California-Israeli companies form stem cell research agreement


California-Israel partnerships related to stem cell research are on the horizon after an agreement signed Dec. 9 between the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Israel’s Center for Research and Development, MATIMOP.

Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel praised the agreement, the third major agreement between Israel and California this year.

“This is quite a statement that the eighth- or seventh-largest economy in the world is investing in Israel and partnering with Israel, and it’s quite a message out there for those who are skeptical about Israel — those that think Israel is isolated, surrounded and should be boycotted,” Siegel said in a phone interview on Dec. 5. “This is very much the inverse of that, and, we believe, the right form of diplomacy.”

The agreement takes effect immediately, Siegel said, and will create incentives for Israeli biotech companies to do business in California, among other things.

“What we’re doing is sharing the cost of innovation and together enjoying the fruits of the labor, so a small Israeli company will be offered Israeli state funding to operate in California with a California partner, and they in turn will have access to FDA labs,” Siegel said.
The signing took place in San Francisco.

BioWeld1: Bye to stitches, staples


Women giving birth by Caesarean section could be the first to benefit from a revolutionary Israeli invention for closing surgical incisions without stitches or staples. The technique also promises to leave patients less prone to infection and scarring. BioWeld1, a unique trademarked product from Israeli startup IonMed, welds surgical incisions using cold plasma. 

Plasma is a gas in which a certain proportion of the particles are ionized. It has been shown to offer manifold benefits, including tissue welding, control of bleeding, enhancement of tissue repair, disinfection and destruction of cancer cells. However, plasma has enjoyed a limited role in surgery due to the high temperatures it creates and resulting harmful effects on body tissue. 

IonMed’s scientists found a way to make use of cold plasma as the power behind the BioWeld1. The procedure takes a few minutes, seals the area completely, leaves minimal scarring or painful stitches and does not require complex training.

“No one has done this before — and more than that, the platform of cold plasma is a technology that is not available in medicine yet,” said Ronen Lam, IonMed’s co-founder and vice president for business development. “We will probably be the first.” 

The company anticipates receiving the CE mark of approval in Europe by the end of the year. After closing its next financial round, IonMed would then look into beginning trials in Europe and in the United States toward getting approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and launching its next cold plasma-based product. 

BioWeld1 is the brainchild of Ronen’s brother, Amnon, who led development projects at Tower Semiconductor in northern Israel and at Intel’s Israeli research center. Prior to that, he’d been a medic in the military. His familiarity with cold plasma from Tower — where it was used for etching semiconductors — gave him the idea of welding together his two areas of expertise. Amnon Lam saw the potential of cold plasma in health care, and toyed with applications in cosmetics, dental and skincare. 

“At the end of the day, he found wound closure the most attractive one,” Ronen Lam said. That was about three years ago.

“Tissue reconnection has been done for thousands of years with sutures, and in recent years with staples and glues,” Lam said. “It is time for something new in this traditional market, and that’s why we decided to start here.” 

With half a million dollars in seed money from the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist, IonMed joined the Trendlines incubator in northern Israel and developed the concept to the point where it closed a $3 million financing round in 2011. The company now employs six people in its office in Yokne’am Ilit. 

Lam explained that many companies have been bringing advanced surgical staples and adhesives to the market. 

“But our cold plasma technology is unique because of its impact on tissues and the wide spectrum of applications it can address, so there is a lot of interest from big players,” he said.

The BioWeld1 generator delivers the cold plasma through a variety of disposable tips. The skin closure procedure is performed using a cold plasma jet to apply a trademarked biological film called Chitoplast to weld the tissue together. Other applications in development do not require Chitoplast and rely solely on the tissue effects of the plasma jet.

The company’s three clinical trials, which have so far focused on closure of Caesarean section incisions, showed BioWeld1 to be excellent for sealing the incision and promoting healing and tissue disinfection, Lam reported. It also has potential for reducing hospitalization and operating room usage.

“We are focusing on the Cesarean section first, because we found it will be the easiest path to market due to the importance of achieving a superior cosmetic result while reducing time in the operating room,” Lam said. 

