Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A meeting of minds on matter, and spirit - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

A meeting of minds on matter, and spirit - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Nobel laureate Aaron Ciechanover and author Meir Shalev share thought-provoking insights about Israeli society, the direction in which it is heading, and influence.

By Guy Rolnik and Oren Majar

Aaron Ciechanover - Nobel Foundation - July 2011
Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, left, accepts his share of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Stockholm, 2004.
Photo by: Nobel Foundation

They come from different worlds. They disagree on many things, but share the sense that things used to be better. They prefer not to discuss matters they don't understand, but can't resist sharing some thought-provoking insights about Israeli society and the direction in which it is heading. Nobel laureate in chemistry Aaron Ciechanover, author Meir Shalev, and Guy Rolnik, economics editor and deputy publisher of Haaretz, met at the 3rd Israeli Science Communication Conference, held at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem last Thursday, to talk about spirit and matter, and things in between.

Guy Rolnik: When spending most of one's time dealing with the travails of the world, with reality in some form or other, is it natural to assume that the topics dealt with are more of matter and less of spirit, such as science, literature and art?

Prof. Aaron Ciechanover: "On the contrary. People today want to know more. They want to understand what ails them, what treatment they could get. There is no doubt that science today commands a bigger share of the public debate than 20 years ago. The media has advanced and people take much more interest. I'm not sure they're interested in science per se, in the scientific question. What is science, anyway? What does it study? How do you answer a scientific question? How do you answer a question that hasn't been solved yet? How do you know that the question hasn't been solved? So perhaps the proportional share is small, but total interest by people and the means at their disposal, by pressing a key on the keyboard, has grown."

Author Meir Shalev is more dubious about broad public interest in lofty subjects. "Once, for a book I was writing about the story of the death of poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, I checked. He died during Sukkoth 1943, at the San Simone Monastery in Jerusalem, where he was on holiday with his wife. The yeshuv leaders made every effort to conceal that he had died at a monastery, even though he was just there on a week's vacation. They spirited his body away to Hadassah Mount Scopus, and only then announced his death. That was the top story in the paper - 'Tchernichovsky is dead'. When Bialik died, it was the top story of the first page of the newspaper."

Today he wouldn't even make the front page if he came back from the dead.

Shalev: "I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but I remember that when Ofra Haza, of blessed memory, died, Yedioth Ahronoth, the paper where I work, published the article - as Haaretz and Davar had done for Tchernichovsky and Bialik - on the front page. I delicately asked my editor, 'Okay, it definitely is a story for the front page, but why the whole page?' And he replied, 'Because I have to pay your salary' - which, by the way, isn't anything to write home about.

"I remember that when I was a child, we would go, my parents and I, to visit my grandmother, who lived in a workers' dormitory in Rehavia. We'd walk the streets and my father would go along reciting the names of the professors who live along the street, and what each does. Sometimes we'd go visit one of them. Prof. Gedaliah Elkoshi, for instance, had a huge library. We'd go in to see his library. The expression "your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them" [Isaiah 30:20, commonly if not always interpreted as to view teachers as actual people] - not only see them, but from a particular angle - was very strong in society at the time. Today, other than all kinds of celebrities and rich people, there are no elites to whom we can raise our eyes. Everybody knows there are professors and we're all enormously proud that Prof. Ciechanover and Prof. Ada Yonat won important awards. But in the eyes of society, academia isn't considered an elite, and there is no other elite. Actually, the public isn't interested in elites, and the politicians don't want there to be elites."

Ciechanover: "I think we're in a process of 'off with his head' - anybody who may turn out to be a leader is deliberately rejected. I see it in the departments of my own small world, the world of medicine. In the past, there were medical giants, like Prof. Moshe Rachmilevich and Haim Sheba, of blessed memory. In the future, there will be no conferences in the memory of anybody I know today in the world of medicine. These are the last conferences in the memory of great doctors - there is no Rachmilevich any more, no Sheba. Some won respect because of their great experience, and they served the leadership, and also because of their great knowledge. Today, everybody knows everything. Every child starting an internship in a department orders tests - MRI, CT and so on. He knows everything. We don't need to teach him.

It seems 'off with his head' is everywhere we look, including in the United States. Maybe it has to do with the difference between a mountain and a man: The closer you get to a man, the less tall he appears to you. The accessible, invasive media everywhere has brought the public's leaders very close. The absolute accessibility gnaws at their images. It has become hard to create leadership of the old school, whether political or intellectual.

Ciechanover: "But the fact is that leadership is being created here - leadership of tycoons, of admiring some other thing. The public does seek [leadership] in other places. In my opinion, in the wrong places, but it does seek."

Shalev: "One of the more regrettable things in Israeli society, certainly in the last 20-30 years, is that it deliberately lets go of Jewish world views hundreds and thousands of years old, that indicate a society is Jewish, in exile or in Israel. Judaism always valued the teacher and the pupil, raising them on high. I think we needed to replace that with the teacher, the pupil and the researcher of today, and to decide that this society has priorities led by education, research, knowledge and teaching. In my opinion, Israeli society and leaders don't want that perception."

