Young professor combines aliyah, COVID-19 into AI breakthrough

French-Jewish scientist Joachim Behar leads a team, with four olim, working on PhysioZoo, an algorithm meant to help COVID-19 patients.

Prof. Joachim Behar (photo credit: Courtesy)
Prof. Joachim Behar
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Joachim Behar, 31, is one of the youngest scientists in the country to lead a lab. Working with Jeremy Levy, the two France-educated immigrants developed PhysioZoo, an algorithm that can look into data provided by a pulse oximeter and locate two sets of biomarkers to offer better care to COVID-19 patients.
Jeremy Levy (Credit: Courtesy)Jeremy Levy (Credit: Courtesy)
Biomarkers show when and how a disease is operating in the body and are extremely useful in preventive medicine. A pulse oximeter is a small electronic device that estimates the saturation of oxygen in blood by shooting light at different wavelengths through capillaries.
In the case of those already suffering from coronavirus, the question is not diagnostic, but rather prognostic, what will happen to them? How can they be helped?
Those infected spend a few seconds with an oximeter on them to measure the oxygen saturation level in their blood. Healthy people have roughly 95%-100%. However, those who suffer from COVID-19 pneumonia experience a drop as their lungs’ air sacs, over time, are filled with fluids, NPR reported in May.
This is a slow process, which is why a person who has the virus may feel healthy for days before they begin to show symptoms.
Behar and Levin established that, with PhysioZoo, it’s possible, in theory, to take data collected via an oximeter over several hours to find out if COVID-19 pneumonia is in the cards.
The Israeli public is used to hearing about COVID-19 in connection to speed. We’re often told rapid decisions and laws must be passed to curb the outbreak. However, Behar told The Jerusalem Post that “longer [thought out] and more accurate [decisions] might be better” when a patient’s life is at stake.
To take this success further, Behar and Levy are working with Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, with real COVID-19 patients, to produce complete biomarks sets by summer’s end.
Behar, who serves as the head of the Technion’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, refers to Levy as “a brilliant student.” Levy, in turn, says he owes a lot of his success to Israel Experience, crediting it with helping him learn Hebrew when he decided to make aliyah at 18 years of age.
“Thanks to their program I was able to integrate,” he said. “Without them I would never have gotten to where I am now.”
Former health minister Ya’acov Litzman often joked the Israel Experience is the sixth Medicine Faculty in the country. Israel Experience CEO Amos Hermon told the Post that “even now, during COVID-19, we were able to bring roughly 400 interns into the country and hope to bring 1,500 after the Jewish holidays.”
Amos Hermon / Courtesy Amos Hermon / Courtesy

The interns Israel Experience brings are young Jewish people from the diaspora who come to Israel to work.
An educational subsidiary of the Jewish Agency, Israel Experience provides the content for Masa and Taglit. So far, it has brought 700 doctors to the country and created Masa Israel Teachers Fellows (MITF), meant to address the shortage of English language teachers in Israel.
Both Behar and Levy told the Post they are extremely happy to be living in Israel and contributing to the national effort against the virus. Behar was proud to point out there are four olim in his team alone, they said that, for French speakers, information is not as readily available as it is in English.
“A lot of good work had been done,” Behar said. “For those who studied in France, it’s important for their skills to be recognized here.”