New Worlds: Southern railway could revolutionize development towns

"Improved transport is not enough as investment in education in these areas is vitally needed."

A railway line from the center of the country should be extended to Sderot, Netivot and Afakim as well as Beduin towns in the south, thereby boosting their economies, according to recommendations from researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology's architecture department in Haifa. Doctoral student Eran Lak, along with his supervisors Prof. Daniel Gat and Dr. Shlomo Bechor, note that these areas are 20 years behind the level of transportation in Israel's urban center. They predict that a railway would increase productivity in the development towns and Beduin areas by as much as 10 percent, and cutting the travel time from the south to the Dan region would promote local economies even more. But improved transport is not enough, they continued, as investment in education in these areas is vitally needed. Southern communities linked by a railway, said Lak, will be a major blessing. A line beginning in Ashdod and leading to Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim would turn the deprived development towns into a "metropolis." The two campuses of the Sapir Academic College near Sderot would be a boon, as they would encourage the construction of student dormitories, restaurants, cafés and pubs. "Instead of a small number of isolated settlements, 'railway communities' that spring up along the route would be only an hour's ride away from Tel Aviv," said the Technion researchers, who conducted a survey and found businesses and individuals would be interested in setting down roots there. SEEING THROUGH CANCER Zebrafish are genetically similar to humans, and are good models for human disease. Now, researchers at Children's Hospital Boston have created a zebrafish that is transparent, allowing direct observation of its internal organs and processes like tumor metastasis and blood production after bone-marrow transplant. The fish was created by Dr. Richard White, a clinical fellow in the hospital's stem cell program, who created the transparent fish simply by mating two existing zebrafish breeds. Zebrafish have three pigments in their skin - reflective, black and yellow. White mated a breed that lacks reflective pigment with one that lacks black pigment, so the offspring had only yellow pigment in their skin, essentially looking clear. The classic method for studying human diseases in animals is to allow the animal to get the disease, kill and dissect the animal, then ask what happened. But in cancer and other fast-changing body processes, this method is bound to miss something. "It's like taking a photograph when you need a video," says White. Zebrafish embryos have enabled researchers to study disease in live organisms, since they are transparent, but the adults are opaque. "Everything after four weeks has been invisible to us," he adds. White's first experiment on the zebrafish examined how a cancer spreads. "The process by which a tumor goes from being localized to widespread and ultimately fatal is the most vexing problem oncologists face," explains White. "We don't know why cancer cells decide to move away from their primary site." White created a fluorescent melanoma tumor in the transparent fish's abdominal cavity. Viewing the fish under a microscope, White saw the cancer cells begin to spread within five days, and individual cells metastasize - something that has not been observed in real-time in a living organism. The spreading melanoma cells appeared to "home" on the skin after leaving the abdominal cavity. "This told us that when tumor cells spread to other parts in the body, they don't do it randomly," says White. "They know where to go." White will study tumor-cell homing, then look for ways to modify the tumor cells or cells of the host so that the spreading cells never find their new location. The fish may also answer questions about stem-cell transplants. While transplants of blood-forming stem cells help cancer patients rebuild healthy blood, some transplants don't "take" for reasons unknown. Scientists have lacked a full understanding of what steps blood stem cells must take to do their job, says White. But the process is observable in the fish. He first irradiated a transparent fish's bone marrow, then transplanted fluorescent blood-forming stem cells from another zebrafish. By studying how the stem cells embed and build blood in the fish, scientists can look for ways to help patients rebuild their blood faster. Drugs and genes could be tested in the living fish, with direct observation of results, White says. WOMEN ON RISE IN SCIENCE The percentage of Israeli women getting degrees in science and engineering has jumped significantly over the past quarter century. The most impressive increase is in engineering, says Joe van Zwaren, director for exact sciences in the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports. In 1980, women received 7% of the degrees; by 1990, the figure doubled, and in 2006 it was 27%. Only one woman earned a doctoral degree in engineering in 1980, compared to eight in 1990 and 31 in 2006. Van Zwaren reported this after attending the annual scholarship award ceremony for women in science and bio-informatics from minority communities (Arabs, Druse and Circassians) at Jerusalem's Bloomfield Science Museum.