Society and/or leadership? Or are they the same thing?

Shalev: "I believe they feed one another and embellish one another. I mean it works for both. Investment in education is investment for the long-term. There is no immediate gratification. For instance, look at the quick-fix culture of politics, solutions from one day to the next. We'll import cottage cheese. Problem solved."

I wondered when cottage cheese would come up. I didn't think it would be that fast and that you, Meir, would bring up the topic.

Shalev: "I'm not raising the issue of the cottage cheese. I'm using it to illustrate the behavior of the finance minister and now I'm returning to education. These things existed in Israeli society even before the establishment of the state, and in the first years of the state's existence. But then the teacher and the pupil, the researcher and the schools were at the forefront of society's priorities. That isn't so today."

Is there some point in time when it could be said that this began?

Shalev: "I don't want to get into a political argument, but it certainly belongs to the Six-Day War, to its outcome and to what happened afterwards."

Ciechanover: "The Six-Day War and the substitution of spirit with might definitely contributed to it, as did control over the territories. The results are disastrous on a colossal scale, in my view - corruption of values, of the army, of military values."

They will die rich

Have we moved from spirit to might, then naturally proceeded from strength to wealth?

Shalev: "I read about this culture in the paper. I don't have any really rich friends. I had a friend like that in the United States, a Haredi Jew. He was a very rich diamond merchant but he was very different from the money culture of Israel. We were good friends. He really did donate vast sums of money, mainly to medical research and helping to ease the final days of children with cancer. I can't say, since I'm not near that society, but when I read about the wedding of Yitzhak Tshuva's son, that cost NIS 7 million, about how they steamrolled over public space and how the nation's leaders including the president crawled to that wedding, I was astonished."

The finance minister was also there and the prime minister prepared a tape in honor of the nuptials.

Shalev: "That's part of the corruption of values and of perception. The man committed no crime. He simply did something tasteless and I think that both society and the law authorities should have treated the event differently."

Ciechanover: "I, in my sinfulness, am closer to the world of money because I raise funds for my university."

Were you at the wedding?

Ciechanover: "No, no, no. Far from it."

And if you were told that was the way to raise funds?

Ciechanover: "No, no, really no. I don't go to such places. But I think that money - when legitimately made - is a very legitimate tool. The problem lies in how it is used, and there are people who could teach us how to use it. Take Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for example. Gates tells the children, 'Take your small share,' and put all his money - $40 billion - into a fund to help the third world. Buffett, who also evidently wearied of 'Gimme' phone calls, contributed another $40 billion, and together they formed a joint foundation on which interest alone is $4 billion a year. They undertook to donate 5% of the fund to charity each year.

"When you think about that money, which in this case is donated to medical research in the third world, a completely neglected area, you ask yourself - without getting into names in the State of Israel - what a person does with $7 billion. Buy another boat? Another jet? Seven more houses? That still leaves $6.9 billion. What to do with that? I think I could advise them what to do with it. They could build all the hospitals in Israel, all the universities, they could solve the problem of poverty, promote education, do wonderful things."

Shalev: "All that money couldn't build an emergency room at Barzilai Medical Center." [Construction there halted after the discovery of ancient graves, of uncertain origin.]

Fleeing Absalom

I believe it was Honoré de Balzac who said behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Do you identify with that?

Shalev: "Behind every great fortune can also lie great talent, not necessarily a great crime. The Bible relates to wealth in different ways. On the one hand, it mocks wealth - this was probably written by a non-wealthy person: 'The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.' [Ecclesiastes 5:12]. Meaning, that full belly and perhaps heart coated in fat make it hard to fall asleep.

"On the other hand, you see a person like Barzilai the Gileadite who hosted the entire army of King David as he fled from Absalom, and made sure the king could establish himself and return to the kingship. Later, when David suggested he visit the palace in Jerusalem, he politely refused and, even abasing himself, said he was too old to enjoy the pleasures of the palace. 'Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women?' You see a rich man, with culture and a broad view of life, who wants no ties between wealth and government because he would get nothing from it."

In my experience, much of the money in Israel builds up because of those ties between wealth and government. Even when it comes to Bill Gates and Microsoft, we must remember it's a monopoly that made sure it killed anything in its path.

Ciechanover: "Or bought it."

We have agreed that the debate has changed. The tycoons and money are at the center, instead of high culture and science. What does this change portend for our society as a democracy, and for the quality of our lives?

Shalev: "It means this is a society with no long-term goals, and whoever manages to grab and eat in the short run - the ones with the whippiest necks and most efficient jaw grip - is the one who gets the food. I, on the other hand, believe a society needs - I use an unoriginal word - vision. That simply means far-sightedness, in my opinion. Political leaders have no long-term vision in any sphere.

"We never hear a leader say he sees Israel in 30, 40 or 50 years, or as a light unto the nations in science, research, creativity and so on. It is convenient for society to follow a visionless leader. People like leaders who are like them. After the Carmel fire, we saw that even firefighting here operates by the method of putting out fires. There had been no long-term planning."

