Israeli doctors develop revolutionary eye drops that could replace eyeglasses
ByDavid E. Kaplan
More than 6 in 10 people in the world wear glasses or contact lenses. Amongst the elder, it is extremely rare not to use glasses or contact lenses.
However, in the foreSEEable future, advanced eye drops may allow you to chuck out your glasses or contact lenses.
It’s a no-brainer:
If the choice to see well would be: glasses, contact lenses, laser surgery or drops in your eyes, the last option would probably be your first.
This is now a real possibility as new scientific advances in Israel make corrective eye drops possible.
In Israel, two startups are in the clinical stages of testing their corrective eye drops that can radically alter the way people improve the convenience of their vision.
Soon you may read this without glasses!
Orasis Pharmaceuticals of Herzliya are on the warpath against reading glasses. Sure, reading glasses are effective but they are also inconvenient and easily misplaced.
How many of you have at some time lost them and had to replace?
Orasis recently raised $13 million to continue developing pharmaceutical-grade eye drops intended to improve near vision so people won’t need their reading glasses.
Its CEO, Elad Kedar, says presbyoia (the inability to focus on close objects) affects most folk over age 45, giving the company a potential market of nearly 2 billion people around the globe; 120 million in United States.
“Like any other organ, the lenses in our eyes age and gradually lose the flexibility to change shape to focus on near objects,” explains Kedar. “The reduction in flexibility makes it difficult to focus on near objects and eventually you need reading glasses.”
While it has been a long journey to find alternative solutions such as contact lenses or inlays, they have all come with problems of efficacy, safety or convenience of use.
“We developed a pharmacological solution,” says Kedar, “using a combination of existing molecules already used in the eye for other indications. You just put a drop in each eye, and you can potentially see well for several hours. It can be very safe and convenient.”
More than five years of R&D have gone into Orasis’ CSF-1 patented formula. Following studies in humans in a few centers in Israel and Europe, the results are soon to be published. The next step is a Phase 2b study in the United States.
Another ‘eye-catching’ innovation is NANO-DROPS that means -“No more blurry vision.”
Israeli ophthalmologists at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA) revealed last month that they have successfully developed eyedrops that repair the corneas, improving near-sighted and far-sighted vision. These “nanodrops” were successfully tested on pigs’ corneas and are expected to be tested on humans in clinical trials later this year.
If proven successful on humans, the groundbreaking discovery could remove the need for eyeglasses.
The nanodrops are made up of a synthetic nanoparticle solution, which helps correct cornea-related vision problems.
Dr. David Smadja, a research associate at BINA and the Head of the Ophthalmology Research Unit at Shaare Zedek who led the team of ophthalmologists, made the announcement at Shaare Zedek’s second annual research conference last month. He said the nanodrops could “revolutionize ophthalmological and optometry treatments of patients with myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and other refractory conditions.
Even more ‘far out’, Smadja believes that the drops could eventually replace multifocal lenses and allow people to see objects from different distances.
The inspiration for the eye drops says Smadja, “was personal.” Suffering for years with headaches from working at his computer for long periods of time, “I knew I needed a small visual correction, but my choices were limited. My correction was so small that I was not eligible for any laser operation,” and hence “My options at the time were either wearing glasses or contact lenses.”
Smadja recognised that the standard solutions for visual correction failed to cure dry eyes, a symptom common among screen users, and decided to create a better alternative:
“I thought, why not make eye drops that could correct my vision with a refractive index?”
The Future Is Ours To See
The researchers are currently working with investors on a biotech startup and plan to place their Nano-Drops product on the market by the summer of 2020.
Smadja says the aim is to sell the drops at a competitive price, “somewhere between the price of eyeglasses and the price of contacts.”
In addition to the nanodrops, the researchers are developing a small, smartphone-compatible laser device that will allow patients to easily apply the drops at home using a mobile application.
“Once you have your prescription, you enter this number into a computation software that we developed, and we match specific patterns to your number. The laser painlessly marks a tiny spot and etches a pattern on the corner of the cornea,” explains Smadja who adds that the laser “is not like the laser used for complicated optical procedures.” He assures that the application process, “while seemingly complicated, is simple and non-invasive.”
