A Rhode Island-based research team won a $1 million prize at the BrainTech Israel Conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning for breakthrough research and innovation in neurotechnology.

Out of 10 finalists, the prize went to the Brain- Gate research team, headed by Dr. John Donoghue. BrainGate, which is based at Brown University, aims to help disabled people around the globe by creating robotic and prosthetic arms controlled by implanted neural sensors.

The team works in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital, the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island, Case Western Reserve University and Stanford University.

President Shimon Peres joined Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Bert Sakmann in presenting the award, at the behest of Rafi Gidron, the founder of conference sponsor Israel Brain Technologies.

Besides the check, the award included a statuette of a red copper cranium.

Peres said it was a privilege to present the prize to people who had invested a great deal of work and devotion. Recalling the doubting Thomases when Israel had started to work in nanotechnology, Peres took pride in the fact that Israel was now fourth in the world in nanotechnology research and discoveries.

Israel, he said, must do with neurotechnology and brain research what it did with nanotechnology.

He forecast that the country could become a leading start-up nation in brain research.

We have a brain that makes decisions, but we don’t know how it functions, he commented.

“We are strangers to ourselves.”

Master of ceremonies Elliott Gotkine, Middle East editor for Bloomberg Television, quipped at the start of what he called “a fireside chat” with Peres that it was “a unique opportunity to pick the president’s brain.” Speaking of the world’s transition from an agricultural age to a scientific age, Peres observed that whereas there were boundaries of sorts attached to agriculture, one could not put borders on science or conquer it with armies.

When Gotkine turned to the subject of Israel’s brain drain, Peres stated that it was essential to provide people with the necessary conditions for their research.

“They go elsewhere because they can’t get the conditions they need at home,” he said.

“We have the good characteristics for research, but we have to add conditions and equipment.”

In that vein, Peres stated that to have an educational deficit was a greater risk than having a national deficit.

The conversation also touched briefly on Iran.

Peres reiterated his respect for US President Barack Obama, who had succeeded in forming a coalition that Peres said the Chinese and the Russians were still reluctant to join. Peres endorsed Obama’s decision to start with nonmilitary measures and said that the sanctions imposed in Iran were working and should continue.

Gotkine also asked Peres his secret for remaining mentally alert at age 90, to which the president replied, “When you discover all the secrets of the brain, I’ll know my own secret.”

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