Professor Rafi Beyar has seen huge strides in medical science and technology over the course of nearly four decades in the field. Now, as director general of the Rambam Health Care Campus in northern Israel since 2006, he oversees the largest academic hospital in the area, and has helped continue to push the institute to keep at the forefront of all kinds of medical research, including his own field of cardiology.
“There’s so much going on at the interface of medicine and engineering,” Beyar said during a visit to the area.
The hard work and dedication of thousands of doctors, researchers, technicians and others who contribute everyday to expanding knowledge and improving ways of saving lives takes place all over the world, but Israel stands out as one of the hubs, much as it does in other high-tech fields. The term “start-up nation” is often thrown around cavalierly when talking about Israel but in this case Beyar said it’s very appropriate.
“Israel has over 700 start-up medical companies,” Beyar said. “It’s similar to Silicon Valley that way.”
As for what those hundreds of companies are doing, there’s very little about diagnosing, treating, curing or preventing human illness and injury that they don’t in some way cover. In cardiology, research pursues avenues of not only fixing the heart but methods of limiting the dangers of surgery itself. People once who would have been considered unlikely to survive the trauma of surgery can now be eligible for life-saving heart treatments. Much of that comes from the way technology enhances medical and surgical techniques.
“Engineering has really taken a huge role over the years in medicine,” Beyar said.
Stents, compressible mesh tubes used to prevent constriction and blocked flows in the body are a key part of cardiac medicine and engineering new and better varieties and methods with them have been a big help in saving and improving patients’ lives.
“Stents have really changed the way we practice cardiology,” Beyar said.
Better polymers and other engineering tools help improve the stents all the time. It may even soon be possible to not have to try and remove it at all.
“We’re also working on an absorbable stent,” Beyar said.
Better and even absorbable materials are just part of the striving to decrease the invasiveness of the surgery. Today there are ways of inserting the stent through a catheter and directing it up to the heart to open it, avoiding having to actually cut open someone to put it in them.
“It’s really a breakthrough technology,” Beyar said.
A robotic catheterization system invented by Beyar himself for use in patients while they are undergoing X-ray examination marks just one of many ways these advances are improving care. This kind of robotic surgery makes possible, among other implications, remote surgery by doctors who cannot get to patients and narrowly targeted surgeries not possible with human-sized tools. The kinds of advances made in Israel are not isolated there despite the wealth of opportunity. Working with other institutions around the world helps push the research ahead Beyar said. That’s partly why he has spent the summer in the U.S., collaborating with colleagues in the country.
“There are several collaborations between U.S. and Israeli institutions,” he said. “It’s always intriguing to compare.”
At Rambam, there is more than just research ongoing though, Beyar said. As the only trauma school in Israel, Rambam gets people from all over coming to learn and work there, adding their own insight and skills to the ever-growing pool that Beyar presides over. Transported to the hospital from all over including by Rambam’s helicopters, trauma patients are brought to the hospital where a lot of techniques pioneered or expanded upon right there at the hospital are used to make them well again.
“We get prepared for all kinds of conditions including war,” Beyar said.
That’s important when running a hospital in Israel. In charge during the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, Beyar said soldiers of all kinds were brought to the hospital due to its staff members’ expertise in dealing with trauma cases. Counter-intuitively, Beyar said there are far more incidences of trauma during peacetime than during war. He explained that during war, there are far fewer people out, especially on the roads. The actual number of people treated for trauma dropped significantly during the conflict.
Rambam, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is embarking upon new projects ranging from an underground facility to use in case of violent conflict, to new research centers for children’s medicine, cancer and other areas, and Beyar said the enthusiasm and excitement for innovative medicine and saving lives is sure to continue to grow.
“Rambam is a very special environment to enhance innovations,” he said.