As they say, Israel is a country of ‘VISIONaries”!
A Call to Doctors in Israel – are you ‘game’ to enjoy the best of South Africa’s superlative nature while volunteering your medical expertise?
By David E. Kaplan
They say, ‘South Africans may leave South Africa, but it never leaves them’. This was so for Neil Tabatznik originally from Johannesburg and today living in Toronto who has “returned” with a difference, offering doctors across the world an experience of a lifetime.
“Imagine a luxurious five-star lodge where you can braai (barbeque) under a star-filled sky and watch game having a drink while relaxing in the pool after your day at the hospital or a clinic,” said Alan Epstein of Tel Aviv and head of Tshemba PR in Israel.
You don’t have to imagine!
“Whether you are a GP, a gynecologist, pediatrician, cardiologist, endocrinologist, orthopod, optician or dentist – you name it – whether in practice or retired, you can take up this offer of a lifetime of enjoying in luxury the incomparable beauty of the Limpopo region, what used to be known as the Eastern Transvaal, a stone throw from the Kruger National Park and close to Blyde River Canyon.”
For a minimum of two weeks or six months or more, this is available to doctors by volunteering their expertise at a nearby hospital or local clinics. “And of course, this includes doctors bringing their spouses or partners.”
It all began when Alan’s lifelong friend, Neil Tabatznik, on a trip some years ago to South Africa from Canada, visited a game lodge in the Hoedspruit area.
It introduced an awakening that transformed his life from successful businessman to inspired philanthropist and fulfilling the ancient aspiration in Judaism of Tikun Olam (“Correcting the world”).
Out On The Range
While sitting up front in a Range Rover and mesmerised by the beauty of the terrain and wildlife, Neil was also struck that beneath the veneer of this beauty there were also serious challenges in this exquisite region. As if reading his thoughts, the game ranger enquired whether Neil would consider building a school for young children.
“He explained the community had built a room and found a headmaster but was far from adequate,” reveals Neil.
Following the school being built and flourishing with young pupils, Neil felt the need to do more and sat down with the local tribal chief and asked:
“How else can I help?”
“We need drastically to improve our health services in the area,” replied the chief. “To say it’s inadequate would be an understatement and because we are far from the major urban areas, my people are suffering from being denied access to specialised medical treatment.”
Visiting a local dental clinic, the chief’s word struck home. “The clinic was a fine facility but there were no dentists!”
This was a microcosm of the problem – while there were sufficient structures there were too few qualified medical practitioners to staff them.
So the idea was conceived not to build unnecessary structures but to recruit qualified personnel.
What Neil witnessed in his extensive touring of the region “was so tragic”, the more so because much of the tragedy was preventable – “its man made and can be man corrected.”
Failing to provide access to adequate medical services “meant that people’s health was always at risk and getting sick or injured could so easily lead to tragic consequences – a result that would not happen in a city,” lamented Neil.
This he was determined to change!
And so, the Tshemba Foundation was established on the premise that if a patient could not get to a health service in a faraway urban area the health service will come to the patient.
Tshemba, which means “believe” in local parlance, recruits doctors and healthcare professionals from all across the world to provide lifesaving medical care to the local community and training to local healthcare providers. A key component of the volunteer experience “is to ensure skill transfer to these local medical providers to provide long-term sustainability,” says Neil. “In this way, every volunteer practitioner creates a lasting legacy – a legacy of saving lives.”
“There are so many South Africans in the medical field in Israel – many also that have retired – who I am sure would relish this opportunity of enriching South Africa and in the process, enrich themselves,” says Alan Epstein, who emigrated from South Africa to Israel in 1978 and who owns and operates Anglo-Saxon real estate in Savyon. Alan is the oldest franchise holder of the Israeli company that was established in 1964 by another South African, the late Dave Blumberg.
“South African doctors have made an enormous contribution to medicine in Israel and I feel many of them would enjoy giving back to South Africa while at the same time enjoying the experience with the 5-star luxury on offer.”
