Israeli-Palestinian research projects focus of Hebrew U. symposium

The trilateral cooperation program not only helps science, but also promotes peace in the region.

Despite the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict, trilateral research involving Israeli, German, Palestinian or Jordanian scientists is going forward in a number of areas designed to improve the quality of life for people in the Middle East and elsewhere. They include gene therapy to treat bladder cancer, the introduction of aquaculture into the Palestinian Authority and the creation of new memory for nanoelectronics. A demonstration of this cooperation will take place on Monday, when the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Authority for Research and Development hosts a symposium on trilateral cooperation, with the participation of a high-level delegation from the Deutsche Forschunsgemeinschaft (DFG) (the German Research Foundation). The delegation will hear presentations on several projects it is funding that involve HU, German and Palestinian or Jordanian researchers. Prof. Hillel Bercovier, the HU's vice-president for research and development, said "the trilateral cooperation program funded by the DFG is a unique success story which has allowed true and solid cooperative scientific work to go forward under difficult conditions. It has built and consolidated sciences and science infrastructures in the institutions that needed it the most. It has also helped in retaining scientists in the region and in building friendship and leadership that will work together for a better future and peace." The German delegation will be headed by Prof. Dr. Helmut Schwarz, DFG vice-president, and Prof. Dr. Matthias Kleiner, president-elect. Also participating will be others from the DFG and representatives of the Germany Embassy in Israel. HU scientists are collaborating with counterparts from Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem and Germany's University of Hohenheim on an environmentally safe method for increasing the yield of the Nile tilapia, better known in Israel as St. Peter's fish. Success of the project, it is hoped, will lead to fish pond farming in the Palestinian economy, something which is currently very rare. The project involves introduction of a compound extracted from the plant fenugreek (hilbe) into ponds containing young fish. The compound will have an androgenic effect, changing female fish into males. Since male tilapia grow 20 percent faster than females, the sex change increases production efficiency and lowers costs. Limited numbers of young females are separated before this treatment and kept in separate ponds for future procreation. Although this process already exists, the androgenic material currently used for this purpose is regarded as not good for either human consumption or the environment. Experimental work will show that the organic compound derived by the Israeli-German-Palestinian team from the fenugreek plant can have the same "sex change" effect on the tilapia while constituting no threat to the human diet. Currently, a water recirculation system is being built at Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem to facilitate further work on this project, which has been functioning for a year. The ongoing research project on developing gene therapy for treatment of bladder cancer involves researchers from HU, Mokassed Hospital in east Jerusalem and the University of Dusseldorf. Bladder carcinoma is one of the most prevalent cancers worldwide, including in Germany and Middle Eastern countries. Treatment includes surgery and chemotherapy, which are not perfect because tumors can reappear and spread to other organs. Therefore, molecular markers are needed to enable early diagnosis and better therapeutic treatment; ideally, they could help to select individualized therapies. The goals of the joint Israeli-German-Palestinian project are to continue ongoing research towards development of molecular markers for bladder cancer and a DNA-based gene therapy. This would make it possible not only to identify bladder cancer at an early stage - thereby greatly improving chances of successful treatment - but also to better cope with this and other cancers in a manner tailored to the properties of each tumor. Meanwhile, HU scientists and colleagues from Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem and Germany's Regensburg University have been collaborating on a project to create new memory for nanoelectronics. The project involves the engineering of SP1 - an extremely stable ring-like protein complex only 10 nanometers in diameter - to bind gold nanoparticles and the arranging of these hybrids in a large array of very close molecular memory elements. The SP1-gold nanoparticle hybrids can also serve as building blocks for various nanostructures in a "Lego-like" fashion. Long wires of alternating SP1 protein rings and nanoparticles can be formed, and the electrical properties of the wires may be manipulated by genetic engineering. The nanowires and arrays, once optimized, may be used for advanced nanoelectronics and memory applications.