Despite its image of promoting boycotts of Israeli academic institutions – which have never actually been carried out – the United Kingdom and its new ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, have inaugurated a council of the two countries’ leading scientists to promote joint research projects.

The 21-member Life Sciences Council is co-chaired by Gould, eminent University of Oxford biochemist Prof. Raymond Dwek and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev President Prof. Rivka Carmi, who is a leading pediatrician and geneticist. Twelve of the members are British and the rest Israeli.

Four council members, including Prof. Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and Prof. Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, are Nobel Prize laureates.

Meeting Tuesday at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem, the council members decided that the first focus of research would be regenerative medical therapies – including the use of stem cells to treat or cure disease.

Gould set a target of £10 million sterling over the next five years for investment in the research, and said at the meeting that he had already received commitments from donors, including the Pears Foundation and the Zabludowicz Trust.

The inaugural meeting was hosted by academy president Prof. Ruth Arnon, a worldrenowned expert in immunology at the Weizmann Institute.

Among the British council members are Lord Robert Winston, an expert in IVF and fertility treatments and one of Britain’s best-known scientific names; Prof. Lorna Casselton, foreign secretary and vice president of the Royal Society; Sir Adrian Smith, director-general for knowledge and innovation at the department for business, innovation and skills; and Sir Richard Sykes, former chairman of the major pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

The council’s establishment was announced by British Foreign Secretary William Hague during his November visit to Israel.

Dwek, who is a voluntary adviser to Carmi at BGU and a frequent visitor to Israel, told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview during a break in the sessions that “Israel is a fantastic scientific partner for any country.

Why not have the best? You have a lot to offer and will continue to do much to benefit mankind. At the same time as both countries benefit, we want to improve UK-Israel relationships.”

Gould added that “the UK and Israel are both global superpowers when it comes to science and research. We both have disproportionate numbers of Nobel Prize winners and are home to some of the most important, groundbreaking research. So it makes sense that our scientific communities should work closely together.”

He added that “it also sends a powerful and positive signal about how our countries see each other, and about the sort of relationship we want between us. The British government is opposed to boycotts of Israel, and this council is an expression of that.”

In raising the £10m., the council will be directing an ambitious expansion of the BIRAX program, which funds collaboration between British and Israeli scientists and which recently announced the 10 recipients of its second round of funding.

Meanwhile, in another example of UK-Israel cooperation, it was announced on Tuesday that next month, 16 young Israeli surgeons will travel to London and Basingstoke to study firsthand the pioneering operation described by Prof. Bill Heald for the treatment of low rectal cancer, known as total mesenteric excision (TME).

Prof. Alex Deutsch, chairman of the David Yanir Foundation for the Advancement of Colorectal Surgery in Israel, is organizing this trip for the third successive year.

“This procedure is now performed here by some surgeons, but our doctors are learning it at the source,” he explained. “They will also watch colorectal surgery being performed at three leading London hospitals.”

The visits are supported by the Kennedy-Leigh Charitable Trust, the Nassan Foundation and the John Forman Fund of the Israel Britain Commonwealth Association.

While in England, the group will be guests at a reception in their honor organized by the Jewish Medical Society of the UK, to which 700 doctors have been invited.

A full interview with Prof. Raymond Dwek about Israeli-British cooperation and his medical research will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, February 6.

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