December 28, 2012 Gifted Druse Students Get Head Start on Science

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President Peres presides over launch of Technion Sparks Program Photo: Mark Neiman/GPO
President Peres presides over launch of Technion Sparks Program Photo: Mark Neiman/GPO

December 28, 2012

Try as he might, Muhana Fares, the head of the Druse Education Department at the Ministry of Education, was unable to contain the grin of pride that radiated across his face on Thursday.

There was something contagious about it, as it was reflected in the faces of close to  300 other members of the Druse community who had come from the North to  Jerusalem for the launch at the President’s Residence of the Technion Sparks (Nitzanei  HaTechnion) program.

The project is the brainchild of the president’s military aide, Brig.-Gen. Hasson Hasson,  and is conducted under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Education Ministry, Haifa’s Technion- Israel Institute of Technology and Atidim, an organization that promotes education and encourages the pursuit of excellence. It currently enables 200 Druse high school students, who have obtained top grades at school and who have an orientation toward science and technology, to take special courses at the Technion where they are exposed to academia, and stretch the limits of their potential in any  scientific or technological field.

Hasson is the first Druse to serve as a military aide to a president of the state, though  his father-in-law Kamal Mansour has for more than four decades been the adviser on  minorities to a series of presidents from Zalman Shazar to Shimon Peres.

At the mention of Hasson’s name, the crowd beamed and applauded. Peres quipped that on military matters, Hasson is his subordinate, but on civilian matters he is Hasson’s subordinate, especially when it comes to education. “I’m a very  good educational aide-de-camp,” he said. Peres paid tribute to Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar who he said had succeeded in  achieving the impossible. No one in Israel seriously believed that anything could be  done to improve standards of education, said Peres, but Sa’ar had managed to  persuade the OECD to get Israel to commit itself to upgrading its education, and the  outcome has been remarkable.

Sa’ar said that there had been improvement across the board, but no sector of the  population had improved to the same extent as Druse students, who appeared to be  highly motivated. The project was directed not only at Druse, but at gifted students in all  peripheral communities, said Sa’ar, adding that the intention was to keep broadening its  scope. For instance in February, 160 seventh-graders will join the program.

Sheikh Muafek Tarif, the spiritual head of the Druse community, lauded both Peres and  Sa’ar as being men of great vision, as well as everyone else connected with bringing  the project to fruition and thereby opening new horizons for Druse students so that they  can attain higher education and enter into professions in which they can make a  worthwhile contribution to the state.

Within the Druse community, he said, there was consensus among religious and  secular factions that education must be given the top priority. He assured students that they would have the full-hearted backing of the community. Toward this end, an annual NIS 500,000 scholarship fund has been established to enable those students whose families cannot afford higher education. All that he asked of them in return was to maintain Druse traditions and values that primarily consist of helping the needy and bringing honor to the state. There have been Druse graduates from the Technion in the past, but not in great numbers.

The Druse have made a tremendous contribution to national security said Sa’ar, “but  only 13 percent of them have university degrees. We have to change this radically, and  it can be done over a relatively short period.” A Druse Technion alumnus, Yarin Hadad, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology and is studying for a master’s degree in genetics, presented a brief paper on the unique genetics of the Druse as compared with any other ethnic group. The Druse marry only  within the community, she said, and often marry blood relatives.

Samples taken from more than 300 people from 20 Druse villages indicated strong DNA  similarities, she said, adding that the social, historical and demographic structure of the  Druse was closely related to their religion. Six of the outstanding Druse high school students – Yaara Abu Rokan, Saadi Kaid Ba, Issam Kis, Bashar Isami, Nasiv Ayd and Fadhi Badar – shared their impressions of the project and talked about what it has given them. Abu Rokan said that she had learned  to understand herself better and to know what she wants to do in life. “As a result of the  Technion experience, we can all affect change,” she said.

Kaid Ba saw the program as a great breakthrough for the community. Kis, the son of a  Technion graduate in engineering, wants to be a pilot in the Israel Air Force and after  that in civil aviation.  Isami wants to be an electrical engineer. Ayd has hopes of becoming an astrophysicist,  and Badar wants to be engaged in scientific research.

