Behind the Headlines Nuclear Medicine in Israel

The revolutionary computer-linked X-ray scanner that won this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine for its developers, Allan Cormack of the U.S. and Godfrey House field of England, is one of several highly sophisticated electronic diagnostic devices manufactured in Israel and successfully marketed abroad in competition with such giants of the industry as General Electric in the U.S., Siemens of West Germany and Toshiba of Japan.

The Elscint Co., located near Haifa, ranks with the world’s leading producers of tomographic and nuclear medicine equipment. Machines bearing the trade-mark of the 10-year-old Israeli firm are to be found in some of America’s leading hospitals — Mt. Sinai In New York, Temple University Hospital in Pennsylvania, the National Institute of Health and Veterans Administration hospitals.

Tomography is the X-ray technique that provides three-dimensional pictures of the body’s interior. The Cormack-Housefield development has refined this to produce three-dimensional views of the interior of body organs. It has been hailed as the greatest stride in diagnostic instrumentation since Roentgen discovered X-rays some 70 years ago.

NOT A SURPRISING DEVELOPMENT

That Israel should be in the forefront of this development is a source of pride but not surprising considering the stress placed on science-based industry and the pool of scientific skills brought here by Jews from all over the world. Much of it is concentrated at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, known as the Haifa Technion.

Dr. Avraham Suhami, the 45-year-old president of Elscint (a contraction for Electronic and Scientific) was born in Turkey, came to Israel as a child and was educated at the Hebrew University and the Technion where he earned his doctorate in physics and where he taught. His student and assistant is a Moroccan-born. Jew, Benjamin Tzabah, who is also a graduate of the Technion and director-general of Elscint. Dr. Reuben Sinai who was born in Rumania and holds a Ph. D. in mathematics and two Sabras — Yarom Artzi and Dan Ben Ze’ev — both physicists with doctoral degrees, head Elscint’s various departments of research and development.

Elscint is a place of constant activity. Before the production of one item is completed plans for the second generation or for new items are well advanced. It is a magnet for visiting scientists and technologists. It was one of the two industrial plants that President Anwar Sadat of Egypt visited during his recent tour of the Haifa area. It is also an eminently successful business. Shares in the company are sold on world markets, including the U.S. It currently has orders for $50 million in medical machinery.

WIDELY USED IN ISRAEL

The Nobel-winning X-ray scanner, manufactured by Elscint, is used in Israeli hospitals. Recently it was employed during the course of brain surgery, helping a team of surgeons to pinpoint the location of a malignant brain tumor and remove it successfully without damaging surrounding tissue.

The machine emits a thin beam of X-rays as it moves from side to side over the patient’s body. Detectors show where the X-rays are blocked or weakened by bones or organs. The impulses are fed to a computer which reconstructs images to allow doctors to peer into the very depths of internal organs.

Elscint is engaged in two main fields — diagnostic machinery and nuclear medicine. It produces a nuclear machine that injects radioactive isotopes into the bloodstream with an affinity to specific organs. The gamma rays emitted by the isotopes create an electronic image of the organ under examination. The process is constantly being refined. The ultimate goal is to enable doctors to study the functioning of the living brain.

Elscint plans to enter the field of ultra-sonic imaging. It also produces non-medical equipment. One example is an unbreakable, vandal-proof public telephone for which the first orders came from Ireland.

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