Once again, an Israeli start-up is making waves, this time in the desert.
OkCoral farms coral in fish tanks, far from the sea. The goal: to produce bone
scaffolding from the coral for medical and dental use.
Six years ago, Assaf Shaham started the company, and has dedicated his life to
it since. In fact, he told CNN’s
Middle East Marketplace, he has not left his lab for more than 12 hours since he
“For me, it’s 100% learning as I go. I take the mother colony, and I cut off a
branch of the coral with a diamond saw. Then I glue it to another base made out
of cement,” said Shaham.
The water in which the coral grows must be kept perfectly balanced at all times,
or the coral will die. Part of that delicate balance is the fish which swim
among the coral. They eat the algae off the coral, and their waste and
movements help the coral grow.
It is expensive to run the coral farm. Shaham’s electric bills top $4,000 a
month, even with solar energy to offset the costs. However, the market is
lucrative. While a small vial of coral for medical use costs $5 to $10 to
produce, it sells for about $250.
Shaham works with CoreBone, another Israeli company, which produces bone
scaffolding from the coral. Using coral to grow bone replacements is not a new
idea, but “by harvesting the corals ourselves we could control the coral’s
quality,” CoreBone CEO Ohad Schwartz told NoCamels last year. Unlike
sea-harvested coral, farmed coral does not carry diseases that could contaminate
the product, and the human body does not reject coral implants the way it might
with human or animal replacements.
“On the one hand, a coral is perfect for growing bone. It is made of calcium,
which is a main component in human bones and is also as strong as human bone,
and on the other, it is porous, so blood vessels can grow inside it,” said
Another advantage of the farmed coral is its sustainability. “We have a constant
supply,” says Schwartz. “We don’t have to worry that in several years,
harvesting from the sea could be forbidden.”
CoreBone is still awaiting approval to enter the US and EU markets, but that is
expected to come through within the year. They plan to begin with dental
implants, as the field is less restrictive. Eventually, they hope to break into
the orthopedic market, where coral holds a $1 million dollar share of the $3.5