Fruit of discovery
Prof. Dekel’s fertility research made lives whole
People behind the science
Some research changes lives; some research makes lives. Such is the case for the Kaman family of Toronto, who had an emotional meeting with the scientist and clinician whose fertility research led to a much-desired pregnancy - and the birth of their daughter Hannah in 2008.
In the late 1990s, Prof. Nava Dekel of the Department of Biological Regulation and clinicians at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot made a serendipitous discovery that inflicting a slight injury to the lining of the uterus before women undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) dramatically increases the chances of a successful pregnancy. Since then, Prof. Dekel’s studies at the Weizmann Institute unveiled the mechanism of this beneficiary intervention and hundreds of fertility clinics worldwide have changed their IVF protocol accordingly. The result has been higher pregnancy success rates - and lots of babies who might otherwise not have been born.
Roslyn and Howard Kaman of Toronto credit the procedure with their first successful pregnancy after nine years of trying and four years of endless fertility treatments. In April, the family of three came to the Weizmann Institute to meet Prof. Dekel in person for the first time, as well as Dr. Irit Granot of Kaplan who was Prof. Dekel’s main partner in the discovery.
It was an emotional meeting for all. “Nava and Irit, and their research, totally changed our lives - they brought us Hannah,” says Roslyn Kaman. Even Hannah, age 6 and in first grade, articulately described how she was born. “It was because of the scratch,” she explains, using the now-colloquial reference used by practitioners and patients alike for the uterine biopsy.
Prof. Dekel says seeing Hannah and her parents was “very special” and she recalls being deeply moved after receiving an e-mail from the Kamans with Hannah’s picture days after her birth. “Seeing Hannah’s picture was more meaningful to me than having a paper published in the best journal,” she says.
Before her pregnancy with Hannah, Roslyn Kaman had experienced the gamut of fertility failures: miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, 11 artificial inseminations and three IVF treatments. The couple had all but given up and were considering adoption when Howard read about a lecture by Prof. Dekel hosted by Weizmann Canada. She described her research study that had enabled numerous Israeli women with fertility problems to conceive and carry viable pregnancies.
Prof. Dekel’s original discovery arose when she began studying a protein that plays a role in implanting embryos in the uterus. In collaboration with physicians at Kaplan, she performed an endometrial biopsy (a procedure in which a small sample is taken from the lining of the uterus) on 12 women who had failed to conceive after numerous IVF treatments. To the surprise of the team of researchers, 11 of the women conceived during their next IVF treatment. The team repeated the results in a larger-scale study, and published their groundbreaking results in 2003. The results: those women who had undergone a uterine biopsy before IVF had almost twice the success rate of pregnancies and births compared to a control group.
“We have been looking forward to this day - coming to the Weizmann Institute and meeting the scientist and clinician who helped give us Hannah - for a long time,” says Howard Kaman.
Prof. Nava Dekel is supported by the Richard F. Goodman Yale/Weizmann Exchange Program, the Rising Tide Foundation, the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Biology Endowment, Andrew Adelson of Canada, and the estate of John Hunter.
She is the incumbent of the Philip M. Klutznick Professorial Chair of Developmental Biology.
L to R: Dr. Irit Granot, Roslyn, Hannah, and Howard Kaman, Prof. Nava Dekel