Israeli hospital: New tech gave instant DNA info on tumors, jump-starts treatment

Sourasky Medical Center says AI platform under trial delivered accurate genomic analysis data for 2 brain cancer patients, cutting down days of waiting to start treatment

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: cancer cells against a backdrop of DNA (Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: cancer cells against a backdrop of DNA (Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen via iStock by Getty Images)

An Israeli hospital says it has used an under-trial artificial intelligence technology to give patients immediate results for a deep-dive report on their tumor’s DNA — eliminating days they would have spent waiting before getting treatment for their brain cancer.

Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center announced this week that it had successfully used AI to deliver accurate genomic analysis to two brain cancer patients, calling the breakthrough “exceptional.”

The doctors used Imagene, an Israeli AI platform that instantly analyzes the tumor and delivers an in-depth genomic analysis, as part of a trial that is being conducted at Sourasky and at Sheba Medical Center. The trial is intended to lead to regulatory approval of the tech for widespread distribution.

Genomic analysis is a process that gives doctors a highly detailed picture of their patient’s tumor, with information on processes through which it responds to its environment, and its DNA sequence.

Still used only on a minority of patients, it is growing in popularity and seen as key in the ongoing shift towards personalized medicine tailored to the characteristics of different patients’ tumors.

But it is a time-consuming process that takes days or weeks. If doctors are waiting for information before deciding a treatment path, this can cause the loss of potentially lifesaving days to fight the cancer.

Sourasky doctors announced that the AI algorithms detected the cancer mutation that led to the tumors. Conclusions were confirmed by PCR test, and the patients started personalized treatment within a day.

“We are so used to waiting a long time for molecular cancer testing while patients deteriorate, that such a breakthrough technology, enabling treatment initiation within a day is exceptional,” said Prof. Ido Wolf, director of the Oncology Department at Sourasky.

Prof. Ido Wolf, director of the Oncology Department at Sourasky Medical Center (courtesy of Sourasky Medical Center)

The technology, designed to work with a wide range of tumors, was developed by Dean Bitan, a computer scientist who decided to focus on cancer tech after his mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. He established the Imagene startup together with Jonathan Zalach and Shahar Porat, and worked on ways to use AI to search for biomarkers in a digitized biopsy image.

Bitan said his hope is that his platform won’t only make genomic analysis quicker, but also more widely available.

A screenshot from a new AI platform developed by Imagene providing doctors with fast genomic analysis of tumors (courtesy of Imagene)

Today only a minority of cancer patients undergo genomic analysis and have their treatment personalized by findings. The problem, in part, is that it is time-consuming and expensive.

“This technology is about democratizing genomic analysis, making it available to all in real-time,” he told The Times of Israel. “It can actually preserve people’s lives.”

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