“We are in the midst of strategic discussions right now in order to chart our next application. Areas under consideration include external closure in plastic surgery, treatment of chronic wounds as well as internal applications in abdominal, thoracic and colorectal surgery.”

Genetically engineered salmon: Coming soon to a bagel near you?


Do you want to be experimented on by eating sushi or bagels and lox made with a new type of salmon with eel genes in it — salmon which hasn’t been adequately tested for safety of human consumption?

If not, then we in the Jewish community need to speak up now, for the sake of our health, the environment, kashrut, and to ensure that there will be native salmon left in the future.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking public comments through April 26, on whether to approve the first genetically engineered (“GE” or “GMO”) animal species: Atlantic salmon with chinook salmon and ocean pout (eel, non-kosher) genes forced into its DNA. 

Manufacturer AquaBounty plans to sell it without a GE label.  You won’t know you are eating it.

Over 300 consumer, health, fishing, environmental, parent, and animal rights groups are opposing FDA approval.  The Los Angeles City Council unanimously opposes it.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s pledge not to sell it.

Here’s why I am taking action, and I hope you will, too.

HEALTH

Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) writes that the FDA determination of no additional significant health risk is based on manipulated data and inadequate studies. Allergy risk findings were based on only six fish, and those allergic to finfish could experience severe allergic reactions.

Friends of the Earth writes, “GE salmon are unhealthy and suffer from skeletal deformities, jaw erosions, inflammation, lesions, increased susceptibility to disease, and increased mortality, raising serious … human health concerns from eating sick fish.  Overall, GE salmon have 40% higher levels of IGF-1.” 

“IGF-1 is a hormone that has been associated with increased risk of a number of cancers, especially prostate, breast, colorectal and lung,” adds Dr. Hansen.

The Center for Food Safety summarizes that the science is not there to say these fish are safe to eat.  Further research is needed.

KASHRUT

The Orthodox Union says GE salmon is kosher, because it has fins and scales.

However, even though some authorities currently state that this fish is kosher, there are Jews who will reject it, saying, “I definitely won’t eat it – it’s not kosher to me.”  Views ranged from an ethical sense of kashrut to “it’s not the natural, healthy food G-d created for us.”

Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz of Netiya said the Torah prohibits eating swimming animals that do not have both fins and scales. Eel lacks scales, suggesting GE salmon might not be entirely a salmon, and therefore may not be kosher. Also, creation of a part-fish, part-eel seems impermissible as a violation of the Torah’s prohibition to mix species.

Brooklyn Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Serebryanski said, even though a small amount of a non-kosher food doesn’t usually render a food non-kosher, it does when it becomes an intrinsic part of the food.  It is prohibited to genetically engineer salmon with eel genes because such boundary crossing is prohibited by the Creator. Using genetic engineering to cross boundaries set up by the Creator creates an imbalance and distortion, disrupting a person’s connection with the Creator.

ENVIRONMENT

GE salmon raises serious concerns about the survival of native salmon. AquaBounty says its fish will be infertile and cannot escape their controlled, land-based environment.  But the FDA allows for 95% sterility, and there will certainly be fertile fish that produce the GE eggs.  Fish and eggs can escape through land-based water recirculation systems. Market competition may potentially push all fish farms to buy and raise AquaBounty’s GE eggs.  Most farms are on coastlines. Thousands of farmed fish escape annually.

Could escaped GE salmon out-compete native salmon for habitat, food and mates, causing extinction of native salmon?   Would eating GE salmon cause illness, infertility or death to bears, whales, seabirds, etc., that rely on them as food?  AquaBounty and the FDA have not done adequate studies.   

The FDA is accepting AquaBounty’s assurances.  Instead it should honor requests from California Senator Feinstein and others, for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement, and from experts like Dr. Anne Kapuscinski, professor of sustainability science at Dartmouth, for a quantitative failure mode analysis.

ACTION

Friends, if this salmon is approved, you and I may have to stop eating salmon completely to protect our health and/or Jewish practice. Even doing so might not protect our ecosystem from disastrous consequences.

We can make a difference on this issue!  Comments to the FDA may be made until April 26 at: http://tiny.cc/in82qw. To help stop this fish from entering the market by getting stores and restaurants to pledge not to sell it, contact www.gefreeseafood.org or the author.


