Women outnumber men in biology and related sciences in higher education in Israel, a report published by the Bloomberg news agency revealed on Tuesday.
This says the report, could give women an advantage as the government and private investors put increasing amounts of money into the life-sciences industry, one of the country’s fastest growing sectors, collecting the most venture capital money in the first half of this year.
The article quotes a number of Israeli women working in the field who share their thoughts on why women have the advantage.
Daniella Nistenpover 22, a bio-medical engineering major at the university in Haifa who plans to work in bio-mechanics or bio-materials research says that when she sits down in a lecture hall for one class in neurophysiology and another in biological processes, she sees a sea of women.
This is not the case when she takes courses in the theory of electrical circuits or differential equations at the predominantly male Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. She believes it is evidence that she has picked the right career.
“It makes you feel that in the life-sciences field, a woman can make a mark,” she adds.
“Women traditionally are not the main breadwinners in the family and can afford to pursue a PhD, whereas men have more pressure to go out and make a high salary,” says Anat Cohen- Dayag, president and CEO of Compugen Ltd., which was founded by members of an Israeli army intelligence unit that designed software to break codes.
The Tel Aviv-based company uses algorithms to trawl private and public databases to discover proteins that may have the ability to treat diseases.
According to Bloomberg, Cohen-Dayag is one of three female CEOs in the Tel Aviv Biomed index. The others areKinneret Livnat Savitsky of BioLineRx Ltd., which develops clinical stage therapeutic pharmaceutical drugs, and Pnina Fishman of Can Fite Biopharma Ltd., which is focusing on treatments for autoimmune diseases and cancer.
Cohen-Dayag adds that the industry is a good fit for working mothers like herself, ‘‘Because of its academic characteristics, the culture in the industry has traditionally been more permissive, enabling more flexible hours, which has enabled women to juggle career and family.’’
Some 250 of Asia’s top scientific minds will be gathering in Jerusalem at the end of the month for one of the most prestigious youth science gatherings ever held in Israel — the Asian Science Camp, which, besides hosting promising young scientists from across the continent, will feature talks and workshops led by at least five Nobel Prize winners.
This will be the sixth ASC, a project developed by two Nobel Prize winners from Taiwan and South Korea. Students from high schools and colleges in 22 countries will be attending. Israel will supply the biggest contingent of young minds, with 35 students from around the country, followed by China with 34 participants, India with 33, and Japan with 24. Delegations from Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam, Georgia, Armenia, Turkmenistan, and Myanmar will also be participating.
ASC, set to open on August 26, is modeled on an annual meeting between young science researchers and Nobel laureates that takes place annually in Lindau, Germany. The format for ASC includes lectures and discussion for students by Nobel winners and top scientists in a variety of fields, including biology, physics, genetics, mathematics, space travel, and much more. Students will also be treated to trips showing off Israel’s sights, as well as excursions to university labs, high-tech companies, and social events. The five-day meeting will take place on the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus. While participants were not required to submit a project or paper in order to win a spot at the event — they went through an extensive interviewing and vetting process instead — the event will feature a creative poster competition.
So far, at least five Nobel Prize winners in the sciences have confirmed their attendance at ASC. Two of them — Robert J. Aumann (economics) and Aaron Ciechanover (chemistry) — are Israelis; the others include Japan’s Makoto Kobayashi (physics), Roger Kornberg (chemistry) of the U.S., and Yuan T. Lee (chemistry) from Taiwan. Organizers said that “surprise” visits from other Nobel laureates were likely. And, the entire event will be presided over by yet another Nobel winner — President Shimon Peres, who will give a speech welcoming participants.