Some of the youngsters have siblings who have also been aided by the Atidim program. Peres was particularly pleased to welcome Tarif, saying that his presence demonstrated that there was no conflict between religion and science.  He was also pleased to see the large number of females in the program and suggested  to parents of daughters to take note. Like Sa’ar, Peres commended the Druse contribution to national security and said that they excel in everything they do. They have proved themselves as excellent soldiers and farmers he said, and he had no doubt that they would also prove to be excellent scientists.

Peres gently chided Fares for several references to the wisdom of Solomon, who is as  much revered by the Druse as by the Jews, saying that the Druse had a much older  point of reference in that Jethro, one of their key prophets, “started the first faculty for  management, and his first student was Moses.”

December 24, 2012 Technion Researchers Discovered Embryonic Stem Cells that May be a Suitable Substitute for Human Eggs

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Cells in the fetal Amnion membrane, which make up part of the amniotic sac, and protects the fetus throughout the pregnancy period, may be a new source for human eggs
Cells in the fetal Amnion membrane, which make up part of the amniotic sac, and protects the fetus throughout the pregnancy period, may be a new source for human eggs

December 24, 2012

Cells in the fetal Amnion membrane, which make up part of the amniotic sac, and protects  the fetus throughout the pregnancy period, may be a new source for human eggs Technion researchers from the Bruce and Ruth Rappaport Faculty of Medicine found that cells in the fetal Amnion membrane may be a source of human eggs, according  to dissertation of doctoral student Ayelet Evron mentored by the Dean of the Faculty,  Professor Eliezer Shalev.

Amnion membranes constitute a part of the inner layer of the amniotic sac, which  protects the fetus throughout the pregnancy period. Typically, upon being ruptured  during the birth, directly after birth both the expelled placenta and membranes get  thrown out.

Amnion membrane cells develop at the very early stages of the life of the fetus (on the  eighth day after fertilization) and are known to maintain the plasticity of embryonic cells  prior to cellular differentiation. These cells have the potential of joining any one of the  cell groups that later develop into different tissues in the body. To date, the capability of  Amnion membrane cells to differentiate into germ cells with specific gene markers that  develop into human eggs, has never been documented.

The research work was undertaken in collaboration with Dr. Shlomit Goldman at the  research laboratory of Women’s Division of Gynecology and Obstetrics in the Emek  Medical Center (in Afula). It uncovered for the first time that when growing hamnion  membrane cells on growth medium also used in IVF (in vitro fertilization), these cells  display specific signs of gene expression like those of germ cells, which develop into  human eggs, at both the gene and protein levels, as well as in appearance (resembling  large round cells that resemble eggs). Later, the cells express markers that mimic the
characteristic of markers in human egg development, which enable division reduction  upon entry (division that is essential in human egg development), and remain in this  state.

Researchers still face a major challenge – for these cells to be used in substitute of  human eggs, they need to properly complete the reduction process upon entry. Only  after finding a solution to this problem it will be possible to check whether or not Amnion  membrane cells may be used as a new source for human eggs that would be suitable  for women who cannot produce them on their own.

December 24, 2012 The Technion and AMIT established a new company to commercialize stem cell technologies

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COMPATIBLE HUMAN stem cells can cure blood cancers Photo: (University of Louisville Medical School
COMPATIBLE HUMAN stem cells can cure blood cancers Photo: (University of Louisville Medical School

December 24, 2012

The Technion and AMIT (Alfred Mann Institute at the Technion) have established a new company for commercialization of stem cell technologies developed for over a decade at the stem cell research center headed by Professor Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor from the Bruce and Ruth Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. Professor Itskovitz-Eldor is a pioneer and a world leader in the field of stem cell research.

