Under a microscope in a research lab at the Technion's Rappaport Faculty of Medicine in Haifa, a colony of embryonic stem cells floats in a brilliant ochre-colored universe of fetal mouse tissue, which nourishes the cells. Years from now, this tiny sample could very well be a key to unlocking the cure for cancer or reversing the effects of Alzheimer's and paralysis.
It would come as no surprise to experts in the field if some of these cures emanate from the laboratories of Israeli scientists, such as Dr. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor.
Judah White's shoulders curl in and his eyes shut tight as he coughs violently. A look of pain flashes across his face. As his coughing slows, he looks up to the ceiling of his mother's kitchen and takes a deep breath.
White is battling his third occurrence of Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the lymph nodes. The fight has taken most of his energy.
"For me, the disease has always been associated with pain, and it's been a smorgasbord of pain," he said, his voice trailing off. "There's burning, there's aching, there's stiffness, there's bruising.... Literally, any type of pain you could possibly imagine."
White, a 38-year-old resident in internal medicine at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, recently completed his latest round of chemotherapy, a traditional treatment for his disease. As expected, the chemotherapy has weakened his immune system, leaving him vulnerable to common infections and other complications.
To rebuild his immune system, to restore his health and vigor, White is trying a newer treatment, one that has been linked to a national debate over medicine, religion and ethics. Doctors have given White donated stem cells. If he's lucky, these stem cells will replenish his lost bone marrow.