Israeli, California Scientists Benefit From Continued Generosity of the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation

The late Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert

If the past few months have made one thing clear, it is that scientists play a crucial role in solving the world’s most urgent challenges. The late Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert knew this throughout their lives. And for almost 10 years, BSF has enjoyed a far-reaching partnership with the foundation that bears their names. Thanks to the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation – BSF Multiplier Research Grants Program, teams of scientists in Israel have partnered with contemporaries at UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley).

The program’s primary goal is to expand the size of the award for qualified research projects identified through BSF’s strict grant selection process. This has resulted in key funding for nine potentially transformative projects in a wide range of science fields.

Born and raised in England, the Gilberts immigrated to Los Angeles in 1949 and became successful real estate entrepreneurs. They committed their efforts to significant charitable endeavors involving education, economic development, and scientific research in Israel, as well as research programs at UC Berkeley and UCLA.

Martin Blank, co-trustee of the Gilbert Foundation, said that BSF’s mission to connect Israeli and U.S. scientists fits perfectly with the Foundation’s goals.

“By connecting top scientists and researchers at UCLA and at UC Berkeley with talented scientists in Israel, we are continuing Rosalinde and Arthur’s commitment to making this world a better place, and to strengthening the bonds between Israel and the United States,” Blank said.

Approved projects, which are already funded with BSF grants, receive additional grants from the Foundation, enabling them to expand their joint research and better achieve their scientific goals.

Several of the projects supported through the Foundation’s partnership with BSF have already yielded promising results published in prestigious scientific journals.

A project led by Profs. Ran Nathan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Wayne Getz of UC Berkeley, focused on the foraging and movement patterns of Griffon vultures, an endangered species in the Middle East. The investigators wanted to discover how these patterns vary with respect to resource predictability, as well as social (dominance and information sharing), and internal (breeding status) factors.

With funding from the Gilbert Foundation, they captured and tracked 67 vultures in southern Israel, using high-resolution cutting-edge Global Positioning System (GPS)-based telemetry, behavioral field observations and innovative modeling techniques. Their findings have led to new insights on ways vultures interact with their surrounding environments.   Beside their value in guiding conservation strategies, the findings also shed more light on the vultures’ role in the earth’s ecosystem. Because the vultures eat carcasses that could otherwise spread disease, a better understanding of their foraging habits could play an important role in curbing the spread of pandemics. Their successful cooperation led Nathan and Getz also to receive a joint U.S. National Science Foundation-BSF grant that supports a separate project focusing on parasites and pathogens that birds carry with them when they migrate. The goal, Nathan said, is to build statistically supported relationships between movement behavior, the health of the birds, and transmission of any diseases they may have. Their discoveries could help scientists learn more about how serious infectious diseases spread.

Though their research on vultures took place years before the current COVID-19 pandemic, Nathan and Getz are experts on disease connections between birds and humans, which is so relevant today, since COVID-19 is believed to have originated in bats. In a recent UC Berkeley blog post promoting increased funding for ecological systems research, Getz wrote that scientists “need to identify the full family of viruses that spread swiftly to humans from mammals, birds and other species. We must also learn how the distribution and density of host species might change in an ecologically disrupted and globally warming world with a burgeoning human population.”

Another project funded through the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert multiplier grants program has important implications in several fields, including mathematics, engineering and telecommunications. A team led by Profs. Moshe Idan of Technion and Jason L. Speyer of UCLA focused on the Gaussian probability density function (pdf), a bell-shaped curve that has been a central element in engineering and financial algorithms that process data and automate a desired operation. Gaussian functions are widely used in areas such as statistics, signal processing, mathematics and image processing.

Idan and Speyer proposed a new theory involving algorithms based on a heavy-tailed pdf, known as the Cauchy pdf. The Cauchy distribution has been used in many applications such as mechanical and electrical theory, physical anthropology, measurement problems, risk and financial analysis. This project addressed the development of a new class of signal processing and feedback control algorithms.

For the first time, because of this research, there is now a rational approach to handling measurement outliers that have plagued Gaussian algorithms. This research should also have ramifications in its application to economics and business, as well as engineering control systems.

The Gilbert multiplier grants program has also helped provide funding for projects in the following areas:

Cybersecurity – Profs. Eyal Kushilevitz and Yuval Ishai of Technion, along with Profs. Rafail Ostrovsky and Amit Sahai of UCLA are studying whether two or more participants could carry out a computation involving their private data in a way that ensures the correctness of the computation and the privacy of the data. This research addresses real world problems and will allow further security integrity through multiple digital channels.

Ecology – A diverse team of scientists and researchers – Prof. Thomas Bruns of UC Berkeley, Prof. Ovadia Ofer of Ben Gurion University
Dr. Yagil Osem of the Agricultural Research Organization, Prof. Hagai Shemesh of Tel Hai Academic College and Prof. Yohai Carmel of Technion – are exploring issues that control the regeneration of trees after a forest fire. This study will contribute to the planning and management of post-fire forest rehabilitation and restoration.

Bioinformatics/Computer Sciences — Dr. Eleazar Eskin of UCLA and Prof. Eran Halperin of Tel Aviv University are looking closely at the connections between common genetic variants and diseases. They are using new algorithmic and modeling techniques that may be used beyond the scope of genetics. By developing novel algorithms and releasing software tools for the analysis of sequenced based studies, the team hopes these tools could be used by geneticists, leading to an improved understanding of the role of genes in disease.

Sociology – Studying the social perspective in a changing healthcare environment, Profs. Aviad Raz of Ben Gurion University and Stefan Timmermans of UCLA are examining the connections between newborn screening (NBS) – testing done within the first few days of an infant’s life to identify genetic and metabolic disorders – and the technologies used by hospitals for these screenings. Their findings could have a significant impact on global standardization and the management of NBS technologies at hospitals, as well as increased utilization of NBS in the US and Israel.

Psychobiology – Profs. Naomi Eisenberger of UCLA and Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory of the University of Haifa are creating a conceptual framework that examines the brain activity of two interacting individuals during consolation. Using advanced neuroimaging technology, they are looking into the connections between empathy-related activations in the consoler, as well as they consoled. This two-brain approach may have important implications for the development of new neuroimaging protocols of real-time human interpersonal social interactions. The findings could also have groundbreaking implications for understanding how social touch can diminish levels of pain.

Neurodegenerative Diseases – Profs. Alon Friedman of Ben Gurion University and Daniela Kaufer of UC Berkeley hope to come up with ways to identify patients at risk of brain injury, and to prevent injury-related neurocognitive complications as a result of brain injury. Their research could offer new insights into the mechanisms underlying brain injuries and contribute to development of new strategies for diagnosis and prevention of injury-related complications.

Medicinal Chemistry – Currently, techniques that use light to control neuronal function in the brain often rely on high-energy ultraviolet (UV) light that can cause extensive damage to living systems. Profs. Evan W. Miller of UC Berkeley and Roy Weinstain of Tel Aviv University hope to discover alternative techniques for the control and direct monitoring of neuron activity in real-time, using non-harmful, low-energy, visible light. Such techniques could significantly improve scientists’ ability to conduct neurobiological research with high precision and without fear of damaging their research specimen or organism.

Thanks to the generosity of the Gilbert Foundation, these scientific teams have better resources needed to continue their unique quests – all the while exemplifying the Gilberts’ legacy of strengthening ties between the U.S. and Israel in ways that contribute to enduring, positive changes.