While media coverage of Israel tended to focus on the war in Gaza and the controversial Goldstone Report, behind the headlines 2009 was a year of significant developments in health, technology, the environment and coexistence.

While other countries struggled in the grip of recession, Israel’s economy forged ahead. Local companies, researchers, engineers and doctors continued to develop and create a series of innovative new products and projects of benefit not only to Israel, but the entire world.

Our most popular stories of the year reflect the huge diversity of work going on in Israel, from a new vaccine that could save the world’s bee population from the ravages of Colony Collapse Disorder, to research which showed that soda drinks are bad for your health.

The focus this year is mainly on health. With fears of swine flu at the fore, readers were keen to find out about developments that might offer protection, such as the masks developed by Israeli company Cupron, which have the potential to defend us from bacteria and flu.

There was enormous interest in work being carried out by Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan to cooperate in dealing with the flu threat, despite the very real troubles that continue to plague the region.

Israel’s universities have been hailed as some of the best in the world, so it’s no surprise that some of this year’s most-read stories focus on research being carried out at these institutions. The articles range from a story about the researcher who accidentally stumbled on what could be a major breakthrough in cancer drug development, to a doctor who has created a new soundscape language that allows the blind to ‘see’ in the same way a bat does.

Gadgets also proved popular – as our ‘Top 10 gadgets from Israel’ story proves, and so did the environment, particularly solar technology, where Israel plays a major role worldwide.

With 10 of our video features screened by CNN on its popular World Report program, and countless of our other beyond the conflict stories picked up by major newspapers, TV channels, radio stations, blogs and other social media worldwide, from America, to the UK, Asia and the Arab world, it’s also been a busy year for us.

Here at ISRAEL21c, we’d like to wish you a happy 2010, and we look forward with great interest to seeing what will be next year’s top 10 most popular stories.

ISRAEL21c: Top 10 most popular stories of 2009

1. Israel, PA and Jordan cooperate as flu threat grows


In May, ISRAEL21c covered a story about how Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian health officials are working together to diagnose and contain the swine flu virus, as part of a long-term mission to fight infectious diseases and pandemics.

While Israelis and Palestinians may not seem the most likely of partners, work actually began six years ago when health officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan formed a league – the Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance (MECIDS), to stop the spread of food-borne illnesses such as salmonella.

As fears of first the avian flu and then swine flu grew, the researchers expanded their remit, with the certain knowledge that pandemic illnesses know no borders, and trilateral planning is vital to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

2. Israeli study: Soda drinks cause liver damage


In August, a health-conscious Israeli doctor warned that drinking too much sweetened soda and fruit juice could cause long-term liver damage.

Dr. Nimer Assy, an Israeli-Arab working at the Ziv Medical Center in Haifa, showed in a study that people who drink more than one liter of sweetened soft drinks a day (including carbonated drinks and even freshly squeezed fruit juices), have a five times greater risk of developing fatty liver, leading to liver cancer, cirrhosis, diabetes and heart disease.

Assy found that the ingredient in the sodas and juices that causes the damage is a fruit sugar called fructose that goes straight to the liver where it is converted to fat.

3. Closing in on cancer


In November, an Israeli research scientist at Tel Aviv University announced that she had stumbled upon a drug that could kill cancer cells without harming normal cells.

Her discovery, which paves the way for more effective treatment against cancer, could prove to be the long-awaited “holy grail” in the search for a weapon to combat the deadly disease.

Prof. Malka Cohen-Armon discovered the compound, which was originally developed 10 years ago to treat stroke or inflammation, when she was working with the drugs to study how the compound affected signal transmission within the nucleus of cells.

What she discovered, however, was that the drugs could turn on a mechanism in cancer cells that causes them to die within 48-72 hours, without harming normal tissue. The first application of the drug could be for the treatment of breast cancer, which affects about 1.3 million women in the US alone every year.

4. Israel’s top 10 gadgets


Israelis love technology. They are early adapters and relentless innovators. It’s no surprise then that some of the world’s best gadgets were designed and developed in Israel. In November, we consulted the experts and put together a list of the top 10.

Gadgets range from the ubiquitous DiskOnKey, developed by Israeli company M-Systems, which was later purchased by SanDisk for $1.6 billion; to the Powermat, a power grid that can be embedded into just about anything you can think of, from a desk to a kitchen counter. A wireless receiver hidden inside a device, the Powermat does away with the need for plugs.