Also speaking and holding discussions will be at least 30 top Israeli lecturers and professors, among them several winners of top awards, such as the Wolf Science Awards, Fields Mathematics Medals, and Turing Awards for theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
Israeli scientists young and old are understandably excited over ASC taking place here — as is the Foreign Ministry, which, a spokesperson said, sees Israel’s hosting of the event as “an important project, one that was one of our top goals for 2012, a special year in which Israel is emphasizing its relations with Asian countries.” According to Ministry sources, a diplomatic “surprise” is likely at the event as well; scheduled to attend are delegations from at least two countries with which Israel does not currently have diplomatic relations (but not Iran and Pakistan, the sources said, as those two countries announced that they would not attend).
The Ministry said that it had been working for months to ensure that Israel could sponsor the event, but that organizers showed a great deal of interest in holding ASC in Israel; many people in Asia, the Ministry said in a statement, are curious about Israel’s successes in high-tech and science, and are interested in getting to know more about what makes Israel “tick.”
Co-sponsoring the event with the Foreign Ministry are the Hebrew University and the ORT school network. Dr. Zvi Paltiel of ORT, a physicist who is managing the Israeli delegation, said that Israel’s hosting of ASC is “not only a great opportunity to enable the scientists of the future to experience Israel, but also to introduce the cream of our young scientists to an important international conference. I hope that the camp,” said Paltiel, “which coincides with the beginning of the school year, will be an inspiration for the field of scientific education.”
Source: Times of Israel
Experts agree that, more than ever before, modern wars will be fought in the cyber zone, targeting an enemy’s communications technology to cause untold damage. Now a Tel Aviv University researcher is suggesting that the same tactics should be employed in the battle against one of the body’s deadliest enemies — cancer.
In an article published in Trends in Microbiology, Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of TAU’s School of Physics and Astronomy and Prof. Herbert Levine of Rice University, long-time bacteria researchers, and Prof. Donald Coffey of Johns Hopkins University, a renowned cancer researcher, examine the shared traits of cancer cells and bacteria. Like bacteria, cancer cells rely on communication and “social networking” to become powerful entities within the body. Inspired by the social and survival tactics of bacteria, the team presents a new picture of cancer as a meta-community of smart communicating cells possessing special traits for cooperative behavior.
For many years, scientists ignored the complex social interactions of bacteria, now the number three killer in hospitals in the Western world. The researchers believe that medical professionals are similarly “underestimating the enemy” when it comes to cancer cells that exhibit many similar behaviors.
The parallels that can be drawn between the two types of cells are astounding. While healthy cells are highly disciplined, responding to chemical and physical cues telling them how to behave, bacteria and cancer cells override this control by using different chemical and genetic pathways. They proliferate quickly to make rapid genetic changes, avoiding the body’s immune system and developing drug resistance.
Using intricate communication, cancer cells can distribute tasks, share resources, differentiate, and make decisions. Before sending cells to colonize organs and tissues throughout the body (metastasis), “spying cells” explore the body and return the cancer’s origin. Only then do metastatic cells leave the primary tumor and navigate to new posts.
Also like bacteria, cancer cells change their own environment. They induce genetic changes and enslave surrounding normal cells, forcing them to do the disease’s bidding — providing physical support, protecting them from the immune system, and more. Cancer cells can also become dormant when they sense danger, such as chemotherapy chemicals, then reactivate at will.
Prof. Ben-Jacob suggests that studying the social behavior of cancer cells can inspire new research directions and pave the way for the development of novel therapeutic approaches — for example, a new class of drugs to target cell-to-cell communication or send misleading messages.
With the ability to become immune to chemotherapy and lay dormant until it determines the time is right to reawaken, cancer often relapses undetected until it’s too late to treat, says Prof. Levine. Breaking the communication code for awakening dormant cells could help researchers learn how to reactivate them on purpose — and be ready to kill them as soon as they “awaken.”
The team also suggests further research into cancer “cannibalism,” when cancer cells may consume their peers when they run out of resources. The idea is to send signals which trigger cancer cells to kill each other, which can be done with bacteria.
