EU Parliament committee certifies Israeli pharmaceuticals

A committee of the European Parliament has endorsed measures to simplify the sale of Israeli pharmaceuticals within the European Union.

“EU-certified pharmaceuticals could be exported to Israel and vice-versa without requiring additional certification in the importing country under a mutual recognition deal endorsed by the International Trade Committee on Tuesday,” that committee said in a Sept. 18 statement.

To take effect, the move must be approved by the European Parliament plenary in October. Fifteen of the committee’s members voted in favour and 13 voted against the measure, which is part of the European Union’s Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance (ACAA) with Israel.

The European Council approved the agreement in March 2010, but its implementation has been blocked amid protests by pro-Palestinian organizations. The agreement was part of the of the 1995 EU-Israel trade contract, and is not a part of the upgrade in relations which Israel is seeking.

European Friends of Israel – a Brussels-based organization consisting of parliamentarians from across the continent – called the vote “a major step in improving the life of European consumers by reducing the costs of medicine and increasing the quality and quantity of medical products.”

Also on Tuesday, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) grouping in the European Parliament, the parliament’s second largest group, said that goods manufactured in Israeli West Bank settlements “do not comply with EU law.”

S&D vice president Véronique de Keyser said in a statement that “products produced in the occupied territory cannot be considered ‘lawfully traded.’”

‘House’ cast gets taste of Israeli medicine

On television Lisa Edelstein, a star of the hit Fox show “House,” and her fellow actors work medical miracles every episode. But at an Israeli hospital she stumbled trying her hand at simulated arthroscopic surgery.

“I’m so glad this is not a living person,” she said Wednesday, shifting the controls over a robotic dummy, eyes fixed on a computer screen that revealed her would-be patient’s internal organs. “I think I just mangled its liver.”

Edelstein and three other members of the “House” cast, along with David Shore, the show’s creator, are on a weeklong tour of Israel as part of a public relations effort to bring high-profile Americans on visits here.

Among their stops were two Tel Aviv-area hospitals—the first at the Israel Center for Medical Simulation at the Sheba Medical Center, the only simulation center of its scope internationally, where medical staff, students, and army medics and physicians from around the world undergo extensive training.

The cast members looked on as medical students re-enacted a particularly dramatic scene from the last season of the show in which a patient who was crushed under a falling building has his leg amputated and is rushed to the operating room.

Among the team of medical students was Yuval Lotan, an avowed fan of the Emmy Award-winning “House,” which stars Hugh Laurie (who was not available to come to Israel as he was touring elsewhere) as a curmudgeonly genius doctor who leads a team of young physicians in investigating mysterious infectious diseases and other ailments at a New Jersey hospital.

“The show is good entertainment, but at medical school we learn what not to do from it,” Lotan said. “After all, this is Hollywood we are talking about.”

The visiting cast—which also included Omar Epps, who plays Dr. Eric Foreman; Jesse Spencer, who plays Dr Robert Chase; and Amber Tamblyn, who will play Dr. Martha Masters in the upcoming seventh season—also visited the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

At Wolfson they visited the pediatric cardiology intensive care unit and met with children from the West Bank, Iraq, Africa and Romania, among other places. All of the children were brought to the hospital by an Israel-based humanitarian project called Save a Child’s Heart to receive life-saving treatment.

Save a Child’s Heart, also known as SACH, brings children with heart disease from the developing world for cardiac care in Israel while also working to improve cardiac care centers in their native countries, on average saving some 200 children’s lives a year.

“The work that Save a Child’s Heart is doing is an important reality check,” said Shore, who is Jewish and has two brothers living in Israel. “It’s good for the Jews, it’s good for Israel, but really it’s good for humanity.”

At the hospital, Edelstein played with two young girls from Zanzibar who had undergone surgery recently and spent time trying to connect with a girl from Iraq. Nearby, Tambly gave her sunglasses to a young Palestinian boy from the West Bank.

The trip was organized as part of a combined effort of America’s Voices in Israel, an arm of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Israel’s foreign and tourism ministries.

Irwin Katsof, director of America’s Voices in Israel, said the project’s purpose in bringing celebrities on such trips was to make them goodwill ambassadors when they go home.

“We want them to talk to their friends, perhaps do an interview to let people know Israel is more than just wars,” Katsof said. “These people have an impact. The amount of free publicity we get from them going back and speaking on a news show is phenomenal.”

The visit has coincided with Israel’s somber marking of Memorial Day, and the cast members described watching as Israelis came to a halt at the sound of a siren to stand in silence for those killed in the country’s wars.

“It was very emotional,” said Edelstein, who is Jewish and has relatives in Israel, including descendants of a great aunt who was a founder of Kibbutz Dafna on the border with Lebanon.

Memorial Day was followed by the abrupt shift into celebrations for Independence Day.

“You guys know how to party,” said Tamblyn, laughing in an exchange with reporters.

The group had stayed out late the night before exploring Tel Aviv’s vast club scene.

Also on the touring list were the Galilee (stopping off in a spa), Jerusalem and the ancient desert fortress of Masada.

And more actors who play doctors on TV are on their way. Katsof said the next delegation he is bringing is due here next month: members of the “Grey’s Anatomy” cast.

Winning Nobel Prizes seems to run in one family’s chemistry — and biology

You’ve heard of the nuclear family. But how about the deoxyribonucleic family?
Thirty-seven years after Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel Prize in medicine, his eldest son, Roger, took home this year’s prize in chemistry, receiving the call from Stockholm Oct. 3.

