Hebrew U brain research center garners accolades, donations

Safra Foundation adds $30m to initial $20m funding of university’s Center for Brain Sciences

An illustration of an elderly brain. (photo credit: Aging image)
An illustration of an elderly brain. (photo credit: Aging image)

Five years ago, Hebrew University began to bring to life a vision set out by then president Shimon Peres – to turn Israel into a center of brain research. As a result, scientists at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) have been able to develop dozens of new technologies and techniques that scientists hope will eventually solve the quality of life issues that deterioration of the brain entails.

The center was established with $20 million funding from a foundation controlled by the family of the late banker – and it has been doing such a good job that the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation is presenting the center with an additional $30 million in funding, for a total of $50 million of the center’s $150 million initial budget.

The new donation follows a progress report by a group of international neuroscience experts that concluded that “ELSC has a strong base and great potential,” and cites some of the recent breakthroughs scientists from the center have developed.

Among those breakthroughs was the discovery of a Neuronal Positioning System” (NPS) that maps the circuitry of the brain, similar to how a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver triangulates one’s location on the planet. Neuronal circuits are composed of nervous system cells called neurons that work together to bring messages to other neurons and band together to accomplish specific tasks. The neurons, according to researchers, “triangulate” their location and destination in order to coordinate with other neurons.

According to Dr. Alex Binshtok, a professor at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine and at the Safra Center, the discovery “allows us to answer a ‘big question.’ The answers to these questions will be the first step to comprehending how the information flows and is processed in the nervous system, and how changes in the neuronal organization affect neuronal function. I believe many scientists will find the NPS approach useful to help them answer the question of how the brain works.”

Thanking the foundation for its assistance, Hebrew University President Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson said that “its leadership in making this historic initiative a reality will ensure that the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences benefits humanity for generations to come.”

According to Foundation chairwoman Lily Safra, “unlocking the mysteries of the brain depends on supporting the world’s best researchers in a premier setting that encourages effective collaboration. I am proud to be able to support such a noble cause, one that will improve the treatment and quality of life of so many patients suffering from illnesses of the brain.”

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