He invites all interested to be in touch with him.
Tshemba needs doctors, both general practitioners and specialists, as well as professionals with healthcare experience and expertise.
All medical volunteers must be fully licensed to practice in South Africa but those who are not, “we will do our best to obtain all necessary permits and licenses on your behalf,” explains Barbara McGorian, the CEO of Tshemba Foundation. “If we receive all the right documentation, the process usually takes only about three weeks.”
“Tshemba will place you where you are most needed,” says Barbara, “whether at the Tintswalo Hospital, a 20-minute drive away, or in one of the many clinics spread throughout the community.” Tintswalo is a 423-bedded acute hospital providing maternity, psychiatric, orthopedic, surgical and general medical care to the community. The hospital is also responsible for providing medical staff to several community clinics in the area.
Tshemba also funded the Hlokomela Women’s Centre – a pioneering healthcare project which provides breast and cervical cancer screening as well as treatment to local farm workers and their families. It is the first of its kind in the region.
Leaving a Legacy
In order to maintain the appropriate level of care once the volunteer experience is over, it is imperative that skills and expertise are transferred to the local healthcare providers.
In pursuit of this aim, says Barbara, “Be prepared to teach and to train the local personnel you work with, encourage training, motivate them to actively continue their skill acquisitions and wherever possible, stay in touch with the doctors or nurses left behind after your departure.”
A visit to the Tshemba website, acquaints one with one of Muhammad Ali’s most famous quotes:
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth.”
Well, for voluntary service at Tshemba, the “room” one receives is the ultimate in luxurious accommodation at a scenic hideaway surrounded by the lowveld bush filled with an array of game, bird species, fauna and flora.
The five-star lodge boasts nine stand-alone en-suite chalets that can accommodate up to 18 volunteers in total. Each chalet has a private deck with a breathtaking view of the bush, a tea and coffee nook and a small lounge area. All the rooms are self-catering, although there is also a communal area for dining and socializing featuring two comfortable lounge areas with a fireplace, a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art kitchen and scullery and a spacious dining room, a TV room and a gym.
“Best of all,” says Epstein who was there recently with his wife, “you can relax outside by the wooden deck and infinity pool and enjoy the superb views of the Klein Drakensberg Mountains and a watering hole that draws the animals of Moditlo Private Game Reserve.”
Also on offer are:
Self-drive game viewing in the Kruger National Park
Guided expeditions on private game reserves
Wildlife photography tours
The Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Centre
The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre & Cheetah Project
The Khamai Reptile Park
Hiking, driving, boat or air Blyde Canyon tours
White river rafting
Hot air ballooning
Handcraft curio shops
Best Of Both Worlds
“What motivates doctors to volunteer?” I ask.
“It’s an amalgam of love of medicine, a love of South Africa and the yearning to give back to society,” says the CEO.
The general response from volunteers, many of whom choose to return, is “we get the best of both worlds. We are able to enjoy a beautiful game reserve while at the same time make a difference with our skills and expertise as doctors to a community in need.”
Says Dr. Kate Meyer from the UK, “I loved every moment of it. It was a privilege to have participated in the project, which I think is an incredible gift to the community.”
Volunteers are essentially providing ‘first world’ care to a ‘third world’ area.
“It was a wonderful experience both socially and professionally,” expressed Dr. Paul Deveux from South Africa who worked at the hospital and was also thankful for his hours at the Hlokomela Women’s Centre, “which is an extremely well organized.” Praising the local staff, “I felt I made my best contribution there because I was able to see psychiatric patients with longstanding anxiety disorders, some which could be managed and others who needed further intense assessments.”
For nurse Maureen Dunnett, specialising in Midwifery who traveled with the hardworking Hlokomela Clinic staff to farms and other clinics said, “Every day was a different experience for me. The time spent around HIV-testing and treating was illuminating.”
“I would not change it for anything and would definitely come back,” said Dr. Tienie Theunissen, also from within South Africa.
“All the volunteers find it rewarding,” says Barbara. “We recently had a German couple; she was a gynecologist and he a banker. So while she worked at the hospital, he volunteered teaching math at a local school and found the experience as rewarding as his wife.”
