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Israel-USA collaborations making medical history at the Technion American Medical School

Medical researchers (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Medical researchers (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The Technion American Medical School (TEAMS) is now collaborating with top US universities such as the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, providing excellent opportunities for the transfer of medical knowledge, ‘TEAM-work’ and collaboration. Ties between the Technion in Haifa and the USA have never been stronger.

Nestled on the shores of the Mediterranean, the Technion has built a reputation for being Israel’s premier institute for science and technology and producing ground breaking research across the sciences and medicine. The Medical School is home to two Nobel Prize winners and has contributed to countless medical breakthroughs, from revolutionary pharmaceuticals to robotic-surgery techniques. Always on the cutting edge of science and highly regarded amongst the international academic community, the Technion has now also solidly established itself as a bridge between Israel and the USA.

Founded in 1969, the Technion American Medical School (TEAMS) offers American and Canadian students a chance to study in English at Israel’s most prestigious medical school and return to the States ready to begin their residency programs. In addition to producing top chiefs of departments, professors and specialists working across the USA, the Technion Medical School has begun two very successful collaborations with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan.

Millennium Project

Established at the turn of the century, the collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and the Technion has already proved fruitful in the fields of cancer, cardiology and tissue engineering research. Founded in 1876, Johns Hopkins University pioneered the concept of the modern, American, research University and is renowned as one of the top Universities for science and medicine in the world. The Technion, founded in 1912, is Israel’s oldest University and according to the book ‘Startup Nation’, produces graduates with the skills and education behind the creation and protection of the state of Israel. Combining these two heavyweights in the academic world was naturally a perfect match.

Keeping their fingers on the Pulse

For Prof. Ofer Binah, who is one of the key researchers participating in the collaboration, working with Johns Hopkins University has enabled a welcome transfer of both Universities’ specialist skills. The Technion is at the forefront of stem cell research, having developed the first human heart tissue in the laboratory and Johns Hopkins leads the way in the various technologies involved in extraction, monitoring and implantation of stem cells. Together the two Universities are working on a project involving stem cells and repairing cardiac damage following heart attack. Both Universities are working with the latest Nobel-prize winning research involving IPS stem cells (adult cells which are reprogramed and transformed to be used as stem cells). The team at Johns Hopkins induces a heart attack and extracts cells from the animal subject and the team at the Technion reprograms and develops the cells to be eventually re-implanted into the animal. The process is a long and complicated one but combining some of the world’s top scientists in the stem cell field has allowed a stem cell ‘dream team’ to be created.

University of Michigan and the Technion – partners in research

The collaboration between the Technion and the University of Michigan began in 2009 and again, the collaboration was a natural one since both Universities’ medical schools are highly research driven. Lead donator, D. Dan Kahn sought to unite the two world-class institutions in the fight against the world’s leading killer, cardiovascular disease and the University of Michigan was keen to get on board. “D. Dan Kahn recognizes that the discovery process requires brilliant minds working in collaboration,” said Dr. James Woolliscroft, Dean of the University of Michigan’s Medical school, at the inauguration. “In today’s world, those relationships are often with global partners and we look forward to the opportunity to work with Technion, a university with a tradition of excellence and focus on innovation.”

And so the relationship began. Supporting not only facilities in both the separate institutions, but also supporting joint research scholarships and now a successful annual symposium, the Kahns’ efforts to unite the two institutions has proved successful.

Combating cardiovascular disease

Recipients of the 2013 Collaborative Research Grant have already begun their new research programs. Two such recipients, Dr. Santhi Ganesh from the University of Michigan and Dr Peleg Hasson from the Technion, are working together to study interactions between two genes which, when they are over expressed, can have disastrous consequences including causing a vascular aneurysm (a bulging in the blood vessel wall).

Dr. Ganesh has been working with patients in the University of Michigan’s hospital, attempting to determine how genetic defects in the extracellular matrix (scaffolding between cells in the body) can cause certain cardiovascular conditions. Some patients lacked the observable characteristics of specific syndromes but their conditions were very similar to those seen in the mice, worked on by Dr. Hasson in Israel, who was studying the impact of the extracellular matrix on developing muscles. With their new collaboration, Dr. Ganesh will be sending human tissue samples from Michigan to the Technion and Dr. Hasson will be comparing these samples with the complex picture he is building through studying the interactions in mice. This collaboration aims to not only make headway in curing cardiovascular diseases but also be applicable to the many other diseases impacted by the extracellular matrix.

A new generation of International Doctors

The University of Michigan and the Technion run a successful ‘exchange’ program offering students from both Universities the chance to complete one of their elective placements at the other University. In addition to the exchange program, the Technion’s reputation is well-known amongst students of the University of Michigan with students, such as recent graduate Beth Ward, flying to Israel from Michigan to study medicine at the Technion American Medical School. “I chose the TEAMS program in Haifa, Israel, because of its unique, all-encompassing perspective in global health and human medicine.” With her background in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Michigan and with high academic standards, she was attracted by the strength of the research coming out of the Technion. Having never previously travelled outside America, Beth graduated this year and returned to the States waxing lyrical about Israel and the medical training that she received.

The strong connection between John Hopkins University and the Technion also has added benefits for medical students of both schools. Prof. Andrew Levy, having received his medical degree from JHU now directs the Technion American Medical School program and Dr. Lior Gepstein who is a key collaborator on cardiac research with JHU, directs the Physiology course for the TEAMS program. The results of the Technion-JHU collaboration directly impact students enriching their knowledge and also allowing them to benefit in participating in the research taking place in both countries. Fourth year TEAMS student Monty Mazer from Canada took part in the JHU-Technion clinical exchange program. He commented that “learning from some of the best clinical teachers in the world and experiencing a new way of clinical problem solving was an extremely beneficial addition to my already fantastic Technion experience”.

For American and Canadian students who come and study in Israel at the Technion American Medical School, experiencing Israeli research and medicine does not come at the expense of their exposure to American research and medicine. The Technion is constantly building on its growing international reputation as one of the leading producers of ground breaking medical research and collaborating with research institutions worldwide. The University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University are just two of a growing number of top Universities who are proud to join forces with the Technion and the Technion American Medical School.

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