Israel: The Promised Land of Breast Tech
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because conquering breast cancer is everyone’s concern.
By Zara Stone
All right, contestants, time for another lightning round of word association: Western Wall, Natalie Portman, political stalemate. That’s right — Israel! Maybe it’s time to add another word to the list: breasts. Walk around the Tel Aviv promenade and you’ll see bikini-clad women with thick curly hair, caramel frappuccino complexions and perky breasts proudly on display. But the parade of small, firm double-Ds is more than an aesthetic marvel; it’s also a testament to Israel’s enormous advances in technology that’s designed to shape — and save — breasts.
These innovations spring from a tiny nation brimming with all kinds of med tech. The impetus dates back to 1974, when the Office of the Chief Scientist was established to support growth in the field with a $450 million annual budget to seed funding and R&D for promising new companies. By 2015, the initiative had launched 725 medical startups, up from 656 in 2012 and second only to the U.S. worldwide. Israeli med tech also receives the highest investment per capita of any country — around $423 in 2015, compared to $186 in the U.S. “We are the startup nation. We are outliers,” says Shai Melcer, executive director of BioJerusalem, a life-science hub. “We have a strong foundation for our biomedical industry.”
In Israel there is a very close cooperation between breast specialists and innovative startup companies.
Charles Weatherstone, marketing director, G&G Biotechnology
And that industry spends a lot of time thinking about breasts, although the attention is about far more than cup size. Israel has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in OECD countries. That’s because mutations of the BRCA1 gene, which increase the risk of breast cancer, are hereditary in Ashkenazi Jewish women, who make up around 40 percent of Israel’s population. Many med-tech companies expand their technology into treating breasts after initially addressing other types of cancer. “Take InsightTec,” Melcer says. “Right now, it’s creating a microwave-like device that can ablate solid tumors. If they can focus that beam on deeper parts of tissue, we might be able to burn tumors from breasts.”
Meanwhile, IceCure Medical has the cold side covered: The cryoblation company uses subzero temperatures to freeze away tumors. Before that’s necessary, Real Imaging tries to find them with its Real Imager 8, which provides radiation-free, no-contact mammograms. If cancer does strike, Vaxil Bio Therapeutics has a vaccine called ImMucin that’s designed to keep the disease from recurring. At the more conceptual end of the spectrum of detecting breast cancer are Octava Pink, a blood test developed by Eventus Diagnostics, and NA-NOSE, which uses nanotechnology to identify ailments through breath analysis.
Then there’s Israel’s dedication to modifying what G-d gave us. Although innovation in the global breast-implant market has remained fairly static for the past few decades, Israel has created nearly half of the new techniques and products that have made it to market within the past five years. The upgrade roster includes Orbix, an internal mesh bra that sutures to the ribs; ImpLite, a gel-free implant; and Brayola, a bra-fitting startup that raised $2.4 million in April. “In Israel there is a very close cooperation between breast specialists and innovative startup companies,” says Charles Weatherstone, marketing director for G&G Biotechnology, the maker of the B-Lite. Hailed as the world’s lightest breast implant — it’s filled with microspheres — the B-Lite has been used in trials in Europe and the Middle East. So far, none of these products are FDA-certified.
Blame the boom in boob augmentation (at least in part) on Israel’s hot climate, which statistics show influences the number of breast surgeries per capita. Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are in the top eight for breast augmentations in 2014; in the U.S., the warmer Western states have a higher number of augmentations. “[Women in] warm climates … they’re generally into larger breasts,” says Dr. Barry Weintraub, a New York plastic surgeon who’s a top-rated doctor on RealSelf, a medical-review site. That’s certainly true of Israel, where 49 percent of women use implants to increase their busts three to four cup sizes. It’s added up to a 30 percent year-to-year growth in implants since 2012. Notwithstanding Israel’s small population (eight million), it’s in the top 30 worldwide for the number of plastic surgeons per country.
Despite the country’s advances in biotech, it has yet to achieve global market penetration, in part because of the difficulty and expense of getting medical technology government-endorsed. “I don’t use anything not FDA-approved,” Weintraub says. He thinks B-Lite’s implant is “conceptually interesting” but wants to see more case studies and tests before using it on his own patients in New York. “There’s a phrase in medicine,” Weintraub says. “You never want to be the first and never want to be the last.”
But as Israel continues to make breakthroughs in cancer research — in 2015, Israeli Nobel Prize winner Aaron Ciechanover identified proteins that suppress cancerous growths — the demand to go first will increase.
Breast foot forward, right?