Ciechanover: "When I complain about the education system, they say, 'Look at GDP, look at high-tech. Where did it come from? What are you complaining about?' The Carmel fire and the lack of vision reflect an eggshell-thin culture. Tomorrow morning, when disaster strikes, you will find the hospitals have no beds, no protection from munitions, no X-ray technicians, no scanners, nothing. Everything's skin of the teeth. The State of Israel has not one machine for MRI testing of the breast, though it's standard in every developed nation today. We still use mammograms and 18th century technology because the Treasury clerks are afraid that every new technology will spur the system and waste a fortune. We're right at the edge and it's all because there's no long-term thinking.

"We are talking about profound cultural change - the disappearance of departments for the study of Jewish sciences, musicology and history indicate that the disaster is seeping deep down. The Hebrew University says to itself, 'Why should I appoint teachers to history when there are no students?' So we stop studying Jewish history and saw off the branch on which we sit. Why are we here in Israel at all if we aren't studying our own history? We sanctify stones and clumps of earth though we don't understand why people clung to this place for thousands of years."

Shalev: "When Prof. Yonat came back with her Nobel award and was asked in an interview where her habit of studying began, she said in fourth grade she had a Bible teacher named Yitzhak Shalev - my late father, I can say with pride - who taught her Bible in a way that made her love studying itself, engaging in learning, her attitude to the teacher, to text and to the study material.

"She named my father and the principal of the New High School in Tel Aviv, neither people of chemistry [for which Yonat received her Nobel], as the ones who led her to success in science. When Albert Camus received his Nobel award for literature [in 1957], he wrote a touching letter to his primary school teacher in Algiers, that if not for him and his warm hand stretched out to his impoverished student, he wouldn't be there."

Ciechanover: "When is the last time we heard a prime minister say one word on this topic? Sometimes words will suffice, money isn't even needed. I think it was the prime minister's duty to set up a grand department for the history of the Jewish people, Bible studies and halakha at the Hebrew University, irrespective of how many students it has or hasn't, just to preserve the torch. If he'd also talk about it and say it matters to him, I'm sure students would go there, because people follow their leaders."

Should scientists and authors and intellectuals be taken out of hiding? How can it be done?

Shalev: "That depends on each one's feelings. Some people and authors make hardly any political statements. Some do so moderately. I assume that if I didn't write a column for the paper, I'd hardly be heard discussing politics. I visited Spain recently in honor of the publication of my book and when interviewed there by the press, I was warned that in Spain, Israel isn't much liked."

Have you visited anywhere and not heard that warning?

Shalev: "In Belgium, a reporter asked if in my last book, 'My Russian Grandmother and her American Vacuum-Cleaner' - a family memoir - the Zionist pioneer with a vacuum cleaner was a metaphor for ethnic cleansing of Israeli Arabs. Do you understand what I have to deal with?"

What did you say?

Shalev: "I told the reporter that if anything, he was weakening the power of the problem because he forgot to note that the vacuum was American. Meaning, it was a broader imperialist plot. Two reporters who interviewed me in Spain this time said, each at a different point, finally an author from Israel who doesn't talk about politics. Meaning, it isn't just that the Spanish calf wants to suckle: the Hebrew heifer is happy to talk about politics, to market politics. It's a tendency. I prefer to keep literature and politics separate. There are issues in which I definitely am prominently involved, such as the battle to release Gilad Shalit. But it's a personal decision of every intellectual or author, how far they want to be involved, because my basic job, that of any writer, is to write stories."

Me, influential?

You say that if you didn't write for a highly popular paper, maybe you wouldn't be heard. What is your influence over the public debate?

Shalev: "I have been writing my column in Yedioth Ahronoth for 20 years. Before that, I wrote for Haaretz for two years. I can say I influenced matters twice. Some 10 or 12 years ago, I wrote that Yagur Creek was awash with garbage - empty bottles, used wet wipes and all sorts of junk, and that I knew it was because of youth movements taking trips there. Yossi Sarid, then the environment minister, made the same youth movements go back and clean up the stream.

"The second time was when Amnon Rubinstein was minister of education. I criticized the grammar matriculation test, where children were given 10 verbs to analyze, all of which were exceptions to the rule - and I'm one of maybe 30 or 40 people in Israel who know how to vowelize without mistakes. The verb שרוויי appears in Rachel the Poetess' poems exactly once. That was no reason to drop it and verbs of its ilk on pupils and doom them. Rubinstein added seven or eight to each test grade, upgrading tens of thousands of pupils from Fail to Pass. For six months, my wife had to deal with 17-year old girls hugging and kissing me on the street."

So you cleaned a creek and vowelized verbs.

Shalev: "I don't think that anybody in Israel, including more politically active authors than myself, can claim to have had greater influence."

Aaron, are you more optimistic about your influence?

