Twenty years ago, when stem cell therapy was highly regulated in the United States and other countries, it was well underway in Hadassah Hospital’s labs in Jerusalem. Never would we have imagined that the US expansion of one of the key clinical trials conducted in our labs in Israel would be later funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). In 2004, California had the foresight to advance this critical area of research and Hadassah advocates played a major role in the passing of an unprecedented statewide ballot initiative that authorized state funding for stem cell research. This marked the passage of Proposition 71 in 2004.
Fast forward to today. Hadassah’s commitment to stem cell research led the Californians for Stem Cell, Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020 to reach out for help with their grassroots effort to qualify the latest stem cell funding initiative for the November ballot.
It qualified with YOUR help, and I hope that in a few short weeks we’ll be celebrating the passage of Proposition 14 which will provide $5.5 billion to help accelerate development of treatments and cures for life-threatening diseases and conditions.
Every year, the second Wednesday in October is set aside as Stem Cell Awareness Day a time to celebrate the progress being made in the field and to remind us of the challenges that lie ahead.
The power of stem cells is mind-blowing: We are able to use these cells to replace damaged or diseased tissue, and in this way, treatments or cures for diseases like age-related macular degeneration, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes could be a reality in the foreseeable future.
I come to this subject from a place of personal sorrow. I watched my father-in-law, Irv, suffer for 12 and a half years with ALS, a man I loved as if he were my own father. He fought and fought, he made every minute of his battle meaningful, to soak up as much life as he could, until he couldn’t. Irv is the reason why I became involved in Hadassah – because of the cutting-edge medical research – and he is the reason that I’m writing to you now.
Today, Hadassah is doing incredible things in stem cell research, and the stunning results of Hadassah Medical Organization’s clinical trials have riveted the worldwide medical community.
Most personal to me is the ALS research taking place. Hadassah researchers conducted the world’s first clinical trial using the patient’s own bone marrow stem cells to treat ALS.
Expanded stem cell trials are now taking place here in California to treat ALS. The California Stem Cell Agency (CIRM) has awarded a total of $79 million in grants to understand ALS and then to translate those discoveries into treatments and therapies. We have already reached the clinical trial phase.
A Phase 1 clinical trial at Cedars Sinai Medical Center was funded to investigate, first, the safety and hopefully later, efficacy of ways in which surviving neurons can be protected in people with ALS.
The second, a Phase 3 Clinical Trial at Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics. This study first began in Israel through the work of world-renowned neurologist Dr. Dimitrios Karussis, MD, PhD at Hadassah Medical Organization.
After successful results, the trial was expanded to the US where California’s Stem Cell Institute is funding the Phase 3 (and final stage) of the clinical trial. The approach is to use mesenchymal stem cells (derived from the bone marrow) “boosted with protective factors” to support and protect the neurons of ALS patients. In Judaism, we believe in Pikuach Nefesh – the preservation of life. The most important Jewish obligation of all. With the potential of stem research, we have the ability to save millions of lives throughout the world.
And, with the promise of stem cells, we can accelerate the development of treatments and cures for life-threatening diseases and conditions that affect someone in nearly half of all California families. That is 50% of all California families. Imagine that!
Pikuach Nefesh – As a Jew, I believe that we have an obligation to care for the world, and more importantly, care for each other and work to ease human suffering. Pikuach Nefesh – we can help humanity one stem cell at a time. Each of us has the power to foster this curative research, and we can each can make miracles happen.
I truly believe that stem cell research is going to allow our children to look at the major diseases that plague our modern world the way we now have the privilege to view polio, because there is a vaccine for it. But that potential will not reveal itself on its own, nor did it with polio. It took decades and a lot of research funding for a polio vaccine to finally be fully developed, tested and made available widely.
There are no medical miracles. Medical advancement happens because of research. Research takes will, knowledge, chutzpah and MONEY. From life-saving vaccines, to pioneering cancer treatments, to the sequencing of the human genome — that is the story of scientific progress in America.
When research stalls for lack of funding, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored. Together, we were able to get Proposition 14 on the November ballot – We did it one wet signature at a time! Now, on November 3, WE have the chance to do it again.
The path to get a therapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration can take 12 to 15 years, requires thousands of patients for clinical trials and costs billions of dollars. The passage of Proposition 14 would help to overcome those hurdles and create a streamlined process that delivers much-needed treatments to patients who have few options.
How amazing to be part of this effort. Please spread the word to your friends and family members to Vote YES on Proposition 14. I am so proud to be a member of Hadassah, which is not only leading the way in stem cell research but is also doing research in service to humanity. Together, we can make medical discoveries happen and continue to set the pace for the worldwide medical community.
I wish that my father-in-law was here to give you his final thumbs up and to thank you for all you’re doing to further stem cell research. Join me in voting YES on 14 on or before November 3!
Watch a video of Dr. Dimitrios Karussis and his MS patient Malia Litman here.
Stacey R. Dorenfeld
Hadassah National State Advocacy Co-Chair
Hadassah Southern California Advocacy Chair