Other researchers have demonstrated that injected bacteria can “outsmart cancer.” Bacteria can be used to induce gap junctions between the cancer cells and immune cells, “teaching” the immune system to recognize and kill the tumor cells. We might be entering a new era of biological cyber-warfare, in which scientists can enlist bacterial intelligence to defeat cancer, Prof. Ben-Jacob concludes.
Israel’s Olympics team in London has won no medals, but high school pupils from three local schools won a silver and three bronze medals at the 44th annual Chemistry Olympiad in Washington last week.
The Israeli team underwent training at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology and competed against 26 other teams from around the world. The winner of a silver medal was Tzuf Shai Peled from the Experimental School in Misgav (who received a bronze medal last year). The winners of the bronze medals this year were Nadav Orion of the Ben- Gurion High School in Emek Hefer, Uri Teichman from the Comprehensive Gimmel School in Ashdod and Michael Leitzin from the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa.
The international chemistry competition has been held annually for 44 years, but it was only the seventh time in succession that Israel has participated. Previously, at least one of the Israeli participants won a certificate of excellence or medallion, but this was the first time all four received medals.
The Technion’s chemistry faculty is responsible for choosing and preparing the teenage participants – both at theoretical studies in its labs and at training camp.
Prof. Ze’ev Gross from the Technion faculty said the two-day competition includes practical lab work and theoretical tests. The successful teams have usually come from the Far East.
This year, South Korea did exceptionally well, Gross said. Winning the medal for them is an entry card to the best universities in the world – sometimes automatically, without an entrance exam. The Technion offers the Israeli winners the same.
One of the Technion trainers was Dr. Oreana Sokolentz, who as a teenager herself in the former Soviet Union participated in several of the chemistry competitions.
A new technology developed by Ben-Gurion University could soon provide better, more accurate, and more effective therapies for patients suffering from diseases like Parkinson’s, AIDS, and a host of brain disorders. The technology, called V-Smart, uses nanotechnology to develop a microscopic “bubble” transport system that can bring drugs to the exact area in the body where they are needed, rather than administering them through the bloodstream or directly to the central nervous system, which can cause side effects.
V-Smart, according to Professor Eliahu Heldman, one of the designers of the system, offers the best hope for curing brain and central nervous system diseases because it enables drugs to traverse the normally uncrossable “blood-brain barrier.” V-Smart, Heldman said, “can transport encapsulated small molecules, peptides, proteins and nucleic acids, across the BBB and release them in the brain where their activity is needed,” giving doctors an important new tool in treating serious diseases of the brain.
V-Smart uses microscopic bubble-like membranous structures, known as vesicles, to deliver drugs. Vesicles occur naturally in the body and are used to carry proteins and other molecules through membranes. Vesicles are one of the few things in the body that can permeate the BBB, which consists of special cells around the central nervous system to keep blood and brain fluid separate.
Sometimes, however, pathogens are able to break down the BBB, enabling substances such as bacteria or other toxins to attack parts of the brain — possibly resulting in diseases such as meningitis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and HIV Encephalitis.
Any disease that is able to break through the BBB is considered very serious and difficult to contend with, often because it is difficult to target the areas of the brain affected with the amount of drugs needed for treatment. Several methods exist for breaching the BBB, most notably targeting the brain directly with a needle, but that, too, is an imprecise method, because it is difficult to target the specific area of the brain where help is needed.
That’s where V-Smart comes in, said Heldman. “Animal models that we have used show that this system holds a lot of promise in dealing with these diseases of the brain,” he told The Times of Israel.
Nano-developed vesicles administered intravenously or orally deliver encapsulated material such as analgesic peptides, which can target specific cells or proteins in the brain with drugs. The nano-sized vesicles are formed from compounds (bolaamphiphiles) that are programmed to release their drugs when they hit a specific environment in the body. The nanovesicles are highly stable and provide a controlled release mechanism which allows the drug to pass through biological barriers, including the blood-brain barrier, targeting specific cells and tissues.
