Danny Shapiro calls it “Israel’s best-kept secret.” And after 36 years, and 36 Nobel prizes, he has a point. The US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) may not make many headlines by itself, but as the foundation’s director of development and public affairs admits, its impact is just too wide to calculate.
Founded in September 1972, after Yitzhak Rabin, then Ambassador to the US, initiated a binational agreement, both countries set aside $30 million each and agreed to jointly conduct research in basic science.
In the years since then, BSF has provided about $400 million to support more than 4,000 different research projects impacting, among others, the fields of medicine, physics, economics, energy, psychology and peoples’ lives everywhere. This year alone, there are more than 300 research projects being conducted.
Consider the 2004 Nobel Prize awarded to Israeli Profs. Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, together with America’s Prof. Irwin Rose from the University of California at Irvine.
Fifteen years of financial support from the BSF fueled the joint discovery of the Ubiquitin System, and made new insights into treating cancer possible.
Less glittery, but no less important, is the BSF-funded research that went into reviving the Positron Emitting Tomography (PET scan) technology. The scanner, which identifies disorders such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer, was almost shelved, explains Yair Rotstein, a physicist and the executive director of the BSF.
“The development of this basic oncological diagnostic tool was almost abandoned, due to a lack of abundant short-lived isotopes required for the imaging,” Rotstein tells ISRAEL21c.
However, BSF support in the form of research grants to Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Shlomo Rozen and Washington University’s Prof. Michael Welch brought the project back to life and for 15 years, until new isotopes were discovered, this joint research enabled PET scan technology to diagnose health problems and save lives.
The list goes on: There is the research of Hossam Haick from the Technion, who is developing a biosensor that can sniff out cancer; Prof. Hermona Soreq from Hebrew University and Prof. J. Patrick of Baylor College of Medicine, who pioneered molecular approaches for understanding stress-associated diseases.
There is also the joint research of Prof. Ilana Gozes from Tel Aviv University and Dr. Douglas Brenneman from the National Institute of Health. Together, the researchers are studying brain-specific molecules related to loss of memory, decreased learning ability and the inhibition of sexual function.
Prof. David Gross from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Nobel Laureate in Physics, comments on the importance of the BSF: “In this way science in both countries has been greatly aided, but also the relationship between our two countries has been greatly strengthened.”
Not only does the BSF ensure that some of the world’s best minds come together for basic scientific research, despite their geographic separation, but the BSF feeds the growth of young minds in both nations as well.
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