The company, Accellta, will market technologies that will enable commercial companies  and research laboratories to culture masses of homogenous stem cell lines in a fast and  cost-effective manner. The innovative technologies, developed by Professor Itskovitz-  Eldor and Dr. Michal Amit, a senior researcher at the stem cell research center, address  the need for employing genetic manipulation of the cells; although a highly desirable  procedure, the latter is currently associated with poor outcomes. The revolutionary  technologies introduced by Accellta enable to successfully manipulate the cells and
thus enhance the development of prospective stem cell-based therapies and disease  models. In the future the company will also focus on regenerative medicine solutions  and stem cell-based therapeutics for currently incurable diseases.

Professor Itskovitz-Eldor, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at  Rambam Health Care Campus and Director of the Stem Cell Center at the Technion,  is internationally recognized as one of the founders of the field of stem cell research. In  1998, in collaboration with Professor James Thomson from the University of Wisconsin,  he isolated the first human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), which is considered one  of the most important scientific breakthroughs in medical history. In the same year,  he established the first stem cell research laboratory in Israel, and currently holds the
largest number of scientific publications in the field of hESCs.

Since 1998, Professor Itskovitz-Eldor and Dr. Michal Amit have developed advanced  stem cell technologies, including xeno-free and defined growth media, cell culturing  scale-up methods, genetic manipulation techniques and protocols for induced  differentiation of the cells into desired cell types; All of which fundamental to screening  and testing of new therapeutic compounds. The Technion invested in a broad portfolio  of patents to protect these promising inventions.

Accellta will operate in the global stem cell market, estimated at 2 billion dollars and  double-digit annual growth. The market comprises mostly of products and services  for stem cell research and development, as most stem cell technologies are still in  development and have not yet been authorized for clinical use in humans. The stem cell  market is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, once treatments currently under  clinical evaluation receive approval from health authorities.

The Alfred Mann Institute at the Technion – AMIT, has been operating since 2006 to  accelerate the development and commercialization of selected biomedical technologies  invented by Technion scientists. The institute was founded by the initiative of American  billionaire, Dr. Alfred Mann, who funds its activities and serves as Chairman of the  Board of Directors. In addition to Accellta, AMIT also manages four other ventures,  three of which have become start-up companies. According to Professor Itskovitz-Eldor, “The Company’s activities will facilitate the adoption by industrial and clinical entities of some of the world’s most innovative and advanced technologies for culturing pluripotent stem cells (both embryonic and

induced). These unique cells have the ability to generate any cell type of the human  body. Our novel methods can also be used as a platform for the production of proteins  and antibodies as well as for screening of novel therapeutics across a wide range of  diseases. Accellta has already started establishing collaborations with a number of  international companies.”

November 27, 2012 Iron Dome: Technion Brainpower Keeping Israel Safe

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Iron Dome interceptor missiles
Iron Dome interceptor missiles

ATS – November 27, 2012 – By Kevin Hattori

As the recent conflict in Israel and Gaza escalated, more and more news reports  included mentions of “Iron Dome,” the defensive anti-missile system that saved  countless lives on both sides. Developed largely by a team of Technion-Israel Institute  of Technology graduates employed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the system  intercepted and destroyed more than 420 missiles headed toward Israel, with a success  rate of 90 percent.

Such a system was first conceived of in 2004, when the Israel Ministry of Defense  issued a call for proposals for a system to intercept short-range rockets. A team of  experts in the Ministry’s R&D Agency (MAFAT) assessed a total of 24 proposals, and  Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ Iron Dome, capable of operating in all weather  conditions, was selected as the most suitable.

Technion graduates made up a large majority of the Iron Dome development team,  which should come as little surprise since 80 percent of the engineers at Rafael are  Technion alumni.   The system was developed in a 30-month time frame, and at a cost  of just 1/8 that of the system that preceded it.

“We couldn’t have done it without Technion graduates,” said Rafael CEO Yedidya Ya’ari  in a 2010 interview.

Iron Dome works by identifying aerial threats (mainly rockets) and eliminating them  autonomously (i.e. without outside controls).   It then uses a sensor to locate the threat,  and a command and control center to analyze the rocket’s trajectory and its damage  potential.   If that center determines that a missile has damage potential, an interceptor  missile is fired to eliminate that threat.   If the missile is determined to NOT have  potential for damage, it is ignored.

