By Michael Jacobs / mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Dr. Eitan Kerem, 62, has worked with cystic fibrosis for a quarter-century.

Dr. Eitan Kerem, 62, has worked with cystic fibrosis for a quarter-century.

The Hadassah Medical Organization has provided health care and pioneering medical research in Israel for more than 100 years and now serves more than 1 million people a year.

Dr. Eitan Kerem, the head of pediatrics at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, is helping make sure that Hadassah remains on the cutting edge in treatment of children and research into pediatric pulmonary diseases, especially cystic fibrosis.

He will provide details on the latest work when he visits Atlanta for a presentation at Congregation Or Hadash on March 18 and meetings with Emory Healthcare and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta colleagues.

On the treatment side, Kerem has attracted worldwide attention with Hadassah’s Center for Chronic Diseases in Children, which he founded 10 years ago. The center applies the idea of a medical home, a popular concept in health care reform, for children who need treatment for chronic problems.

Before the center opened, families had to visit many doctors on different days across the hospital for care of various medical issues, and the specialists didn’t talk or coordinate. Parents had to be their children’s case managers because no one else was tracking the treatments and the drug interactions and keeping an eye on the patient as a whole.

The center takes a comprehensive, holistic approach to each patient, Kerem said. It coordinates care so that a child who has to see several specialists can meet with all of them in one place on one day, and when a problem or question arises, a parent has a case manager to call for consultation. The center also provides services to help parents and siblings cope.

“It’s patient-oriented instead of disease-centered,” Kerem said.

He said the center had more than 3,000 patient visits in 2014, up 20 percent from 2013, when visits increased 25 percent from 2012.

“There’s something special with working with children,” Kerem said. “They are very, very innocent, very, very sincere. They are dependent and trustful.”

He found a way to help children with chronic and acute medical needs through research into respiratory diseases. He said the attraction of the work “could be the interaction between air and life. It’s so fundamental for living.”

He said work on cystic fibrosis has significantly improved the survival and quality of life of patients so that most are reaching adulthood and even having children of their own. The latest research is focusing on gene therapies that could lead to breakthroughs in many genetic diseases.

The Hadassah research focuses on the specific gene mutations that cause cystic fibrosis among Jews. Kerem said the most common mutation among Ashkenazi Jews causes a gene to send a premature command to halt production of a vital protein. “We were pioneers in showing we were able to suppress the premature command and cause production of the full-length protein.”

The therapy does not repair the mutated genetic code but does enable the body to produce the protein normally.

An American company has developed that research into a treatment being tested in a large, multinational study whose results are at least 18 months away, Kerem said.

Because the mutations in cystic fibrosis are rare and because the disease progresses slowly, studies require many research centers to find enough patients and observe the changes brought by the treatment, Kerem said. That makes international cooperation vital.

“Collaboration in many countries is the sine qua non” of medical research, he said.

The boycott, divestment and sanction movement, which aims to cut off economic, cultural and academic ties to Israel, thus threatens such vital medical research.

Kerem said he hasn’t encountered the BDS movement but has discussed it with colleagues, especially in England. “I ask them, especially non-Jews, to speak up against boycotts of academics in general and Israel in particular.”

While Kerem hopes to find areas for collaboration with his colleagues at Emory and Children’s, the major goal of his quick trip to Atlanta and to Florida is to strengthen Jewish community support for Hadassah, especially after the negative media coverage Israel received during the Gaza war last year.

“I feel that Hadassah belongs to the Jewish nation. It’s like your child; even when your child is in trouble, you help him to overcome that trouble,” he said. “All the Jews everywhere can be proud with such an institution as Hadassah.”

 

Who: Dr. Eitan Kerem

What: Cystic fibrosis presentation

Where: Congregation Or Hadash, 7460 Trowbridge Road, Sandy Springs

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

Cost: Suggested $5 donation at the door

RSVP: 678-443-2961 or atlanta@hadassah.org