Lisa Kassner is the San Fernando Valley co-coordinator of the Label GMOs Campaign.

Kosher Without Sacrifice? Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47


The most elaborate, comprehensive and effective system for the prevention of animal cruelty was not invented by the FDA or even PETA; it was devised by the Book of Leviticus. This may seem a strange idea. Without question, it swims rather roughly against that trusty river of intuition. Pigeon slaughter is rarely good for pigeons. Bull offerings are not something cows easily stomach. As far as “becoming a sacrificial lamb,” I have it on good authority that this is not what most sheep dream about when they are kids. 

To an untrained imagination, a “bustling Tabernacle” is a strange cross between an abattoir and a synagogue. A PETA activist might describe its practices as “murder in the name of God, differing from the Crusades only by the choice of its victims.” Well, my friends, I believe this is wrong on many counts. 

There is a peculiar phrase that accompanies nearly every mention of sheep, goat and cattle offerings throughout the Bible. In the Torah, where no word is out-of-place and no letter believed superfluous, repetition is a cause of interest, and should never be dismissed as careless writing. The word I refer to is “tamim,” and it means “whole, complete, unharmed, pure, without blemish.” At the start of Leviticus, we read: “A person who brings an elevation offering … shall bring an offering without blemish [tamim]” (Leviticus 1:2-3). Concerning peace offerings, they, too, are brought “without blemish” (Leviticus 3:1). Similarly, the paschal lamb had to be tamim, just as the red heifer (parah aduma temima) had to perfect in every way. To bring a blemished animal to the Lord was sinful, and Leviticus states this repeatedly. 

What this meant for any animal potentially destined for the altar is that it could not be harmed, injured or mistreated. Remarkably, if we compare the rules of blemishes to the sort of miseries and maladies routinely inflicted upon factory-farmed animals, something astonishing comes to light. Factory-farmed meat, served in our homes, would never be offered in the House of the Lord. 

Animals that are surgically mutilated or castrated, a regular practice among meat growers wanting more malleable livestock, would be grounds alone for disqualification (Kiddushin 25b). Animals pinioned in cages of their own muck could be disqualified on account of their disgusting odor (Temurah 28b). Most birds and cattle pumped with near lethal amounts of antibiotics to prevent their succumbing to illness would be disqualified for their being sickly (ibid). 

One often reads of meat growers stimulating rapid growth through steroids, genetic chicanery, artificial lighting, hormone-enhanced feed, all in an attempt to get meat faster to market. Such practices would be eliminated by the routine biblical requirement that offerings of sheep, goats or calves be minimally 1 or 2 years old (Leviticus 9:3; Rosh Hashana 10a). A 3-month-old calf the size of an elephant would be barred from the Temple gates.

This week’s Torah Portion, Shemini, shifts away — from sacrifices to general food prohibitions: kashrut. Numerous beasts are prohibited from the hog to the hare, to kites, crocodiles and chameleons. The many (often confounding) dietary laws are often believed to be beyond the pale of rationale explanation, yet that has not stopped commentators from trying to explain them. Historically, there are two well-known schools of thought. One is based on ethics. Laws such as, “Do not stew a kid in its mother’s milk,” and “shooing away the mother-bird,” teach us to be merciful. If we eschew animal cruelty, all the more so, we should eschew cruelty to our fellow human beings (R. Bachaya ben Asher; Ibn-Ezra). Another approach explains kosher laws as a means to teach people “temperance and self-control” (Philo, Maimonides).

In the sacrificial system, each view is valid. To raise an animal fit for sacrifice required both constant discipline and tenderness toward the animal in one’s keep. Farmers sacrificed time and resources to raise fowl, herd and flock. In approaching the altar, both animal and owner had to be tamim.

Today, we live without the Temple, and therefore without the mitigating requirement that meat not only be fit for eating but fit for sacrifice. It happens that in our day, thank God, modern Jewry has ready access to kosher products. Meat, rinsed and salted, is easily obtained. In Los Angeles, with little ado, we order cooked lamb, chicken, beef, bison in restaurants and supermarkets. Yet with so much available, lessons of temperance and ethics fall away. 