Iron Dome can detect and intercept rockets and artillery shells headed for population  centers within a 43.4-mile (70 kilometer) range, with a success rate between 80 and 90  percent.   This is especially amazing when considering that the incoming missiles are  often comprised of makeshift components, giving them “wobbly” trajectories.

One engineer who played a key role in the Iron Dome’s development likened these  incoming missiles as “…coke bottle(s) flying several times faster than the speed of  sound on an irregular course. Intercepting (them) seems far fetched.”

January 20, 2012 Technion’s Contribution to Israeli Economy Lauded

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news_id127Canadian Jewish News
Sheri Shefa, Staff Reporter, Thursday, January 26, 2012

TORONTO  Technion professor emeritus Shlomo Maital was in Toronto last week to share inspirational success stories about Israel’s technology institute.

The Canadian Technion Society (CTS), which raises funds and awareness for Haifa’s Technion Israel Institute of Technology, organized a dinner in honour of the new Generation Next project, an initiative to attract the 25-to-45 crowd to become involved with the organization.

The event, held at Dr. Laffa restaurant in North York and led by CTS national development director Hershel Recht, Generation Next chair Jack Bensimon, and CTS president Eddie Pal, brought together about 25 young professionals who represent the future of the organization.

Technion’s Maital, an author, researcher and educator who also taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for 20 years, began his lecture by referencing a study that documented MIT’s contribution to the U.S. economy.

It showed that 26,000 businesses were started by MIT grads and if you put their GDP, their product, their value together, it would be an economy that would be the 11th largest in the world. I wondered about the Technion,  said Maital, who has served in Israel’s economic ministry and is about to release a book he co-authored with Technion professor Amnon Frenkel called Technion Nation: Technion’s Contribution to Israel and to Humanity.

He said that it cost about $1 billion to educate the 2010 undergraduate class, but their contribution to Israel’s economy is expected to be an estimated $1.76 billion to nearly $3 billion a year.

However, Maital stressed, the success of Technion graduates shouldn’t be documented using statistics, facts and figures alone.

The book, scheduled for release in June, will also present stories about the contributions Technion graduates have made to Israeli society and the rest of the world.

Maital referred to 2004 Nobel Prize winners and Technion professors Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, who, along with American scientist Irwin Rose, discovered ubiquitin, a protein that causes cells to turn off and die.

Everyone in biology was studying how cells live and divide. Hershko thought it would be great to study how cells died,  Maital said.

Everyone told him, That’s a graveyard for your career. Nobody cares how and why cells die. It turns out when cells don’t die, they become something called cancer. 

Maital said that based on these findings, a pharmaceutical company developed a drug that kills cells before they can develop into cancer cells.
Maital added that one of Hershk’s friends has benefited from his scientific work. When his friend was diagnosed with stage-three myeloma, a bone marrow cancer that gave him about five years to live the drug that was produced based on Hershko’s discovery worked to slow down the development of the cancer, adding years to his life.

Another inspirational story Maital shared highlighted the work of Technion electrical engineering graduate Amit Goffer, who was involved in an accident that left him unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair.

Instead of being resigned to his fate as a quadriplegic, He asked, How can you take people who cannot move their legs and put them on their feet and enable them to walk? That’s a question with a lot of chutzpah, even to ask the question,  Maital said.

Goffer designed a prototype he called an exoskeleton, a mechanical device that a person wears on his legs.

When a person leans forward, the computer senses that and moves the leg, and then the other leg.

The technology is called ReWalk, and it enables people with lower-limb disabilities to stand, walk, and even climb stairs.

The device is being used now in veterans hospitals in the U.S. to help soldiers who’ve been wounded and crippled by war to walk. And you can imagine what that feels like for a 21-year-old ex-marine who is in a wheelchair, to be able to stand up and walk,  he said.

Maital, who said he was asked to keep his talk brief, stopped himself from sharing many more awe-inspiring stories that showcase Technion’s positive contribution to the world. But he encouraged the gathering to learn more about the technology institute and help the next generation of Technion students turn their ideas into something tangible.