Other top gadgets include Eye-Fi, which lets you upload digital photos to the web wirelessly; Epilady, which pulls out unwanted hair; and Ctera, a small gadget that connects to a USB hard drive and turns it into a cloud-based storage system.

5. Cupron offers protection from bacteria to flu


ISRAEL21c has featured Cupron twice in the last two years. First for its pillows, impregnated with copper, which the company says can reduce wrinkles while you sleep, and a second time in August for its new line of latex masks and gloves which were proven to be effective against flu bacteria.

The Israeli company, which is based in Modi’in in central Israel, is pioneering ways to integrate the bacteria and virus-killing properties of copper into many different textiles and latex products.

In addition to masks and gloves, Cupron has also developed a nipple shield that will enable mothers with the HIV virus to breastfeed their children without the risk of passing on AIDS.

6. New vaccine could save bees from colony collapse disorder


In July, ISRAEL21c featured a story on the company Beeologics, which has developed a revolutionary new vaccine that could solve the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, a disturbing syndrome that has been wiping out bee communities and threatening agricultural production all over the world.

The drug Remembee, developed by Beeologics, was found to be successful in clinical trials on millions of bees in North America. Not only has it proved effective in maintaining bee health, but it also improved the bees’ longevity and increased the amount of honey in the hives.

Based on Nobel prize-winning RNAI technology, Remembee helps bees to overcome IAVP virus, also discovered in Israel, which has been associated with colony collapse in scientific literature.

7. Israeli researcher finds natural cure for insomnia


Using research conducted by an Israeli professor, an Israeli company has developed a new drug that can work with the body’s natural processes to induce restful, restorative sleep.

Unlike traditional sleeping pills which often have serious side effects, the new drug, Circadin, which is being produced by Neurim Pharmaceuticals, gradually releases melatonin – the hormone that prepares the body for sleep – into the body.

Melatonin is produced at the onset of darkness, preparing the body physiologically by lowering blood pressure and body temperature. As people age, they sometimes lose the ability to produce melatonin, which can cause problems with sleep.

The drug has been in development for 18 years, and was approved for the European market in 2007. As ISRAEL21c reported in August, it is now in the process of obtaining approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

8. Teaching the blind to see through sound


An Israeli researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed a new language composed of sounds that can help the visually impaired to ‘see’ objects.

The story, which ran in ISRAEL21c in August, shows how the researcher has effectively trained a number of congenitally blind people to ‘see’ by using sounds associated with the basic shapes of physical objects.

The patients do not ‘see’ via the optic nerve in the eye, but use their visual cortex directly. The sounds that Amedi’s new software and algorithms teach to the blind are, in effect, a new language called “soundscapes.”

Soundscapes could enable those blind from birth, or newly blind, to “see” who and what is in a room. The researcher believes that in time, with long-term training, blind people would even be able to see objects like paintings.

9. Seven solar technologies from Israel that could change our planet


Israel is rapidly becoming a leading force in the solar technology industry worldwide. The solar technologies created here help to create a cleaner environment and relieve our dependence on oil.

A recent survey released by the Guardian newspaper in the UK and the Cleantech Forum chose five Israeli-based and two Israeli-developed companies among a global listing of 100. That’s a significant number, considering that Israel is about the size of a small US state.

In October, ISRAEL21c asked experts to give us a list of the top solar technologies from Israel. The answers range from BrightSource Energy, which is now building and operating some of the world’s largest solar power plants, to Aora, which bases its technology on the shape of a flower, with massive petals that function as solar collectors.

10. Israel presents the world’s smallest medical camera


In October, ISRAEL21c carried a story about Medigus, an Israeli company that has teamed up with Tower Semiconductor to develop the tiniest medical camera in the world.

The camera measures just 0.05 inches in diameter and can be incorporated into endoscopes so that doctors receive a direct visual of even the narrowest lumens (cavities or channels within tubular structures) in the body. This would eliminate the need for invasive surgeries, X-rays and other costly and sometimes risky procedures.

Mounted on a disposable endoscope, the camera is also cheap to produce and doesn’t have to be sterilized after each use. Mass distribution should begin in the first quarter of next year.

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