“Kosher” means “fit” or “proper,” but how “fit” is an animal when the finest moment of its life was the day its life of misery was ended in a slaughterhouse? Moreover, how tamim are we who celebrate our faith, and sanctify the Lord, by consuming endless plates of chicken and beef in our homes? With several meanings in mind, one might ask: “Can there be kosher without sacrifice?”

Rabbi Yehuda Hausman is a Modern Orthodox rabbi who teaches at Ziegler Rabbinic School, The Academy of Jewish Religion, and runs an independent Modern Orthodox minyan in Beverlywood. He writes about the weekly parasha on his blog, rabbihausman.com.

Lift The Ban on Gay Blood Donors


When students arrived at Milken Community High School on the morning of Jan. 10, they were confronted by a large banner reading: “Did you know homosexual males cannot give blood?”

That was the start of a student-led Equal Blood Campaign to press the FDA to lift its blanket ban on all gay blood donors.

Day One of the campaign sparked some initial shock. The ban came as news to many, and the campaign rapidly gathered more and more supporters. In addition to posters around campus, the school’s bulletin, which is read daily in small advisory groups, featured campaign related statistics and facts.

The FDA developed its initial policy regarding gay men in 1983 because at that time there was no technology to screen blood for the HIV virus, which was then known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). Since the ’80s, the disease GRID has been renamed AIDS and is seen as an epidemic affecting millions of people of all ethnicities and sexual orientations.

Yet today, in 2006, when all donated blood is tested for the HIV virus, the policy remains the same — excluding homosexual males from donating blood.

The campaign ended with a bang when on the day of the blood drive, Jan. 12, more than 250 students and faculty sported stickers reading: “I don’t discriminate against blood.”

The petition to the FDA was signed by 270 people — almost half of the high school student body. It is important to understand that the nature of the Equal Blood Campaign was in no way against the blood drive. The campaign in fact was in association with the blood drive.

Students decided to support the Equal Blood Campaign because they agreed that the FDA policy is outdated and reveals the stigma that AIDS is a “gay disease,” and until this policy changes, the dangerous assumption that all homosexuals have the HIV virus will remain. In addition, we feel that the FDA is ruling out a source of potentially life-saving donated blood.

Blood products in short supply, and many favor lifting the ban. According to the FDA, an estimated 62,300 homosexuals would donate blood if the ban was lifted.

The FDA policy arises out of a fear of passing on infected blood. Of the 12 million units of donated blood each year, 10 HIV infected units slip through, accounting for two to three cases of donor transmitted HIV infections per year.

The main reason that HIV positive blood slips through is because there is a window of up to three months after a person contracts HIV where the virus is not always detected.

But while banning gay men, even those in long-term monogamous relationships, the policy says nothing about heterosexual men and women who have unprotected sex with multiple sex partners and who have unknown HIV status (rigorous questionnaires at blood donor sites do take these factors into account).

We feel even if not completely abolishing the gay ban, the FDA should change the policy from banning all men who have had sex with men, to banning any person who has had unprotected sex with any person within the past three months. Not only would this weed out promiscuous and more likely infected individuals from giving blood, but it gives the opportunity for gay men having safe sex to give blood.

In its most recent evaluation of the issue, the FDA narrowly voted to maintain the ban on blood donations from homosexual men. The vote was 7-6 to maintain the ban, which states that any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 may not donate blood.

I, along with my campaign co-leader, Amanda Meimin, truly feel the Milken Equal Blood Campaign — one of the first of its kind in a high school — was a success. We turned heads and not only changed views but also helped people to find a view. Ultimately we would like to see other schools adopt the Equal Blood Campaign and we’d like to see the FDA change its policy.

The past has taught us that we can generate tolerance through destroying generalizations. Our battle begins with the stereotype that AIDS is a “gay disease.” We want to make people understand that just because they may not be gay, the issue still pertains to them. Discrimination exists everywhere and has touched everyone at one point or another. The Milken Equal Blood Campaign is about raising awareness, making change, and empowering youth to make their peers aware of homophobia in our society.

Lisa Hurwitz is a sophomore at Milken Community High School. To get involved in the Equal Blood Campaign, contact her at lhurwitz@mchs.mchschool.org.

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