Ciechanover: "Mine doesn't even come close to Meir's. I made a decision in principle not to touch politics and I adhere to it. Even though my heart is on the left of my chest, and the left of the political map, I have never said it. First of all, maybe I'm wrong and maybe I'm an escapist. Secondly, because I discovered a system that degrades proteins 25 years ago, should I understand politics and Beethoven and cantorship and unilateral evacuations and bilateral evacuations and all that?"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Israeli device cuts risk during heart surgery - July 2011

When you hear of life-saving innovation from Israel, it is often a Technion alum at the helm of ingenuity and application. Read how Yuval Shezifi, D.Sc. (Chief Technology Officer at SMT Med) is part of the Israeli team introducing the means to reduce the risk of stroke during heart surgery.

Israeli device cuts risk during heart surgery - July 2011

18 Jul 2011

A promising cardiac procedure carries the risk of stroke, but an Israeli invention has it covered. The device designed by Dr. Dov Shimon prevents calcified pieces of artery from migrating to the brain.

By Rivka Borochov

Open-heart surgery for people with aortic stenosis - where the heart valve doesn't open properly - is tricky and dangerous, especially for older patients with existing medical conditions. And a new approach now being reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) comes with a high chance of stroke on the operating table.

However, thanks to an Israeli cardiologist, it is now possible to lower the risks involved in the promising procedure called transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI for short), whereby a synthetic valve is ferried to the heart through a small incision in the groin area.

The TAVI procedure was pioneered in Europe and is similar to a balloon angioplasty, where a stent is inserted into an artery. The catch is that up to 15 percent of the time, a piece of calcified artery comes loose and may cause a stroke if it travels into the brain.

Israeli cardiologist Dr. Dov Shimon has developed a filter against the embolisms caused during TAVI procedures, reducing the likelihood that a patient will suffer a stroke. His device, developed by SMT Research and Development in Herzliya Pituach, has so far been successfully tested on 15 people in Holland. That means Shimon has already beat the statistics.

Prepping for FDA clearance

According to MRI results, post-procedure brain lesions are present in up to 91 percent of people who have undergone a TAVI procedure, indicating an estimated three percent to 10% risk of stroke. While TAVI is by far one of the most promising advances in cardiology, Shimon anticipated the problem and determined to get around it. To this end, the SMT team - now a group of seven, plus consultants - has spent five years developing and refining a medical device specifically designed to reduce the chance of stroke during TAVI and other cardiac procedures.

Positioning the filter at the arch of the aorta, the SMT device covers all three arteries branching off the aorta. Other solutions on the market, from CoreValve and Edwards Lifesciences, cover only one artery.

"Current TAVI devices are working well, but despite efforts to refine the technique, we continue to see post-procedure complications associated with cerebral embolism resulting in stroke and other ischemic events," says Shimon, who founded SMT.

Inserted before the two-hour operation and removed afterward, the SMT filter appears to successfully prevent dislodged hardened artery materials from migrating into the arteries. Paul Zalesky, SMT's CEO, says that in the future it may be possible to leave the filter in place permanently.

A new $10.5 million investment by a New York venture capital firm, on top of the company's previous $4.5 million in investments, will help get the SMT product to the market once the TAVI procedure is deemed safe by the FDA. This could happen within the next year.

Tested in Holland and pleased with the outcome

Zalesky explains that TAVI is an example of a less invasive interventional cardiology procedure, an increasingly attractive alternative to open-heart surgery. The operation involves threading surgical tools into a blood vessel through the leg and up into the heart. It is especially suitable for older men with chronic heart issues who could not withstand open-heart surgery.

Dr. Pieter Stella, from the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said the SMT device "is the first embolic protection device that I have seen that offers coverage of all three primary vessels feeding the brain. I have been pleased with our early results, and believe that the SMT deflector will help to ensure the continued market expansion for safe, effective TAVI procedures."

Founded in 2005, SMT hopes to start its clinical trials in the United States in 2012.

Blogged from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Novel In-Vitro Enhancement Enables Accelerated HIV Pre-Seroconversion Confirmed Diagnoses

Novel In-Vitro Enhancement Enables Accelerated HIV Pre-Seroconversion Confirmed Diagnoses

Released: 7/15/2011 3:10 PM EDT
Embargo expired: 7/17/2011 12:00 AM EDT
Source: SMART Biotech

Newswise — ROME – July 17, 2011 – A novel HIV in-vitro enhancement process, which was successfully tested on three continents and shown to provide pre-seroconversion confirmed diagnoses, was applied to determine recent HIV infection.

The findings indicate that in addition to enabling early detection of infection, there is a potential for improved incidence estimations with positive public health implications, due to the low false recent rate found by the process. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are both working toward wide acceptance of new approaches to combat the spread of HIV such as early and complete detection of HIV infections, "test and treat", and at the same time looking for better ways to determine incidence, i.e. the rate in which the epidemic is spreading.