The thing about the Technion is that the scientists who have made these discoveries, mostly are not satisfied with writing academic papers. They like to implement their ideas. 

January 14, 2012 Technion Engineer and Co-founder of Israel’s National Hockey Team: We Need Engineers with a Social Conscience

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news_id126Reported in the Winnipeg Jewish Review

by Rhonda Spivak, posted January 14, 2011

Next time Mark Telesnick, who is an engaging speaker comes to speak in Winnipeg, we need to make sure we get him to bring his skates, and buy him a ticket to a Jets game.

The 51 year old Talesnick isn’t only a world class engineer who established a chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Born in Toronto but raised in Kingston, Ontario Talesnick decided to make aliyah in 1982, Talesnick co- founded Israel’s national ice hockey team.

I lost to Wayne Gretsky  Talesnick told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, when he played in Kingston, noting that the team he assembled for Israel was made up of a lot of ex-pat Canadians and a few sabras too. In Israel, the team trained at Canada Centre in Metulla on the border with Lebanon, the only ice rink in the country.

Talesnick said he hasn’t been playing hockey  for a while now, although he probably still has some gear. [the Israeli team he co-founded got killed in its first game, against Spain, losing 23-4. The Israelis then beat the Turks and the Greeks in the next games, making them feel just a little like the ancient Maccabees.]

While Talesnick isn’t focusing anymore on building team spirit in hockey, he is infusing his students with a social conscience and an innovative spirit to enable them to handle global challenges of improving the quality of life of disadvantaged populations throughout the world.

As Talesnick explained when in Winnipeg in November 2011, bringing engineering solutions which enable people to improve their lives and are also designed in a way that the community itself can maintain the infrastructure is what is needed to effect major change,  which can often be done with a relatively small budget. 

As Telesnick said, It’s not enough to teach our students how to to crunch numbers We need to be training our graduate engineers as leaders in society. 

According to Talesnick, university engineering courses,  are currently designed to meet only the needs of 10 percent of the world’s population  living in technologically advanced countries, but not the other 90 percent of the world  where such basics as clean water, and sustainable energy are lacking.

Engineers need to be thinking of solutions to address these problems,  Talesnick said, noting that many engineers lacked hands-on experience and know-how. 

Talesnick spoke of how the Technion EWB team of some 25 Israeli and American students applied their know-how to help the Bedouin village of Kochle in the Negev, whose single generator provided a limited unstable supply of energy.

Talesnick heard from a Bedouin whose brother was sick in a hospital and could not be released home unless his medications were refrigerated round the clock.

The village did not have proper refrigeration,  said Talesnick, who explained how his students came up with a practical solution, a small cooler connected to a battery charged through solar panels. 

Telesnick spoke of his team’s remarkable work in a rural village in Nepal of about 1000 people, landlocked between India and China where there is no access to gas or kerosene. Old-growth forests are being cut down by the villagers as wood serves as the main energy source for cooking and heating.

Children spend several hours a day carrying wood,  noted Talesnick, instead of being able to be in school or doing other productive activity.

Women do the cooking by standing over wood stoves in huts  with little or no ventilation and end up with respiratory problems. The community’s water from the nearby river, is polluted with human and animal manure and as a result Diarrhea is widespread. 

The solution Talesnick’s Technion team came up with to solve these problems was a bio reactor. It was constructed in an earth pit about 4.5 feet deep and 8 feet across, and topped by a concrete dome.

As Telesnick outlined, when a reactor is finished, animal and human waste and food compost can be fed through an inlet into the digester compartment. There bacteria transform this waste into clean methane gas.

Although bio reactors were already widespread in Nepal and India, most were built by child labor and in a labor intensive and often dangerous lengthy process.

Talesnick’s team designed an igloo-like aluminum framework, which can be easily assembled, dismantled and reused. Twelve composite surfboard-shaped slices made from a laminate of styrofoam and fibreglass were assembled on the aluminum igloo- like frame to provide the template on which concrete was cast

That styrofoam has now been replaced by locally grown bamboo,  Talesnick said, which means that the villagers will be able to construct and maintain these bio-reactors on their own, even after his team left Nepal.

