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.”