Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, THE JERUSALEM POST
Oct. 5, 2006

Israel is a powerhouse in human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, with its researchers in second place after the US in absolute (not per capita) numbers of publications in scientific journals up to the end of 2005 – way ahead of the UK, Korea, China, Singapore, Australia, Sweden and Canada.

The ranking was determined by German and American researchers and published in an article in the October issue of the journal Stem Cells.

In addition, four of the best hESC papers ever published in peer-reviewed journals – according to a ranking by the journal – were written by Israelis: Prof. Benjamin Reubinoff of the Hadassah University Medical Center (two papers, No. 2 and No. 7); Prof. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Center (No. 8) and Dr. Shulamit Levenberg of the Technion (No. 11).

The article, called “Current State of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: An Overview of Cell Lines and Their Use in Experimental Work,” by researchers at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin and Arnold & Porter in Washington, DC, notes that hESC lines were first derived in 1998.

These cells are in high demand as objects of research because of their ability to reproduce almost infinitely and to differentiate into many, if not all, cell types of the human body. Although numerous problems still remain, they are viewed as a potential source for engineering human organs and tissue to replace defective, ageing and diseased ones.

Reubinoff did not know about the article and was informed of it and his papers’ ranking on Thursday by The Jerusalem Post.

“I am very happy that Israel has such a prominent role in hESC,” he said. “It is a big compliment to Israeli science, and we have great potential. Our prominence is due to the fact that we were pioneers in the field, there is a moral commitment to it and Judaism is so supportive. The government, especially the Science and Technology Ministry and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, has provided money for hESC research, but there is a need for more.”

US research has been restricted because the conservative Bush administration has set limits on federal funding for such studies, allowing only existing lines to be experimented on and not permitting new embryos aborted or left over from in-vitro fertilization use to be studied (and killed).

Anti-abortion activists who support the Republican Party have defeated efforts to allow unlimited research on hESC.

But as Halacha does not regard day-old human embryos as living things and encourages medical research aimed at saving lives, no restrictions have been placed in Israel on researchers in this field except a ban on their use for human cloning.

Israel triumphed over all but one of the other 20 countries whose researchers have since 1998 published articles on hESC research in peer-reviewed journals, with 42 publications, compared to 128 by scientists in the US, 30 in the UK, 27 in Korea, 16 in China, 15 in Singapore (which was recently shamed by fabricated results from one lab that has since closed down), 13 each in Australia and Sweden, nine in Canada, five in Japan, four in the Netherlands, three each in Germany and Belgium, two each in Denmark and Finland and one each in the Czech Republic, Iran, Spain, Romania, Switzerland and Turkey. All the remaining countries produced no published hESC research at all.