Dr. Oded Volovelsky is the head of the pediatric nephrology unit at Hadassah Medical Organization. He treats a diverse population of patients from different parts of Israel and his specialties include acute kidney injury, mineral bone disease and cystic kidney disease. He is also the principal investigator of developmental biology of the kidney research lab at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine.

A graduate of Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine where he also received his PhD in Philosophy and Biomedical Science, Dr. Volovelsky was a fellow of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. He’s received multiple awards including the Society of Pediatric Research Fellow Research Award, the most prestigious pediatric award for fellow's research in the US.

About the Episode

Something was bothering Dr. Oded Volovelsky, the head of the pediatric nephrology unit at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. He had seen study after study showing that children who have to undergo dialysis treatment perform poorer academically. He couldn’t understand the connection between a medical treatment and elementary school grades. And then it hit him.

Most hospitals in the world perform dialysis on weekday mornings, forcing school-aged kids to miss out on classes. For hospitals, it's simply easier to perform these medical procedures during work hours. But Volovelsky was never one to let conventional wisdom get in the way. With the help of his colleagues, Volovelsky opened a pediatric dialysis unit that would be open in the evenings — thereby ensuring his young patients would have the best opportunity to excel in their education.

Volovelsky, an alumnus of Hebrew University, has spent a career questioning presumed assumptions with the hopes of finding better care for his patients. He is one of just a handful of doctors worldwide who can perform acute dialysis on an infant. He has discovered a connection between Holocaust survivors and diseases that show up in their grandchildren. In his laboratory at Hadassah Hospital, he is now working on a life-saving alternative to finding kidney donors: creating new kidneys from a patient’s stem cells.

"A lot of people will ask, why do we need our physicians to also be scientists? They just need to take care of patients," Volovelsky said. "But I think this is what makes Hadassah so unique and special. I think that if you're a scientist, you should never accept stuff as guaranteed. You don't say this is the protocol for this disease, this is what I do, I just follow the protocol. You always try to find new ways of care and to find new types of disease and not just obey what is accepted in the world. And I like physicians that hesitate, that are not confident so much about the care, that always say, 'Maybe I can do it a bit different.' And I think that combination of physician and scientist, this is something that can change the world."

Dr. Volovelsky is also breaking down barriers between normally divided groups. He is training Palestinian doctors in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to become specialists in pediatric nephrology. "I want to educate a generation of future physicians to be better doctors, to be more scientific and to be more curious in what they do," he said. The doctors now join him on rounds at the hospital.

"There are such amazing friendships between nurses and doctors and patients from different cultures and different religions," he said. "And this is why I love Hadassah and I cannot imagine myself in a different institution."

Note: This episode was recorded before the onset of Covid-19's global pandemic. Since the recording of this interview Dr. Volovelsky has made tremendous strides in his research.