In the reported studies, HIV tests were performed on blood samples from over 5,000 high-risk and over 3,000 low-risk subjects using the in-vitro antibody enhancement approach, called SMARTube™. Based on the test results, which were obtained after the SMARTube™ enhancement step, using standard test kits for HIV antibodies (e.g. ELISA, rapid tests), researchers reported the following:

- Compared with the testing of regular plasma, the use of SMARTube™ plasma produced “no false positive results when testing a low-risk population,” providing improved specificity.
- Use of the “SMARTube™ can identify early HIV infection, as shown by an increased detection over regular plasma from infected persons” thus improving diagnostic sensitivity.

- The SMARTube Stimulation Index (SI, the ratio of antibodies in SMARTplasma/plasma)) "indicates a low false recent rate, resulting in excellent specificity, which is essential for incidence estimations.” This is key to public health efforts carrying out epidemiological studies to determine where high rates of new infections are occurring, and for monitoring the efficacy of prevention programs.
- “The Stimulation Index from two populations with the same demographics was actually different, suggesting that incidence testing using the SMARTube SI, should be done on all high-risk populations.”

Research field work was carried out by independent research and public health units around the world (including the USA, Russia, Kenya, Israel, China), and was written for presentation to the 6th IAS HIV Conference in Rome by Tamar Jehuda-Cohen of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and SMART Biotech Ltd., Israel; and by Ahmed R. Saleh and Niel T. Constantine of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore.

Stimulation Index finds ‘marked difference in incidence’ of two similar populations
Dr. Constantine and Dr. Saleh headed the Baltimore study reported in the Rome IAS presentation involving 371 high-risk subjects from the Man Alive and the IBR clinics, both located on the same street.

When the SMARTube Stimulation Index of the two clinics was compared, there was a marked difference.

“While this is a small ‘cross-sectional’ sample set,” Dr. Constantine noted, “the SI distribution (between the two clinics) is different (and with higher SI values) in the seropositives from the population which also has higher prevalence. The results are intriguing, and we hope to do further studies that could demonstrate the ability to get confirmed incidence data.”

Dr. Constantine noted: “The SMARTube technology has a high potential to be used for epidemiologic purposes where incidence estimates are needed to target the most at-risk populations for public health intervention.”

The SMARTube™ is not a diagnostic test but a pre-test enhancement of antibody output, leading to early detection of HIV infection even prior to seroconversion
Dr. Tamar Jehuda-Cohen emphasized that the SMARTube™ isn’t a diagnostic test, but rather “an in-vitro pre-test method of enhancing antibody production by lymphocyte cells that were primed in-vivo by HIV in the infected person from which the blood sample was taken.”

“The advantage of using SMARTube,” Dr. Jehuda-Cohen added, “is that it enables very early HIV detection, giving laboratories, clinicians and researchers a tool to detect pre-seroconversion infections providing an important tool for better evaluating and understanding the early stages of the HIV infection.”

She noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has strongly supported the concept of “test and treat” as a major advance in helping to curb the spread of HIV infection.

“With SMARTube used in conjunction with all the readily-available diagnostic approaches, there is the opportunity to detect even the earliest stages of infection, thus capturing those infected who are at the most infectious time, and rendering prevention programs more effective." Currently, people at risk for HIV who test negative are told to come for a re-test 2-to-3 months later. "Most of them never come back,” Dr. Jehuda-Cohen noted.

Dr. Jehuda-Cohen, who invented the technology termed Stimmunology™ and developed the SMARTube™ which uses it, is Chief Technology Officer of SMART Biotech, of Rehovoth, Israel.

Dr. Constantine is professor of pathology in the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of clinical immunology at the University of Maryland Medical System, and head of the Laboratory of Viral Diagnostics at the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore.

Dr. Ahmed R Saleh is director of the clinical trials and laboratory supervisor of the Laboratory of Viral Diagnostics, the Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

For information on Technion Technology Transfer, new patents and innovations from Israel, visit Technion's T3.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Israeli innovators build new 'Silicon Valley'

Israeli innovators build new 'Silicon Valley'

 "The Technion, the prestigious technological university in the northern city of Haifa, must take a large share of the credit for this creativity."

Some 500 start-ups are created every year in Israel, a country of 7.7 million people, which grew by 4.7 percent last year according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development against an average of 2.8 for its member countries.

