Until a month ago, I had never heard of either necrosis or Professor Ilana Nathan. Over a hurried phone introduction from Haifa, Ilana entered my mundane life. My self-intellectual conviction was shattered when I realized who Ilana was and what she had accomplished. Subsequent phone conversations with her brought me closer to understanding the groundbreaking technology that stops pain and ultimate death of necrosis patients. Not a small feat considering that until 2000, necrosis was still considered as passive and unregulated, and with very little hope of slowing it down or even curing it. Currently, antibiotics or immune suppressing drugs are normally administered as a first line of defense, but tissue eventually dies, leaving very few options for doctors or patients. One unpleasant option is amputation.
Who is Professor Ilana Nathan? Professionally, her biography, research, patents, and papers fill up several Google pages. Her resume reads like a Nobel Prize candidacy. Ilana is a member of the faculty in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Ben-Gurion University. She is also Head of Hematology Research Laboratory at Soroka Medical Center. Soroka Medical Center is in the Southern Negev region of Israel. Because of its location, it treats a wide range of patients to include; Jews, Arabs, Bedouins, and refugees. Its close proximity to the Gaza Strip makes it a front-line hospital for the Israeli Defense Force: treating injuries and trauma from terrorist attacks in the region. Ilana was Israel’s delegate at the European Cooperation in Science and Technology, representing Biomedicine and Molecular Biosciences. The professor has published over 90 papers and holds 12 patents. Notably among those patents are: Methods for Inhibiting Necrosis (2013), and Compositions and Methods for Treating & Preventing Necrosis (2012). Her current mission is ElaPharma: anti-necrosis technology that would prevent cell death. This new drug defies all past scientific studies and conclusions that Necrosis cannot be cured. Ilana is convinced that the new unique approach aimed directly at the substrate and cellular pathways will stop the necrosis process and cure the patient. Identifying the activated protease in the early stages of necrosis has enabled Ilana and her team to use protease inhibitors to prevent necrosis and treat other associated diseases. In the midst of this technology and science is a woman whose sole mission in life is to alleviate suffering.
But really, who is Ilana Nathan? Intimidatingly brilliant, Ilana is the humblest person I have ever met. Over a wonderful dinner of Indian cuisine in Nurnberg, Germany, the scientist met the blogger. The brain met the pen. Ilana kept herself in the background of chatter while her son Roi attempted to explain his mother’s genius in lay terms that us mere mortals can understand.
Between enzymes, substrate, protease, and great plates of curry, I managed to get a glimpse at the woman behind the science. It is very hard to imagine this quiet soft-spoken woman as a genius behind a cure. She got almost irritated by the attention that her son was giving to her achievements and contributions to the scientific world. Ilana is not a woman behind a science but a woman within the science. She made it quite clear that finding a cure for necrosis was her first step in finding a way of preventing it. She firmly believes that science can eventually eradicate this disease and associated conditions through prevention. Why cure when you can prevent? She is already talking about a daily pill akin to a vitamin that can be taken every morning; preventing necrosis from ever happening. I asked Ilana how she managed to find a solution when others had not. She humbly explained that instead of starting from the problem and moving down to a solution, she started a journey from a solution to the problem. An inverted pyramid of creativity that brings to mind the overused millennium cliché: “thinking outside the box”. Ilana thought outside the enzyme and followed the necrosis pathway to its source; preventing substrate cleavage and sustaining the polypeptide chain of organic compounds; thus blocking the necrosis process. It took me a while to follow the science behind the cure, but I slowly realized that this was not a run-of-the-mill scientist I was dealing with. This was someone who was looking beyond this century; she was describing technological possibilities that I might never see in my lifetime. Ilana was looking into improving quality of life for future generations.
