Israeli doctors diabetes treatment draws hearty todah rabah from S.F. diplomat

Andy David noticed that his son always seemed thirsty. Very, very thirsty. Eventually he and his wife consulted a doctor in their native Israel and learned the bad news. Their son, 5 at the time, had juvenile diabetes and would require insulin injections for the rest of his life.

Andy David

Six months later, as the Davids began adjusting to this reality, they experienced an aftershock. While on a vacation, their younger daughter also began exhibiting the various symptoms of juvenile diabetes.

This time they were ready, and they quickly did a blood test.

“Then we were kicked in the stomach when we saw her blood sugar was high,” remembered David, now the S.F.-based consul general of Israel. “But because we were so sensitive [to the symptoms], she was diagnosed at a very early stage.”

Getting their daughter checked before the disease had caused much damage to her pancreas was critical.

But just as vital was the Davids’ next step: With dogged persistence reminiscent of the parents in the 1992 movie “Lorenzo’s Oil,” they scoured the Internet for information and searched for treatments.

That’s when they hooked up with Dr. Eli Lewis, a diabetes expert at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Through research, Lewis had found a new use for a safe and thoroughly tested drug, Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT). The FDA-approved protease inhibitor had been used for years to treat lung conditions such as emphysema — but in 2006, Lewis began experimenting with it as a way to treat insulin-dependent diabetes in its very early stages.

And, said David, “My kids were first in Israel to get it.”

Unfortunately, the diabetes had progressed too far for the AAT treatments to help their son. But today, 31⁄2 years later, the Davids’ daughter is free of diabetes, David said.

David, who has been based in San Francisco since the summer of 2012, had a chance to thank Lewis in person last week when the doctor was at Stanford University to share his findings at a Diabetes Technology Society seminar.

There were hugs all around.

Dr. Eli Lewis in his lab in Israel photo/bgu-dani machlis

“There’s nothing more rewarding,” Lewis said of the meeting and knowing his work has helped the Davids. “He told me the family is getting back to normal life. [Andy] can sleep through the night now.”

That wasn’t the case when the couple faced the prospect of having two kids with diabetes. Their son had to endure constant injections, and every morsel he ate had to be monitored. Mistakes could trigger hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic reactions.

“He was really brave,” David said. “He responded well and accepted the fact that he needed this treatment. He hardly ever complained.”

The road has been smoother for the daughter, who still gets her insulin level tested occasionally, but for whom the multiple intravenous infusions worked. “We found more and more evidence to link the disease with Alpha-1,” Lewis said. “It’s a protective molecule. It protects tissues.”

Though Lewis has been doing research for seven years, and though U.S. clinical trials on AAT as a treatment for Type 1 diabetes began three years ago, the drug is not yet on the market as a treatment for diabetes. Moreover, Lewis stressed, it might not be right for every patient — especially in cases when the disease is not caught early enough.

But if approved, AAT could be revolutionary. Until now, maintenance via insulin has been the only option for patients. Soon, early detection could mean a cure.

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University has more information. Contact regional director Daphna Noily at or (415) 927-2119.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at