Photograph by: Amir Cohen, Getty Images

JERUSALEM - With a concentration of start-ups just behind that of Silicon Valley and an impressive pool of engineers, Israel is becoming the new standard for high-tech, with a unique business model.
Internet-related activities contributed 9 billion euros (12.7 billion dollars) to the Israeli economy in 2009, representing 6.5 percent of GDP, according to a report from management consultancy McKinsey.
The sector is worth more than the construction industry (5.4 percent of GDP) and almost as much as health (6.8 percent).
The web economy has also created a total of 120,000 jobs, accounting for 4 percent of the country’s workforce, McKinsey says.
From Microsoft to Intel through Google, IBM and Philips, almost all the giants of the Internet and technology have set up important research and development centres in Israel, spawning products and systems used worldwide.
"Israel is the country with the most engineers in its population, and it ranks second behind the United States in the number of companies listed on Nasdaq," said David Kadouch, product manager at Google Israel, which opened its R&D operation in 2007 and currently has 200 employees.
"It’s really a second Silicon Valley. Besides the multinationals, all the major American investment funds are present," he said.
"The scientific community is very active, there is plenty of manpower and especially an entrepreneurial culture. There is a huge ecosystem around high tech, and what is fundamental is that here we think global."
Some 500 start-ups are created every year in the country of 7.7 million people, which grew by 4.7 percent last year according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development against an average of 2.8 for its member countries.
The OECD forecast for Israel in 2011 is 5.4 percent.
Israel’s higher education institutions, particularly the Technion, the prestigious technological university in the northern city of Haifa, must take a large share of the credit for this creativity.
"All the groups have set up subsidiaries here because of the proximity of the talents of the Technion university where there are (people with) excellent CVs," said Yoel Maarek, president of Yahoo Research Israel, which employs about 50 people.
"I myself have studied at the school of bridge engineering in France but when IBM hired me it was thanks to my degree from the Technion," he said.
The huge Technion campus comprising 19 schools for 12,000 students trained 70 percent of the country’s current engineers and 80 percent of the executives of Israeli companies listed on Nasdaq.
"Many students... are already snapped up by large foreign companies," said Ilan Marek, professor of chemistry at the Technion.
"In the early 2000s, we broke down the barriers between the four classical branches of science, allowing the students to move between fields and have a more global vision," he said.
"The key to the development of a country is to train leaders in science."
Saul Singer, co-author with Dan Senor of the book "Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle," believes the often maverick nature of many Israelis also plays a role.
"The lack of respect for authority is typical in Israel, it’s a cultural thing, in line with start-up creating. There is no authority, it is very informal. There are two big factors, drive and determination, and taking risks. We have a very exciting business model," he said.
"In Israel there is a constant struggle with all kinds of adversity," he added. "These adversities are a source of creation and energy. Israel is a country with a purpose, a mission."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The People of the Facebook

President Shimon Peres inspects the Technion
 NANO bible - as presented to the Pope  by the State of Israel.

"We are not only the People of the Book, 
we have become the People of the Facebook!"
Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Watch these highlights video from the first month of the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship summer technology commercialization fellowship, in partnership with the Technion Israeli Institute of Technology.

Views: What Global Rankings Ignore - Inside Higher Ed

Views: What Global Rankings Ignore - Inside Higher Ed

Consider Israel. According to data on NASDAQ’s website, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than any other country in the world except the U.S., and major companies such as Intel, Microsoft, IBM and Google have major research and development centers in Israel. Why? If you look at the data, you see a correlation between this entrepreneurial activity and the investments in and outputs from Israel’s universities.

Israel is among a handful of nations with the highest public expenditure on educational institutions relative to GDP, and it has the highest rate of R&D investment relative to GDP in the world. It also has the highest percentage of engineers in the work force and among the highest ratio of university degrees per capita. Many of the companies listed on NASDAQ were started by graduates of Israel’s universities: Technion, Tel Aviv University, Weizmann Institute and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to mention a few. Do international university rankings capture these economic impacts from research and postsecondary education in Israel? The answer is no. In spite of their tremendous impact and output, Israel’s universities are ranked somewhere in the 100 to 200 range.

Check out the full Opinion piece!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Moshe Yanai: Technion Distinguished Fellow.

High-tech billionaire and Technion alumnus Moshe Yanai became a Distinguished Fellow of the Technion at a festive ceremony in June 2011. The honor recognizes Yanai's formidable global accomplishments in technology and entrepreneurship, as well as his visionary gift that awards Technion professors for excellent teaching and mentoring of students.

“The Technion gave me an entry ticket to the world of computers and I owe it much of my success,” Yanai said. Yanai is considered a world leader in the field of information storage. His revolutionary innovations changed the ways in which companies store, protect, and use data. He initiated the Symmetrix storage array in the 1980s and developed the first “truly scalable grid storage system” for a company called XIV, which was eventually bought by IBM.

When Israeli billionaire Moshe Yanai was a student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, he remembers life being "difficult and demanding." So the tech whiz chose to fund an incentive to make life a little better for Technion students by awarding professors for being nice.

Yanai donated 40 million shekels -- more than $10 million -- to establish the prize. Professors are chosen by students based on the excellence of their teaching and "good personal interaction with students." Prizes are distributed in upwards of 100,000 shekel increments.

According to IBM, Yanai is "One of the most influential contributors in the history of the data-storage industry. His 30 years of technical expertise and design innovation are legendary."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

1st Technion Computer Engineering (TCE) Conference

“It was quite an eye opener..."

Dadi Perlmutter, Uri Weiser, and other top pioneers tune in at TCE…

The powerful new initiative of the Technion Computer Engineering Center (TCE) - combining computer scientists with electrical engineers - was launched with a dynamic three-day conference in June - attracting global leaders from industry and academia.

