Israeli researcher's work is more than skin deep
Dr. Eli Sprecher
26 September, 2006
By David Brinn
Eli Sprecher likes to get under your skin - or at least under the surface. The associate professor of dermatology at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology has become a leading expert in hereditary skin diseases.
A member of the Human Molecular Genetics and Pathophysiology of Disease department of the Technion's Rapaport Institute of Research, Sprecher focuses on rare skin diseases that generally plague children, an occurrence that he says is more common among Israel's minority populations.
Those diseases are often overlooked by the medical research community due to their rare occurrence, but Sprecher has taken upon himself the task of identifying the causes of the diseases and looking for treatment, cures and preventive actions.
"Hereditary skin diseases are extremely prevalent in Israel, especially in the north where there are a large number of small and closed ethnic communities. You see a lot of hereditary diseases there, many of them being orphan diseases," Sprecher told ISRAEL21c.
"Orphan diseases are extremely rare, but in closed in groups, you see substantial numbers. But because they're rare, and not generally known to regular physicians, they're not recognized by clinics or insurance companies. Genetic testing is also extremely problematic - as most labs don't find it worthwhile to set up testing. So we're trying to help the patients at all these levels."
Sprecher, who was born in Belgium, came to Israel in 1981 and studied medicine at Hebrew University, receiving his PhD in biology. After serving in the Israel Defense Forces, he specialized in dermatology at Rambam Medical Center.
"In 1999, I did a fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and when I returned to Israel, I established a lab in the Rambam Department of Dermatology," he said.
The two main diseases Sprecher's department deals with are epidermal epidermolysis bullosa and ichthyosis.
Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) is a group of inherited bullous disorders characterized by blister formation in response to mechanical trauma. EB patients have skin as fragile as a butterfly's wing which can blister at the slightest touch - even from a mother's cuddle. Normal day-to-day life can cause constant pain and scarring, which, in the worse forms, leads to eventual disfigurement, disability and often early death.