The hospital can deliver anywhere between 13 to 20 babies a day; we brought in thirteen babies on Christmas day.”
Going on ‘Jobbymoon’
Located in what many would describe as one of the most beautiful areas in South Africa, it’s understandable how the sobriquet “JOBBYMOON” has caught on.
If newlyweds go on honeymoons and parents-to-be take babymoons -– so why not a ‘Jobbymoon’ for couples desiring that totally out-of-the-ordinary working holiday in the most idyllic location.
The Tshemba lodge is located midway between the world-famous Kruger National Park and the world’s largest green canyon, the Blyde River Canyon. “Thus, if you or your partner want to go exploring during your downtime, we assure you you’ll find something spectacular to do,” says Barbara. The ‘jobbymooners’ are free to explore Hoedspruit and surroundings, to re-energise before returning home “with a fresh mindset, ready to tackle new challenges, focused and refreshed.”
Says Dr. Hennie Nortje a Diabetologist, “Although the staff is completely overwhelmed by the amount of work, they are hungry for knowledge and incredibly friendly. Even the patients are humble, friendly and unbelievably grateful. The whole experience left me in awe. I’m excited to see how the new diabetic educators are doing and my wife enjoyed teaching at the preschool at Hlokomela.”
Dentist, Maria Pestana felt blessed by the Tshemba experience. “When I saw an article on this unique project, I knew Tshemba might offer a very different experience – to help people in rural areas while at the same time enjoying the bush. It’s a balance between the beauty of nature and the reality of life.”
For former South Africans now living in Australia, Gerrit Burger, a physician volunteered and his wife Diana, a General Practitioner, felt” humbled by the sense that we received so much more blessing from this experience than those we sought to help.”
Gerrit feels convinced that “Tintswalo hospital and district can be developed into a model of healthcare with far-reaching effects, well beyond South Africa itself. Without fear of exaggeration, we see a time when Tshemba and Tintswalo will be ‘ideas’ rather than ‘names’.”
“Amazing things” are happening every day at Tshemba.
Tshemba’s Project Specialist, Lexi Cohen says: “I interact with most of the volunteers and each one has found the experience to be rewarding and very fulfilling whether in patient care, skills transfer or general contact with staff.”
Driving seriously ill Palestinian patients to hospitals in Israel
“How come the general public is unaware?” I asked the former chairman of Israel’s Labour Party, General Amram Mitzna about his participation as a volunteer driving seriously ill Arab patients from Gaza for lifesaving treatment at hospitals in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem. Harping back to the title of a classic sixties western, his reply reflected the unsavory reputation of contemporary journalism – “anything good is considered boring to report, so the focus is on the bad and the ugly.”
A strange thought crossed my mind as I sat down for this exclusive interview in the modest apartment in north Tel Aviv of this former general who received the ‘Medal of Distinguished Service’ for his actions during the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, both of which he was wounded. Had he, as leader of the Labour Party won the 2003 election, Amran Mitzna would have been Prime Minister of Israel and so my thought was:
“Where else in the world would a decorated war hero, a former political leader, and ex-mayor – Mitzna had been a successful mayor of two Israeli cities, the northern city of Haifa and Yeruham in the southern Negev desert – physically volunteer one day a week to help the very people who think him an enemy.”
Only in Israel!
“Where We Come In”
Amram Mitza volunteers for an organization called, ‘Road to Recovery’, that has over 600 Israeli volunteers from all walks of life who drive Palestinians undergoing medical treatment in Israeli hospitals to and from border crossings with Israel. “We mostly drive children with severe ailments for whom medical treatments and procedures are unavailable in the West Bank or Gaza. For these children and their family guardians, logistics and travel costs to Israeli hospitals are prohibitive, particularly for patients requiring regular and recurring treatment, so this is where we come in and drive them free of charge to the designated hospital,” explains Mitzna.
Taking The High Road
Every Monday morning, long before most Israelis have woken for school or work, this man in his seventies who could have been Israel’s Prime Minister, is already in his car driving to the Erez Crossing located at the northern end of the Gaza Strip on the border with Israel.
