Even France wants in on the virtual neurological research network initiated by President Shimon Peres and being crafted between Israel and Canada.
Last May, Israeli President Shimon Peres got to talking with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty about brains.
Musing about how Israel’s renowned life sciences capabilities could mesh well with the advanced neurological research going on in Canada’s largest province, Peres threw out an intriguing idea: Why not cosponsor a virtual brain research institute to accelerate Canadian and Israeli approaches to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, autism, brain cancer and other neurological problems affecting millions?
McGuinty did not just smile politely. He discussed the proposal with his travel companion, Canadian businessman and philanthropist Joe Rotman, who pledged to raise major capital if Ontario provided initial funding. In August, McGuinty put Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation Glen Murray in charge of the project. By October, the cabinet had approved $15 million for a research institute to be headed by Dr. Joseph Martin, dean emeritus of Harvard Medical School.
Israel leads in computational neuroscience
The province of Ontario, which includes Canada’s capital of Ottawa and most populous city of Toronto, is home to 13 million Canadians. Ontario is a world leader in neuroscience research and already has 12 brick-and-mortar brain research centers. This will be the first virtual one of its kind.
“This open-source collaboration can’t be confined to a building,” Murray tells ISRAEL21c. “It will integrate into a single network of multi-site research projects co-led by scientists in both countries. It will help us make sure that gaps in research are filled and collaborations are in place wherever we need them. When you put Israel’s expertise together with Canada’s, it could be the most complete and comprehensive brain research team in the world.”
Israeli Chief Scientist Eli Opper is in charge of identifying appropriate partners for the project, says Murray. “One of the areas in which Israel is a global leader is computational neuroscience, and this area is really critical.”
There is a good chance the project will encompass additional countries, he adds. “The consul general of France heard about it from diplomats in Israel and doesn’t want to be left out of this smart, compassionate, optimistic network. We are having discussions now about how to get France involved with this partnership as well.”
McGuinty chose to announce the establishment of the virtual institute during a November visit to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Medical Center, whose research institute is testing a revolutionary neurological device invented by imaging research chief Dr. Kullervo Hynynen and developed at Israel’s InSightec.
“Subtracting out” the skull
“This is a sort of science fiction idea that, if it works out, will be an extraordinary, noninvasive way to do all sorts of things in the brain and the body,” is how Hynynen’s colleague, Dr. Sandra Black, describes the InSightec device to ISRAEL21c.
Still in animal studies, it uses magnetic resonance-guided ultrasound to do everything from destroying tumors and relieving severe pain to dissolving dangerous blood clots and vanquishing untreatable clinical depression, all in deep parts of the brain that surgeons cannot safely reach.
“The concept of doing this in the brain is astounding because ultrasound can’t get past the skull,” explains Black. Hynynen’s innovation was to “subtract out” the skull using imaging and mathematical techniques, allowing for precision delivery of the ultrasound beams.
The focused ultrasound could even get past the blood-brain barrier, for the first time allowing delivery of drug or gene therapy to targeted regions in the brain to treat cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, for example. The same technology is being tested for a range of non-surgical applications at medical centers in the United States, Europe, Japan and Israel, including Toronto General Hospital.
Black, a cognitive and stroke neurologist, adds that Israeli and Palestinian neurologists have long been participating in a monthly international videoconferencing program out of the Research Centre for Aging and the Brain at the University of Toronto’s Baycrest Geriatric Healthcare System.
“Leading-edge knowledge has been flowing between Israel and Toronto for years,” she says.
Collaborations in other fields, such as water management and clean-tech, also are going on between Ontario and Israel, says Murray, who relates that after Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s bestselling book “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” came out in October 2009, McGuinty purchased copies for all his cabinet ministers and their staffs.
Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg, has visited Israel several times and shares McGuinty’s desire to “build a dynamic social, cultural and diplomatic relationship with Israel that allows it to strengthen its economy and independence.”