New program to develop collaborations between cardiac researchers and clinicians at Lankenau Medical Center and Israeli medical centers

Officials at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR) have announced a new program, the Lankenau-Israel Strategic Alliance (LISA), whose mission is to develop collaborations between physicians and scientists at Lankenau Medical Center and medical centers in Israel. Under the umbrella of the Israel Heart Society, the program will foster mutually beneficial cardiology research.

The first LISA Fellow selected to participate, Itai Weissberg, MD, PhD, joined the Cardiovascular Research Program at LIMR on Aug. 1, 2017.

“We are delighted to launch this important strategic alliance with our colleagues in Israel and to welcome Dr. Weissberg to LIMR,” said George Prendergast, PhD, president and CEO of LIMR. “We look forward to a fruitful collaboration and exchange focused on advancing our ability to diagnose and treat cardiovascular diseases.”

The strategic alliance will facilitate an exchange of information, with an initial emphasis on heart rhythm disorders and the development of novel approaches to therapy. Future programs may include education-related exchanges among cardiac surgeons, including co-sponsorship of educational sessions at international cardiology meetings.

“Lankenau Medical Center is known for being a leader in the region for cardiac care delivery and research,” said Phil Robinson, president, Lankenau Medical Center. “Our ultimate goal is to cross-fertilize cardiac research between Lankenau Medical Center and the medical centers throughout Israel, helping to enrich and accelerate medical practice at both locations. Together, we can advance the field of cardiac medicine and further enhance the quality of care delivered to our patients and community members.”

Charles Antzelevitch, PhD, executive director of Cardiovascular Research at LIMR and director of Research, Lankenau Heart Institute, who helped to initiate the LISA program, noted that he anticipates the program will “make impactful advances in the study and treatment of atrial and ventricular arrhythmias, particularly atrial fibrillation; inherited sudden cardiac death syndromes; and tissue and organ bioengineering.”

Dr. Weissberg, who earned his MD and PhD from Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel, most recently was an internal medicine resident at Israel-based Soroko Medical Center, a major teaching hospital affiliated with BGU in the Negev. He will participate in several new and ongoing projects in the Cardiovascular Research Program at LIMR, including studies examining genetic defects in ion channels common to both the brain and heart responsible for sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.

LIMR’s cardiac research team is studying the genetic basis for several heart arrhythmia syndromes and is developing customized treatments for families that harbor pathogenic genetic defects. Another important avenue of LIMR’s research is aimed at growing new hearts by taking cadaver hearts and stripping away all cells so a collagen matrix remains. The matrix is then reseeded with stem cells or progenitor cells generated from the patient’s own skin cells or blood cells. LIMR scientists hope these newly created hearts will not be rejected, thus helping patients avoid a lifetime of anti-rejection medications. Dr. Weissberg will have the opportunity to participate in these exciting research projects.

In addition to Dr. Antzelevitch, the LISA initiative was developed by Peter Kowey, MD, a Lankenau-based cardiologist and immediate past system chief of cardiovascular diseases for Main Line Health; Mark Cohen, a member of Lankenau’s President’s Advisory Council; and  Dr. Michael Glikson, president of the Israel Heart Society. The program is being enthusiastically funded by Mr. Cohen and other local donors, along with Lankenau Medical Center and the Israel Heart Society.

In photo, from left: Mark Cohen, member, Lankenau’s President’s Advisory Council; first LISA Fellow Itai Weissberg, MD, PhD; Peter Kowey, MD, cardiologist, Lankenau Heart Institute in Lankenau Medical Center; and Charles Antzelevitch, PhD, Executive Director of Cardiovascular Research at Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, and Director of Research at Lankenau Heart Institute.

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