“My beat is collecting the patient and his family from the checkpoint in Gaza and driving them to a hospital in Jerusalem.”
In addition to ferrying Palestinian patients to hospitals across Israel, Road to Recovery assist those Palestinians with limited means to acquire specialized outpatient medical equipment.
“Although I volunteer as a driver, there are others that organize special rehabilitation and retreat days for Palestinian patients and their families at Israeli recreation facilities,” says Mitzna. One such facility is the Lower Galilee ‘Jordan River Village’, a unique camp for children living with chronic, serious, or life-threatening illnesses and disorders. Officially opened in 2011 with acclaimed actor Chaim Topol as Chairman, the Village offers fun and medically safe experiences to all children living with serious or chronic illnesses in Israel at no cost to their family.
The only programme of its kind in the Middle East, the Jordan River Village invites children between the ages 9-18 with a wide range of illnesses – including Cancer, Cerebral Palsy, Crone’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Epilepsy, Heart & Cardiovascular Diseases, Juvenile Diabetes and kidney and liver transplants – to participate in medically supervised recreational activities.
When the camp first opened, the Hamas Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip refused to allow the children who had been undergoing treatment in Israel to attend. Their attitude was:
“Treatment, yes; a fun vacation, no.”
Road to Recovery turned to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who had experience in negotiating with Hamas, notably his role in securing the release of Gilad Shalit in 2011. “We asked him to explain that these are very sick children who won’t survive the year, to tell them that this is a completely humanitarian mission, with no politics involved,” recalled Roth.
Baskin spoke to Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad, who refused, declaring “It’s cooperation with the enemy.”
A shocked Baskin retorted, “Do you want to tell me an organisation in Israel cares more about your children than you do?”
Despite the Hamas ban, the families made their way on their own to the Erez crossing and were able to pass through on their medical passes. The following year, Road to Recovery presented the camp as “medical treatment” and not “fun and games,” so the process went smoothly, and children from Gaza attended the camp.
Since the founding of Road to Discovery over 8 years ago, “it has brought about an estimated 40,000 person-hours of interaction between Palestinians and Israelis,” says Mitzna, “thereby forging personal bonds in the context of every-day life.”
Road to Recovery is as much “about the recovery of mutual respect, trust, dialog and friendship among Israelis and Palestinians as it is about the physical recovery of individual patients,” says Mitzna.
Long and Windy Road
For two years now, Amram Mitzna volunteers every Monday. “I wake up at 5.00 am, drive from Tel Aviv before the early heavy morning traffic to the Erez Crossing on the border with Gaza, where I pick up my young patient and members of his or her family, and drive them across the width of the country to a hospital in Jerusalem. Mostly it’s Hadassah Medial Center or sometimes hospitals in east Jerusalem. It’s usually about a three-hour roundtrip.” Mitzna does not have to wait, as another volunteer from the Jerusalem area will drive the family back to Gaza after the medical treatment or operation. Similarly, “If a Palestinian patient from the West Bank is brought for specialized treatment at a hospital in Tel Aviv, I could then be called upon to drive them back,” says Mitzna. There are on-line coordinators in regions across the country organizing volunteer drivers, like Mitzna, to pick-up, take and return Palestinian patients.
He cites other volunteers like “my two sisters, who introduced me to the project” and a well-known public prosecutor. He notes that “last year we – that is Israeli drivers and Palestinian families – collectively covered 30,000 kilometers together; that is 30,000 kilometers on the road towards peace.”
Hardly politically naïve, Mitzna admits “I know it will not bring peace as such. However, it does bring more understanding between ordinary people. Peace agreements are signed between leaders, not the people they represent, and you have to always wonder – are the people behind it?”
Too often, asserts Mitzna, “mistrust remains, and agreements fail to bring people together. On the other hand, a project like Road to Recovery that operates below or maybe ‘above’ politics can ‘drive’ people from across the divide together.”
It proves, asserts Mitzna that “ordinary people can succeed where politicians fail.”
“How did this project come about?” I asked the former general and politician.
