President Shimon Peres showed off some of Israel’s latest medical achievements to visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday. The two leaders viewed an exhibition prepared for the British leader that showcased collaborative stem-cell research between Israeli and UK scientists.
Scientists from the two countries have been working together for the past two years on stem cell projects under a program directed by BIRAX, the British Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership Regenerative Medicine Initiative. The projects are funded jointly by Israel and the UK.
This cooperation is important, both for Israel and the UK, Cameron said. “I wanted to come (to Israel) to build on the very strong bilateral relationship that we have that I think has been strengthened over these last few years,” he said. “We see that strengthening in scientific research and collaboration. We see that strengthening in high-tech investments taking place between Israeli and British companies.”
Several researchers provided Peres and Cameron with details of their work. Dr. Sharona Even-Ram of the Hadassah Medical Center discussed the use of regenerative cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disease. In this project, embryonic stem cells are developed into nerve cells, the degeneration of which causes Parkinson’s disease. Even-Ram is working on the project with Professor Kevin Shakesheff of the University of Nottingham.
Cameron, after peering through a microscope at half-developed embryonic cells, asked how soon this treatment might be available for patients with the disease. “We should be realistic,” Even-Ram said. “I believe it’s not going to happen until the next decade.”
A variety of other projects were showcased as well, including projects examining ways to keep the immune system from attacking transplanted stem cells, regenerative treatments for multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, and the use of stem cells to build a human liver.
Peres emphasized that when it comes to science, differences and prejudice must be put aside. “I think the scientists are doing it with a full heart,” Peres said. “We’ll discover how it may change the nature of our lives.”