The Latest Health Currents


JScreen Teams With Honeymoon Israel

JScreen, an Atlanta-based at-home screening program for Jewish genetic diseases that has gone national after initially centering on couples in the South, has added an international component – men and women visiting Israel.

The not-for-profit, under the auspices of Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics, has established a partnership with Honeymoon Israel, an organization that provides subsidized Israeli trips to couples with at least one Jewish partner.

JScreen ( offers testing of DNA, from participants’ saliva samples collected at home and sent to a lab, for more than 200 Jewish and general genetic diseases. Some 80 percent of babies born with a genetic disease are born to parents with no known family history of that disease, according to JScreen statistics.

The new relationship with Honeymoon Israel (, whose trips are open to intermarried and unaffiliated and same-sex couples, is aimed at people who are “thinking about having children and creating families,” said Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, JScreen’s executive director. “It seemed like a perfect demographic.”

Participants in Honeymoon Israel trips receive a coupon code that gives a reduction in the JScreen testing fee. The partnership will also offer information to young couples who do not qualify for a trip; qualifying couples must be in their first five years of marriage or a “lifelong, committed relationship,” and one partner must be between the ages of 25 and 40.

Honeymoon Israel, patterned after the Birthright Israel program that offers trips to members of the Jewish community 18-26 years old, is the brainchild of Mike Wise, a veteran Jewish federation executive, and Avi Rubel, founding director of the Masa Israel Journey travel program.

“We engage hundreds of young couples every year and offer them an onramp to connect with Jewish life and create Jewish community at home,” said Wise. “While approximately 14 percent of couples participate in Honeymoon Israel after having their first child, the majority of couples are choosing to participate around the beginning stages of family planning.”

Steve Lipman


FDA OKs Drug For Women With Breast Cancer Caused By ‘Jewish Gene’

(JTA) — Regulators in the United States have approved a drug for women with advanced breast cancer caused by BRCA gene mutations, which disproportionately affects Ashkenazi Jewish women.

The Food and Drug Administration approved AstraZeneca PLC’s Lynparza for patients with inherited BRCA gene mutations who have undergone chemotherapy, the FDA said in a statement last month.

The drug has been on the market since 2014 for ovarian cancer, and recently has been approved to treat breast cancer. It is the first time any drug has been approved to treat certain patients with metastatic breast cancer who have a BRCA gene mutation.

“This class of drugs has been used to treat advanced, BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer and has now shown efficacy in treating certain types of BRCA-mutated breast cancer,” said Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence and acting director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “This approval demonstrates the current paradigm of developing drugs that target the underlying genetic causes of a cancer, often across cancer types.”

Approximately 20 percent to 25 percent of patients with hereditary breast cancers and up to 10 percent of patients with any type of breast cancer have a BRCA mutation. BRCA genes are involved with repairing damaged DNA and normally work to prevent tumor development. However, mutations of these genes may lead to certain cancers, including breast cancers, the FDA statement said.

The fast-tracked approval of Lynparza was based on a trial of 302 women with metastatic breast cancer and a BRCA gene mutation. The drug delayed the spread of the cancer for seven months as opposed to four months for women taking chemotherapy only, according to the FDA.

Lynparza will cost $13,886 per month without insurance, the Associated Press reported, citing AstraZeneca.


Helmsley Trust Gives $18 Million For Israeli Medical Research Center

(JTA) — The U.S.-based Helmsley Charitable Trust has awarded an $18 million grant for the construction of the Helmsley Health Discovery Tower on the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa.

The planned 20-story tower, which will house medical research and innovation projects, is a joint project of Rambam and the University of Haifa. The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology also will collaborate on the project, using facilities in the tower for medical engineering activities.

The tower will house the clinical institutes of Rambam Health Care Campus in Ophthalmology and Gastroenterology, and the School of Graduate Dentistry, as well as The Clinical Research Institute at Rambam for research in the fields of brain and neuroscience, cancer, cardiology, diabetes, nephrology, human genomic medicine, medical devices and minimally invasive surgical advances.

It also will be the location of University of Haifa’s Center for Translational Research in Health Sciences and Public Health, Center for Evidence-Based Nursing Research, and Research Center for Health Sciences and Life Sciences. The Innovation Partnership Center in the tower will host startup companies and early stage initiatives.

It is the largest grant ever committed to Israeli institutions by the Helmsley Charitable Trust, according to the trust.

Harry and Leona Helmsley owned a chain of hotels and the Empire State Building. Leona Helmsley spent 19 months in federal prison for tax evasion and mail fraud beginning in April 1992. She died in 2007. Harry Helmsley died in 1997. ◆