The Technion Computer Engineering Center (TCE) was inaugurated in The 1st Technion Computer Engineering (TCE) Conference (June 1-5, 2011). Prominent lectures in the fields of Computer Engineering, Systems and Imaging Sciences, from industry (EMC, IBM, HP, Intel, KLA, Microsoft, nVidia) and leading universities (Stanford, Princeton, Brown, Columbia and more), contributed to the event. A few hundred people participated in the three days conference. The feedback was very enthusiastic and in the participants’ words: “It was quite an eye opener. I enjoyed very much the innovation and ideas presented in this forum and hope to have many fruitful events like this in the future”.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Yoel Shalit graduates from Institute of Technology - Israel News, Ynetnews

Yoel Shalit graduates from Institute of Technology - Israel News, Ynetnews

Shalit family during graduation ceremony (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yeshuv)

Captive soldier's brother receives Bachelor of Computer Science two days before 5-year anniversary to Gilad's abduction.

Yoel Shalit, the brother of captive soldier Gilad Shalit, received his Bachelor of Computer Science (BSc) from Israel's Institute of Technology on Thursday. During the ceremony Yoel said he was sad his younger brother could not be there and study with him.
Yoel started his studies shortly after Gilad fell captive. The institute's president, Prof. Peretz Lavie, said that Gilad had helped Yoel move into an apartment in Haifa where he lived for the duration of his studies.
Lavie and other staff members shook the hands of the Shalit family in an unusual step. "It's a traditional ceremony that has not changed in many years," Prof. Lavie said, "but this time there is a painful personal tone which merited a violation of protocol."
Lavie noted that Yoel "never asked for any help during his studies" and added that many students were not aware he was Gilad's brother until very recently.
He addressed the Shalit family in his speech saying they have become "a symbol for the entire nation" prompting loud applause. Saturday will mark five years since Gilad Shalit had been abducted to the Gaza Strip.
Gilad Shalit



Festive Opening and presentation of Honorary Fellowships on June 12, performance by Israeli singers Shlomit Aharon and the Three Tenors.
Honorary Doctorates conferred on eminent international scientists and public figures.
In the Beginning: Celebrating our Genesis-Gala event at the Haifa City Museum, housed in the Templer Movement’s 19th century public buildings in the picturesque German Colony, includes a tour of the exhibition “War of the Languages: Founding of the Technion/Technikum.”
Dedication of the Canadian Student Residence in the Stanley Shalom Zielony Graduate Student Village.
What’s cooking? Showcasing the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering: interactive program with faculty and students; Land of Milk and Honey field visits to Strauss Dairy and Elite Chocolate Factory, with tours of the production facilities and meetings with alumni.
Outstanding faculty recognition: Hershel and Hilda Rich Technion Innovation Awards and the Henry Taub Prizes for Academic Excellence. “The Technion: A Human Capital Venture with panel of prominent speakers: Inbal Kreiss, Technion alumna and project director for the Arrow 3 Missile, Israel Aerospace Industries; Prof. Emeritus Shlomo Maital, senior research associate, Samuel Naman Institute; and Dr Ed Mlavsky, founding partner, Gemini Israel Funds.
Walk Tall when Technion alumnus and inventor, Dr Amit Goffer, presents ReWalk™ -the device that enables a paralyzed person, confined to a wheelchair, to stand up and walk.
Prof. Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, delivers the Yitzhak Modai Annual Lecture on Technology and Economics.
Norman and Barbara Seiden Family Prizes awarded for multidisciplinary undergraduate projects in optoelectronics, microelectronics, and nanosciences.
Subject to demand, a behind-the-scenes guided tour of Technion City led by former Technion Architect Aurelia Kirmayer.
Spectator special, June 15, student creative engineering contest: Dr. Bob’s TechnoBrain Competition-Yo-Yo Gum.

Honorary Doctors:

  • Prof. Alain Aspect, France
  • Dr Edith Cresson, France
  • Dr Moshe Epstein, Israel
  • Alan Forman, USA
  • Mark Gelfand, USA
  • Prof. Solomon W. Golomb, USA
  • Prof. Thomas Kailath, USA
  • Yaacov Kotlicki, Israel
  • Eitan Wertheimer, Israel  

Honorary Fellows:

  • Fausta Finzi Carli, Italy
  • Oscar Davis, USA
  • Dr Harry Handelsman, USA
  • Sid Lejfer, USA
  • Ed Satell, USA
  • Rafi Sirkis, Israel
  • Stanley H. Sussman, USA
  • Albert Sweet, USA

TECHNION FOCUS MAGAZINE - Weizmann Prize to Prof. Yonina Eldar

TECHNION FOCUS MAGAZINE - Weizmann Prize to Prof. Yonina Eldar

Prof. Yonina Eldar of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering is named for the 2011 Weizmann Prize in Exact Sciences. The prize, awarded by the municipality of Tel-Aviv-Yafo in a ceremony to be held in November 2011, is given to Prof. Eldar for her breakthrough work in efficient sampling in information theory.
Prof. Eldar joined Technion in 2002. She was a Horev Fellow in Technion's Leaders in Science and Technology program and an Allon Fellow. In 2004, she was awarded the Wolf Foundation Krill Prize for Excellence in Scientific Research, in 2005 the Andre and Bella Meyer Lectureship, in 2007 the Henry Taub Prize for Excellence in Research, in 2008 the Hershel Rich Innovation Award, the Award for Women with Distinguished Contributions, the Muriel & David Jacknow Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Technion Outstanding Lecture Award, and in 2009 the Technion's Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2010, she received the prestigious Michael Bruno Memorial Award granted by the Rothschild Foundation.

