Training in Ann Arbor is changing cancer treatment in Israel.
Special to the Jewish News
wo University of Michigan
administrators, in the
midst of dinner with col-
leagues at a restaurant in
Israel, had a very dramatic interrup-
tion of their meal.
Dr. Theodore Lawrence and Marc
Halman, both of the Department of
Radiation Oncology at the U-M
Medical School, were introduced to a
cancer .patient whose life was extend-
ed by treatments developed and
learned in Michigan.
Hearing the patient's thanks- pro-
vided only one among many reasons
that the two visitors want to continue
the program, the Israeli Fellowship in
Radiation Oncology, that resulted in
the man being helped. His comments
capped a series of positive impres-
sions gained from hospital observa-
tions throughout the' day.
The two-year fellowship, which
brings Israeli doctors to Ann Arbor,
offers training in state-of-the-art radi-
ation oncology and benefits U-M by
assigning fellows to assist with
The success of the program, started
in 1993, has motivated the university
to seek ways of making it permanent.
The goal is to establish a named
endowment of $2 million to fund
one fellow per year in perpetuity.
"When Israeli cancer patients learn
they need radiation treatments, the
bad news can be a triple blow," says
Halman, director of administration at
the U-M Department of Radiation
Oncology. "Besides having to face the
disease and possible side effects from
therapy, they also might be forced to
seek care in another country.
Although Israel can provide some
radiation therapy, there are not
enough fully-trained specialists in this
The fellowship program was started
by Dr. Allen Lichter, former professor
and chair of the Department of
Radiation Oncology. After a six-
month sabbatical at Hadassah
University Hospital, Lichter noted
the different ways in which the
United States and Israel trained doc-
tors and carried out treatments.
U.S. oncologists must complete a
four-year residency in their specialty.
Israeli cancer specialists undergo radi-
ation instruction as only a small part
of an oncology study program. While
American radiation oncologists typi-
cally treat between 150 and 300
patients per year, their Israeli coun-
applied to the program because he
considers the Michigan facility one of
the best in the country. He complet-
ed an internal medicine residency
prior to studying oncology and was
on staff at Hadassah Hospital in
While here, Dr. Meirovitz is
involved in several research projects
and is a primary investigator in pre-
venting radiation damage in the
treatment of brain cancer. He will
continue his research when he returns
Drs. Meirovitz and Lawrence discuss the U-M radiation oncology program.
terparts treat about 650 patients per
"There are six or seven radiation
oncologists in Israel, and we've
trained half of them," says Dr.
Lawrence, who succeeded Dr.
Lichter. "If we could train 10 people,
we could deeply change the way can-
cer is treated throughout Israel.
"The training is done in a two-year
sequence that places participants in
the lab for one year and the clinic for
another year. We offer instruction in
the latest methods, and the outstand-
ing research work of the fellows has
helped improve treatments for can-
cers of the liver and pancreas."
Dr. Amichay Meirovitz, the fourth
Israeli oncology fellow at U-M,
to Israel, and the U-M team expects
to accelerate the results of their stud-
ies by having information from both
"I wanted to be part of this pro-
gram so I could do more to help can-
cer patients in Israel," Dr. Meirovitz
says. "Almost any subject in medicine
interests me, but radiation oncology
is my main interest. This program
combines high technology with
patient contact, and that's what mod-
ern medicine is all about."
The Oncology Institute at the Chaim
Sheba Medical Center in Israel also
has benefited from the training pro-
gram in Ann Arbor. Dr. Zvi Symon,
of Chaim Sheba's radiotherapy unit,
was a U-M fellow from 1999-2001
and is utilizing new techniques in
radiation therapy planning, treatment
and delivery as well as design and
implementation of clinical trials.
"Under the guidance of Dr.
Lawrence, I performed and published
some very clinically-oriented labora-
tory studies and learned how to move
things quickly from the laboratory to
the clinic," Dr. Symon says. "In the
clinic, I worked on new treatments
for prostate cancer and therapy for
head and neck cancer.
"The whole experience has con-
tributed deeply to the way I practice
medicine — from the way I commu-
nicate with and educate my patients
to the scrutiny of all clinical data,
quality assurance and search for bet-
The cancer specialists who have
been to Ann Arbor communicate
with each other as they apply their
knowledge at different hospitals in
Dr. Marc Wygoda, chief of radia-
tion oncology at Hadassah
University Hospital, was a fellow
from 1995-97. "It is estimated that
for each caricer patient cured by
drugs, four patients are cured by
radiation," Dr. Wygoda says. "In
recent years, the techniques used in
radiation oncology have made
immense progress, mainly as a con-
sequence of advances in computer
technology. The future of radiation
oncology appears to be in a combi-
nation of technology and biological
understanding of cancer.
"During my fellowship, I partici-
pated in projects in gene therapy and
radiation sensitizers and did clinical
work and research. This allowed me
to learn evidence-based medicine and
bring basic research to the bedside.
"The partnership between U-M
and Israel has played a pivotal role in
the development of radiation oncolo-
gy in our country, and I cannot
overemphasize the need to continue
and develop this relationship for the
greatest interest of Israeli cancer