The technology aims to pinpoint where the drug will be released in the brain, ensuring that the area of the brain that needs treatment gets it and that there are far fewer side effects. In a recent study, for example, Mayo Clinic researchers found that Parkinson’s patients who were being treated with a dopamine agonist had begun engaging in compulsive gambling or excessive sexual activity. Such side effects could be avoided if Parkinson’s drugs were targeted specifically at the parts of the brain affected by Parkinson’s, without affecting other parts of the brain that could trigger unwanted behaviors.
V-Smart, Heldman believes, will greatly enhance the treatment of Parkinson’s and many other diseases once it comes to market. “If all goes well, I think we will be ready for human trials within two years,” he said.
Heldman has been working in the field of nano-based drug treatment and delivery for years, and was involved in commercial development of drugs for Parkinson’s and other diseases, he said.
Along with Heldman (who is professor emeritus of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Clinical Biochemistry), scientists who worked on the project included Dr. Sarina Grinberg of BGU’s Dept. of Chemistry, and Dr. Charles Linder of the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering. Ben-Gurion’s technology transfer company, BGN Technologies, recently signed a licensing agreement for V-Smart with Lauren Sciences LLC, a privately held biotechnology company in New York. And both BGU and Lauren Sciences were recently awarded research grants for the development of V-Smart and drugs that can be used with it from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Campbell Foundation.
Source: Times Of Israel
It has [produced] three Nobel Laureates in Chemistry,” he said to The Hinduduring an interaction with journalists at the recently concluded 62nd Nobel Laureates Meeting dedicated to physics from July 1 to July 7 at Lindau, Germany.
Prof. Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009, two years before Dr. Shechtman.
Despite being a small country, how has it managed to produce so many Laureates? “I don’t know the answer,” he said frankly. “I think we do good work. I think we encourage young talented people to go to science.”
Though he was at a loss to pinpoint the reasons, he did shed some light to what may be the factors facilitating his country’s success. “We have very good scientists in Israel. We publish many papers in many reputed journals,” he noted.
But one of the distinguishing factors that emerged is the way the scientists interact with their counterparts based in other countries. “We are encouraged to travel to other laboratories in the world,” he said. To facilitate this interaction, very vital for science, the scientists are allowed to avail a sabbatical for period extending up to 6 to 7 years. “Every summer, if you want to go and work somewhere, they allow you [to go]. So we have many contacts in the world,” he revealed.
In fact, it was while Dr. Shechtman was on a sabbatical at Johns Hopkins University and working with the National Bureau of Standards in 1982 that he discovered the existence of quasicrystals.
Availability of liberal funding is another critical factor. Scientists have several sources of funding to turn to — industrial, defence, government and binational funding. The binational funding comes from binational agreements — Israel-Germany, Israel-United States, Israel-England and others.
Another peculiar aspect is that the government does not fund universities directly. Instead, it provides fund to intermediate bodies, which in turn fund the universities. “So the government is not directly involved. We [are in touch with] the intermediate bodies and it is excellent,” he underlined.
“A good scientist who writes a good project proposal has a good chance of securing funding,” he said. “In my department, there are 16 faculty members and everyone has a nice chunk of research funds.”
According to him everybody communicates with everybody else in Israel. “Communication is good for science. People need to talk,” he said. “All these don’t answer your question [of how a small country is able to produce so many Nobel Laureates]. I understand that. I don’t know what the reason is.”
But there are challenges. “There are many scientists who cannot find jobs in Israel,” he said. “Israel is a start-up country. Everybody thinks of starting a start-up. The number of start-ups in the country is enormous. The spirit of entrepreneurship is fantastic.”
Eighteen students from India participated in the 62nd Nobel Laureates Meeting at Lindau. The German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) sponsored their visit.
(This Correspondent was one of the two journalists from India who participated in the 62nd Nobel Laureates Meeting at Lindau, Germany, at the invitation of the German Research Foundation (DFG) Bonn.)