation of echocardiograms — ultrasounds of the heart. These tests yield video images on a monitor, which can be difficult to interpret accurately.
With the click of a mouse on the video monitor, DiACardio’s LVivo platform automatically identifies the borders of the heart’s ventricle walls and uses the data to quantitatively assess the heart’s performance. It is quick and eliminates subjective interpretations, Liel-Cohen says. The LVivo EF, now FDA-approved and available in the U.S., is being used in many locations.
Center For Digital Innovation
The Center for Digital Innovation (CDI) is a nonprofit innovation center that combines aspects of a business incubator, think tank and start-up company. BGU is one of its investors. Co-founder Boaz Gur-Lavie says that CDI’s role is to bring together “people who think big with data to improve the life of citizens.
“We need to address challenges holistically,” he says, using the example of societal aging. CDI is studying the health, housing, social and other needs of the rapidly growing elderly population. Its office in Be’er Sheva’s Advanced Technologies Park includes a life-size model apartment designed specifically for older adults.
Gur-Lavie says CDI seeks out innovative thinkers who can address societal needs and then provides support services to prepare start-ups for the U.S. market.
Shari S. Cohen CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Shari Cohen participated in the 12th annual American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Murray Fromson Journalism Fellowship.