Not only are both Kornbergs biochemists, they also both work for Stanford Medical School. This is, amazingly, the sixth instance of a Nobel being awarded to the son of a previous winner.

“It was a family of science. My mother, who unfortunately passed away about 20 years ago, worked in the lab as a biochemist with my father. So biochemistry was a dinner table conversation,” recalled Roger Kornberg’s younger brother, Tom, himself a biochemist at UC San Francisco. The third Kornberg brother, Ken, is not a scientist but an architect — although he specializes in designing laboratories.

“Roger was uniquely focused on science from the time he was very, very young,” Tom Kornberg said. “He had no other ambition other than to be a scientist. He is notable even today for his single-minded dedication among scientists. His tenacity and determination is remarkable.”

Arthur Kornberg — who still has his own lab at Stanford Medical School at age 88 — grew up in an Orthodox Brooklyn household, where Yiddish was the first language. His future wife, Sylvy Levy, also grew up Orthodox, but the couple raised their children in a fairly secular environment.

Still, the family had a strong Jewish and pro-Israel identity, and Roger Kornberg is a consistent donor to the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation. Roger married an Israeli scientist, Yahli Lorch, a Stanford professor of structural biology, and they live almost half the year in their Jerusalem flat, where he leads his research team remotely via the Internet. He returned from Israel just before winning the prize, having delivered a lecture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Sept. 26.

Roger Kornberg was honored for his study of transcription, a process of DNA replication. Instead of creating proteins directly from DNA, the DNA recreates itself in the form of RNA, which traverses from the nucleus to other cell locations where it kicks off protein production.

Kornberg has studied the vast intricacies of transcription since the early 1970s, fitting together the more than 30,000 atoms present in RNA polymerase, the enzyme that allows DNA to remake itself into RNA. Kornberg’s lab created the world’s first images of polymerase in action, enabling the zipperlike undoing and redoing of the double helix.

“We were astonished by the intricacy of the complex, the elegance of the architecture, and the way that such an extraordinary machine evolved to accomplish these important purposes,” Kornberg told a Stanford publication of the images he and his colleagues created. “RNA polymerase gives a voice to genetic information that, on its own, is silent.”

That voice doesn’t automatically make itself heard. Transcription occurs on a selective basis, and transcription among a cell’s tens of thousands of genes decrees whether it develops into a liver cell, a stem cell or a neuron. It also determines whether it develops healthily or cancerously.

Creating the groundbreaking images of RNA polymerase was a backbreaking task, requiring an expertise in an esoteric field combining chemistry, biology and physics called crystallography (the same technique that Francis Crick and James Watson utilized to discover the double helix).

To greatly simplify the work of Kornberg’s lab, a concentrated solution of a molecule was evaporated until all that was left behind were highly structured crystals reminiscent of the salt deposits left behind by vaporized seawater. Via intensely bright X-rays, scientists were then able to identify the exact location of individual atoms and generate a computer model of the molecule.

Kornberg’s tenacious feat of illustrating the 10 subunits of RNA polymerase in action was a task two decades in the making.

“It was a technical tour de force that took about 20 years of work to accomplish,” professor Joseph Puglisi, chair of the department of structural biology at the Stanford School of Medicine, told a Stanford publication.
“Like other great scientists, Roger doesn’t quit. He’s stubborn. A lot of scientists would have given up after five years.”

Each Nobel Prize includes a check for $1.4 million, a diploma and a medal, which will be awarded by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10.

The Circuit

Cleaning Up With Care

Long time L.A. drycleaner Barry Gershenson was named one of four national spokespersons for the FabriCare Foundation.

Gershenson, a third-generation dry cleaning veteran has more than 40 years experience as owner of Sterling Fine Cleaning in Los Angeles. As a spokesperson for the FabriCare Foundation, Gershenson’s role will be to educate consumers on the definition of a “professional” drycleaner, as well as the overall benefits of dry cleaning.

Gershenson lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 32 years, Sandy; and children, Lauren and David.

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Eulogies:Irwin M. Weinstein

Irwin M. Weinstein, one of the founders of the National Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and its Los Angeles chapter, died July 21 of a stroke and kidney failure. He was 76.

Weinstein’s career included a clinical practice, academic medicine, civic and political activities, and he achieved international distinction as a clinical hematologist. He brought his vision of harnessing educational and scientific resources to conquer cancer with ICRF, which has spawned major breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer.

In Los Angeles, he served in a variety of positions at Cedars-Sinai, including chief of staff from 1972-1974 and a member of their board of governors. At UCLA he was a professor of clinical medicine and served on their medical school admissions committee.

Among his many national accolades, Weinstein was appointed adviser to the National Health Care Reform Task Force and was recommended by President Bill Clinton for assistant secretary of health for policy and evaluation.

The Beverly Hills resident was born in Denver, Colo., and received his medical degree from the University of Denver. He served his residency at Montefiore Hospital in New York and was a resident in medicine at the University of Chicago before coming to Southern California.

He is survived by his wife, Judy; sons, David and Jim (Cynthia); grandchildren, Julian and Mara; brother, Gerald; and brothers-in-law, David and Zev Braun.

Contributions may be made to the Israel Cancer Research Fund, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., No. 341, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. — ICRF