New PTSD treatment in Israel could help traumatized residents

The SGB procedure offered by Stella treats PTSD as a medical issue that isn’t purely psychological, utilizing anesthetic treatment in order to abate post-traumatic stress responses.

 Traumatic experiences like car crashes, violence and sexual assault are among the many possible causes of PTSD (Illustrative). (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Traumatic experiences like car crashes, violence and sexual assault are among the many possible causes of PTSD (Illustrative).
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

A new form of PTSD treatment is making its way throughout Israel which could change the way PTSD is managed and perceived by both those who suffer from it as well as those who treat it. 

The treatment, dubbed the “Stellate Ganglion Block,” was developed by Dr. Eugene Lipov and is offered by US-based medical provider Stella Center. The SGB method uses an anesthetic procedure in order to physically block the chemical brain signals associated with PTSD, preventing the emotional distress associated with the trauma. In doing so, SGB treats PTSD not as an exclusively psychological issue, but as an issue that can be approached with physical interventional pain medication. The procedure is performed under live ultrasound guidance to ensure precision and optimize success.

SGB treatment is now available in Israel as a private medical treatment as of January 2022, after nearly three years of application in the US and Australia. The procedure being private means that there is no subsidy offered by public healthcare providers — in order to mitigate this issue, in upcoming days the company intends to launch a very large collaboration with the Jerusalem-based nonprofit One Family in order to raise money to treat people free of charge or at a highly subsidized rate.

How can Israel benefit from SGB PTSD treatment?

Dr. Jason Cohen, an anesthesiologist and interventional pain management physician in Israel and Stella Israel’s chief medical officer, explained the benefit that SGB offers to the country.

“Israel, of all the countries in the world, is the most experienced in dealing with terrorist attacks,” he said, noting other common causes for PTSD such as natural disasters, serious motor vehicle accidents, war combat, sexual assault and childhood trauma. Despite so many causes and instances, however, “PTSD is very much under-reported and under-diagnosed here in Israel. There is so much that is not spoken about,” he said.

“PTSD is very much under-reported and under-diagnosed here in Israel. There is so much that is not spoken about.”

Dr. Jason Cohen
 Dr. Jason Cohen (foreground) and Dr. Eugene Lipov performing the Stellate Ganglion Block for PTSD. (credit: Tom Shaked) Dr. Jason Cohen (foreground) and Dr. Eugene Lipov performing the Stellate Ganglion Block for PTSD. (credit: Tom Shaked)

Stella Israel’s General Manager, Jason Blankfield, further explained that, while there are still many diagnosed PTSD patients in the country (and around the world) who are receiving some kind of treatment, there is still a gap in fully understanding the symptoms of PTSD. “There's definitely been an increase in the exposure of PTSD, but it's still not even close to getting an understanding of what the symptoms are. A lot of people call me and ask why their medication isn’t working, why they feel the way they do despite years of psychotherapy— what’s going on here? And now we can look at SGB as another viable solution.”

The Stellate Ganglion Block procedure, which Cohen has been performing over the past 15 years, has so far offered promising results.

“The data itself is compelling. And what really piqued my interest was applying a technique that I'm familiar with from within my specialty of interventional pain medicine, to the realm of PTSD, which, up until recently, was considered a purely psychological diagnosis,” Cohen said. 

Stella’s plan for 2023 includes opening another treatment clinic in Israel, with the goal of treating more than 100 patients over the course of the year. One of the treatment option’s primary hurdles to accessibility is its status as a private medical treatment; Blankfield has made his own efforts to raise funds for those unable to afford the procedure, the ultimate goal is to form partnerships with government bodies and organizations such as One Family in order to allow wider access to SGB treatment in Israel.

“Our goal is to make this available to every single person who can get through our pre-screening process,” said Blankfield. “We've so far done everything that we can, and we'll continue to improve to make the standard of care even higher than what it is today.”