“The brainchild of a very special man, Yuval Roth, who had the ability to transcend personal tragedy and channel his grief into something positive, enriching and an example to others.”
Roth is a carpenter and professional juggler from Pardes Hanna in central Israel. In 1993, Roth’s younger brother, Udi, was returning home from army reserve duty when he and a fellow soldier were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists. A few years later, to cope with his loss, Roth joined the Forum of Bereaved Families (or the Parents Circle – Families Forum), which brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost a close family member through the conflict. The Forum, made up of about 500 Jewish and Arab families, was established by Yitzhak Frankenthal, a religious bereaved father, who believes that “reconciliation between individuals and peoples is possible and a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace.”
One day, a Palestinian member of the Forum asked Roth for his help in getting his brother, who had a suspected brain tumor, to Rambam Hospital in Haifa as he had no way to get there. Roth personally drove the brother and soon thereafter, was approached by another family in the same village whose children needed bone marrow transplants.
This time it was to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
It then dawned on Roth that he could create a framework across the country that would be a positive step for reconciliation. Recruiting a few friends, he launched the “travel service” network that subsequently expanded into Derech Hachlama – Road to Recovery.
The first donation for the project came – to Roth’s astonishment – from the late famed singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen who had read an article about Rambam Hospital that mentioned Roth ferrying Palestinian patients back and forth from the hospital. “That donation was what pushed me to form a proper non-profit organization back in 2006,” Roth reveals.
Another musical giant who supports Road to Recovery, is music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) Zubin Mehta who says, “We are such close neighbours and look at the distance between us in understanding.” Noting how music can build bridges, he spent a day with Eyal Ofek, a volunteer with Road to Recovery where they drove Palestinians from West Bank villages to Israeli hospitals in Jerusalem.
“Well,” remarked the Maestro afterwards, “It was one of the most inspirational days I have spent – EVER!”
To date, Roth’s 2001 nine-seater Citroen van, has traveled well over half a million kilometers helping to save lives such as the 15-year-old daughter, Hind and the 16-year-old son Karem of Khaffia Bajat from the Palestinian village of Azzun Atma near Qalqiliya for their regular monthly treatment. Then there is Mohammed Darajmeh from Luban Asharkiya, near Nablus, who brings his daughter, Amani, 16, who has also been treated at Rambam in Haifa for years. These patients are Roth’s regular passengers.
Without this pickup and delivery service, “most Palestinian patients couldn’t get to the hospitals,” explains Roth. “The family of an infant that needs daily dialysis in Rambam or Hadassah couldn’t possibly manage this financially,” he says.
Roth says he is amazed by the willingness of his volunteers “to drop everything and drive to checkpoints at unearthly hours” to collect sick Palestinians. Road to Recovery gained international recognition when in 2011, CNN listed Roth as one of its 24 “Heroes” for the year. “It was nice and helped a little with fundraising but not much more,” expressed the modest carpenter. “At the end, the feeling that we did something that really helped is more significant than any award or publicity.”
Some 450 Palestinian families from the West Bank and Gaza are served by Road to Recovery. Some patients come every day, some every few months. Most are children with many travelling to be treated for cancer.
Like Mitzna, another volunteer driver is Anita Steiner a retired social worker.
She’s been transporting patients from the Erez checkpoint at the northern tip of Gaza for almost a year to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba and to Hadassah Ein Kerem or Augusta Victoria hospitals in Jerusalem. Expressing a similar sentiment to the former general, this social worker says, “I’m drawn to the fact that no politics are involved; just human acts of kindness.”
The Right Road
So, despite the increasing terror from Gaza with arson kites and incendiary balloons setting Israeli land ablaze, Amram Mitzna continues to keep his hands firmly on his steering wheel transporting Palestinians patients to hospitals in Jerusalem.
Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ invites the reader to ponder: “Yes, we chose this road, but what if we chose the other?”
There is no such doubt in the minds of the drivers of Road to Recovery.
“We’re on the right road,” says Amran Mitzna.
Next Monday, all being well, “I will be at the Eretz checkpoint picking up a Palestinian family from Gaza.”