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Israel's largest brain research center will be built at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at a cost of $130 million, funded jointly by Lily Safra - president of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation- and by HU.
She will announce the project officially during her visit to Israel this week. Planned to be the most ambitious initiative of its kind in Israel's history and one of the most important in the world, it will be called the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC).
The decision to invest in a center for brain sciences is based on the findings of an international monitoring committee, whose members include two Nobel laureates, Prof. Bert Sakmann and Prof. Richard Axel.
The committee determined that the level of research in the field of brain sciences at HU is among the highest in the world, and that a newly equipped center will enable the university to be ranked among the top five in the world in this field. It will open immediately in existing facilities on the Givat Ram campus, with dozens of staffers, and be announced officially at the 72nd meeting of HU's board of governors meetings next week.
In addition, there will be lectures on the brain by leading researchers from the university and overseas.
HU president Prof. Menachem Magidor said that thanks to the leadership foundation, the university would be able to help solve one of the key scientific questions of the 21st century - how the human brain works - by discovering new medical approaches for treating neurological disorders and applying new technologies that imitate the activity of the human brain."
According to the acting director of the ELSC, Prof. Eilon Vaadia, "With an increasing aging population and a rise in the prevalence of neurological disorders in old age, brain research should be a key issue in modern society. In another 15 years or so, we as a society won't have the financial capacity to support all the health problems for the growing ageing population, and so we must quickly find solutions."
Lily Safra said before her departure from her home in Geneva, "Understanding the brain is the premier challenge of our time, and I am confident that the Hebrew University's investigators and students will make a profound impact. My husband Edmond [who established the Edmond J. Safra Foundation] would have been so proud that his name is linked to an initiative that brings new hope to families around the world suffering from Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other devastating brain diseases."
The ELSC will pursue five different inter-cooperative fields of brain research: Genes, molecules and nerve cells in the brain; the structure and function of local neuronal circuits; electrical activity and the communication between brain areas, with the aim of understanding how senses, movement and thoughts are created; cognitive processes and will focus mainly on aspects of human brain function; and theoretical fields, computational aspects and building models of the nervous system, proposing new experiments and predicting their results. It will recruit an additional 15 members of staff to undertake the research.
"The foundation's projects in Israel form one part of our activities that span over 50 countries," said Safra. "Our commitment to supporting our partners in Israel, as in other countries, remains the same, especially during these hard times, when so many foundations are being forced to reduce the scope of their work. My inspiration has always been my husband Edmond, who considered philanthropy to be a duty and devoted his legacy to helping the less fortunate now and for generations to come."
The foundation will donate an unprecedented $50m. towards the project - the largest gift of its kind ever made for establishment of an Israeli research center. HU is seeking additional funding from its friends in Israel and around the world.
It is estimated that, among its grants worldwide, the foundation will invest over $30m. in Israeli non-profit organizations in 2009 alone. During the last decade, it has provided over $250m. in assistance to educational, medical, scientific, cultural and community projects in Israel. In the summer of 2007, in commemoration of what would have been her husband's 75th birthday, the foundation made special donations of $180,000 to each of 75 organizations in Israel, totaling $13.5m., in addition to its regular grant making program.
Lily Safra also will also inaugurate the Edmond J. Safra Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities at the University of Haifa. The foundation recently made a supplementary grant to this center for an educational enrichment program benefiting Israeli Arabs. This additional donation supplements a previous grant made to the University of Haifa as part of the foundation's $31m. program addressing the "brain drain" problem in which Israelis who studied here remain abroad after finishing their post-doctoral work abroad rather than returning to Israel universities.
Edmond J. Safra, one of the 20th century's most accomplished bankers and a dedicated philanthropist, established a major philanthropic foundation to ensure that needy individuals and organizations would continue to receive his assistance. Following his death in 1999, and now under the chairmanship of his widow, the foundation has assisted hundreds of organizations in over 50 countries.