Planners split on where to build Haredi enclaves - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

As of 2009, the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel numbered about 785,000. The government uses the rubric of whether men studied in yeshiva the last year to determine who is ultra-Orthodox. Modi'in Ilit tops the list with the highest proportion of ultra-Orthodox with 85.1% of all the men studying in yeshivas. Betar Ilit comes in second (84.8% ) followed by Bnei Brak (62.4% ), Elad (57% ), Rekhesim (54.8% ), Beit Shemesh (28.8% ) and Jerusalem (27% ).

The study shows a low rate of participation in the workforce in the ultra-Orthodox towns.

Workforce numbers show low rates in both Modi'in Ilit and Betar Ilit and only slightly higher rates among the ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, though in Elad, a mixed ultra-Orthodox national-religious city, there is a higher workforce rate. The same goes for heterogeneous neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh, Netanya and Ashdod.

"A heterogeneous makeup is likely to give the ultra-Orthodox population the possibility of enjoying the best of both worlds - the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood 'world' and the overall municipal 'world,'" according to the document.

In favor of separation
Town planner and lawyer Prof. Rachelle Alterman, head of the Technion Graduate Program in Urban and Regional Planning, has a different opinion. Alterman was a member of the National Planning and Construction Council and a partner in the decision to establish the ultra-Orthodox town of Kasif.

She believes there is no scope for integrating the ultra-Orthodox into heterogeneous towns, even though homogeneous ultra-Orthodox towns will need more help from the public coffers.

"It's very easy to preach against building ultra-Orthodox towns, but ultimately the heads of heterogeneous local authorities and populations are not interested in absorbing a large mass of ultra-Orthodox residents," she said. "Clearly ultra-Orthodox towns or neighborhoods require a lot of funding but in my opinion not with a greater gap than other towns. However, the town of Kasif, which is slated to go up near Arad, could be a poverty trap because it is located far from sources of employment. It would have been better to build ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods close to areas where there are jobs." Alterman says heterogeneous towns are an economic and social falsehood.

"Are the national-religious in Beit Shemesh getting along well with the ultra-Orthodox population? They really aren't," she said. "There too the national religious are leaving. At the end of the day combining a non-ultra-Orthodox population with an ultra-Orthodox population means subordination to the ultra-Orthodox way of life and the other populations are not interested in this."

Toward a ‘culture of safety’ - JPost - Environment & Technology

Toward a ‘culture of safety’ - JPost - Environment & Technology


Ergonomics is making inroads in the medical profession, helping prevent dangerous mistakes.

A fighter jet’s cockpit is probably the most ergonomic work environment there is. Every piece of equipment was planned to fit the human body, its movements and the user’s cognitive abilities – and was thus designed to be in the most logical place to get the job done efficiently and safely.

The average hospital is an incredibly complex mix of human capital, know-how and habits, together with drugs and other medical technologies that can heal but, if not used properly, can also cause damage or even kill. An estimated 1,000 to 2,000 Israelis die of medical errors each year; many more take ill and recover, or are victims of errors that fortunately do not take a toll.

Until ether was discovered and demonstrated in 1846 by a US dentist and made operations with anesthesia possible, many people refused to put their bodies in the hands of surgeons. But today, many people who need hospital care fear being harmed by medical errors, even if the risk is highly exaggerated.

MOST OF the mistakes that do occur, says the Hadassah Medical Organization’s Prof. Yoel Donchin, could have been prevented if medical management had established a “culture of safety.” But the health system is too often run with a risk-management mechanism that, after an error is committed, tries to minimize the financial damage of subsequent lawsuits. Donchin, a veteran anesthesiologist and an intensive-care physician, has devoted himself to patient safety for 20 years of his more than three decades at Hadassah. Even after his recent retirement from direct patient care, he remains head of the Patient Safety Unit at the Hebrew University- Hadassah Medical School.

DONCHIN HAS also just produced, with coauthor Prof. Daniel Gopher (an industrial engineering expert at Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology), a major Hebrew volume explaining exactly how hospitals can be made safer. Required reading for hospital directors, medical department heads, nurses, medical deans, nursing-school faculty, Health Ministry administrators and others close to the field, the 431-page, NIS 114 softcover is called Saviv Mitat Haholeh: Handasat Enosh Uvtihut Betipul Refui (Around the Patient’s Bed: The Human Factor and Safety in Health Care). It was published by Carta, the Hadassah Medical Organization, and the Technion.