Myths about scientists range from the bizarre to the sublime. For most of us, meeting or speaking with a scientist is not on our daily schedule or Outlook calendar. After a few hours with Ilana, I was convinced that God gave Ilana a brain far superior than mine; yet more humble. I must admit that words like protease, substrate, proteolysis, and polypeptide; were not in my everyday vocabulary. The new anti-necrosis technology is being marketed under the brand name ElaPharma. The scientific team is earnestly looking for funding to complete Phase I of the process toward eventual FDA and other governments’ approval. Ultimately it will be in distribution. This takes years. But this does not seem to bother Ilana. My ignorance and feeble mind failed to understand the passion behind the discovery. Ilana spoke of ElaPharma like a newborn child destined for greater things. Slow to react to such passion, I finally saw the light. Ilana’s vision is not one-dimensional; the ElaPharma platform can also be adapted to prevent other necrosis-like diseases from proliferation. A “paradigm shift” that has taken a perceived necrotic hypothesis to another level and in another direction. This direction follows the concept that “regulated mechanisms” do play a “well orchestrated” role in cell death. Ilana’s goal is to prevent necrosis at the onset of any trauma. Injuries, strokes, heart attacks; are traumas that start the cell death process. Injured soldiers on the battlefield and athletes are similarly prone to body injuries that start the necrotic process. Shifting current first responder and emergency trauma mindsets from triage to a combination of triage and prevention; will take time. Recuperating from a stroke is a long haul; but the new drug was created to stop the cell degeneration process and prevent loss of speech and memory often associated with stroke trauma.
Ilana Nathan does not like to talk about herself. Self aggrandizing brings a frown and a wave of the hand in dismissal. But get her to talk about the new anti-necrosis platform, and her eyes light up. Science to Ilana is like breathing to the rest of us. We need it to stay alive. Ilana is not about fame or fortune. She is content without either. Ilana is all about humanity. She knows that she was blessed with the ability to make the world a better place. She has the patience and tenacity to take science to the next level if only out of curiosity at what possibilities are out there. ElaPharma was described down to a level I could understand. Ilana and Roi drew a simple scientific map that even I could comprehend. The unknown to the known was simplified by basic understanding of what medical science has so far achieved. But Ilana was looking much further toward a future generation where dementia, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, and other painful and fatal diseases can be cured or prevented. Immortality? I don’t think that Professor Nathan was speaking about immortality as we understand it. She is a devout Jew who would not presume that she can act God. But her vision for a world sans pain logically fits her narrative of life without disease, which inadvertently would prolong life. One thing was obvious to me; what I considered extraordinary or science fiction, she considered possible, plausible, and probable. My scientific prowess was hardly on the same level as hers. She talks about medical expectations as doubtless realities. I can only comprehend that aspirin might be good in preventing heart attacks albeit the fact that I don’t know why.
Is Professor Ilana Nathan worthy of a Nobel Prize? According to Marianne Spoon (2012), ” People who create paradigm shifts, or major shifts in thinking for a field, are more likely to receive a Nobel Prize for their work.” A Nobel Prize nominee must have contributed toward the “advance of human knowledge” and created solutions to global problems. Nobel Prize nominees are humble, “immersed in their fields”, “passionate about making a difference in the world”, and with no regard to fame or honor. Ilana Nathan has little patience for fame or fortune. She is more concerned about global cures and future generations that do not have to suffer unnecessary pain and premature death. Her main concern is giving hope to those already stricken with necrosis, and the rest of us a chance of preventing it. Ilana’s humility is her strength. Her spirituality manifests itself in her fervent desire to make the world a better place. Without being heretic in prose; Ilana’s passion for science is a “religion” in the sense that it leads to the basic intrinsic instinct to create good in a world where bad often makes news. Isn’t that what the Nobel Prize is all about? Isn’t that what Alfred Nobel had in mind? But Professor Ilana Nathan is special. Ilana is more than a scientist; she is a genuine good woman.
Marianne Spoon “How do you win a Nobel Prize?” 30 January 2012.
HowStuffWorks.com. <https://science.howstuffworks.com/dictionary/awards-organizations/win-nobel-prize.htm> 12 November 2017