Each bio-reactor supplies a family with five hours of odor-free cooking gas a day,  said Talesnick. So far, 60 have been built.

It’s a win-win situation all around,  Talesnick emphasized.

The villagers get gas for cooking and heating, and the residue is used as concentrated fertilizer for organic farming. Fewer trees will be cut down for fuel, and the rivers aren’t pollutes with manure. This has drastically cutting down on widespread diarrhea.

Moreover, as Telsnick emphasized the cost of building one reactor comes to about $440. (not including travel expenses of the team)

A major purpose of the program is to teach professional and future engineers that beyond technology they must consider the social, economic and health problems of non-Western societies,  Talesnick added.

He spoke of a project in Mauritania in Africa where a well-intentioned engineering team installed pipes to carry water to individual homes. However, within a week, local women sabotaged the system by cutting the pipes.

The women enjoyed gathering at the village’s water pump. This was the only time they got a chance to go out, Talesnick said, in explaining their motivation to sabotage the new system.

In July, 2010,Talesnick introduced an accredited summer program for international and Israeli students at the Technion, on Engineering for Developing Communities.  Students assess the needs within the community, and after conducting laboratory work, implement their projects.

Talesnick noted that other universities around the world are showing interest in introducing similar programs in their engineering faculties.

Talesnick, who spoke before University of Manitoba engineering students said that in the future he hoped to meet with Manitoba Minister of Water stewardship and Manitoba’s special representative to Israel for economic and community relations Mel Lazareck.

The Canadian Technion Society provides support to the Haifa-based Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which is ranked among the world’s leading science and technology universities.

Hershel Recht, National Development Director, noted that Five of Israel’s ten Nobel Prize winners have been Technion graduates.

January 12, 2012 Technion, Cornell to Form New School

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news_id125Story published in the CJN January 12, 2012

Abigail Klein Leichman

JERUSALEM  The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa will team with Cornell University to establish NYCTech, a new school of applied engineering in New York.

The proposal from the two schools was chosen by New York from submissions made by seven competing international institutions.

The campus for 2,000 students will be built on New York City’s Roosevelt Island using $100 million in municipal funds and $350 million from Charles F. Feeny of Duty Free Shoppers that will pay for the first phase of the building project. The goal is to turn the Big Apple into the next Silicon Valley by leveraging the expertise and reputation of both schools. The Technion, often referred to as the MIT of Israel, is known worldwide for its engineering innovations and technology transfer successes. Its faculty includes three Nobel laureates.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the selection of the winning proposal at a press conference Dec. 19 at the Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan. Technion president Peretz Lavie, who flew to New York for the event, stated that NYCTech is not meant be a branch of either school, but an entirely new and different sort of institution.
I stand before you with great excitement and pride,  Lavie said. I just returned from Stockholm, where our Prof. Dan Shechtman was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. My excitement today is no less than my excitement was there.

He added that the Technion is in the midst of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the laying of its cornerstone, which was made possible by the support of New York philanthropist Jacob Schiff.

Today I feel that we are closing a 100-year circle, a circle of a partnership between New York and Haifa,  Lavie said.

Bloomberg described the project as transformative.

Of all the applications we received, Cornell and Technion’s was the boldest and most ambitious,  he said

Cornell president David Skorton said NYCTech is expected to fuel the city’s growing tech sector  by generating jobs, startup companies and commercialized inventions.
The school is expected to open for the 2012-2013 academic year in temporary quarters while construction of the 2.1 million-square-foot, environmentally friendly campus gets underway. It is expected to include classrooms, science laboratories, a conference centre, housing and other facilities powered, at least in part, by solar energy and geothermal wells.

Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni called the new partnership more than just a collaboration between organizations, but rather an alliance of leading young minds.

From left, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology president Peretz Lavie, president of New York City Economic Development Corporation Seth Pinksy and Cornell University president David Skorton shake on the deal to establish a new applied engineering school in New York. [Photo courtesy of the Technion]