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Updated 2:15 PM December 9, 2008




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U-M-Israeli research partnership elicits 'overwhelming response'

Fifty international research teams are vying for funding in the first round of a University-based program to strengthen ties between U-M and Israeli life scientists.

The Life Sciences Institute received 50 proposals for funding under the U-M/Israel Partnership for Scientific Research. That's about five times more research proposals than LSI Director Alan Saltiel expected to receive.

"I thought we might get 10 at the most," Saltiel says. "So I was surprised by the number and the quality of the responses, as well as the number of collaborations that already exist between our scientists and colleagues in Israel.

"It was an overwhelming response, and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg," says Saltiel, who helped found the partnership in 2004 with the help of a gift from Joe and Ellen Goldstein. To date, the partnership has received gifts totaling around $450,000.

Over the summer, LSI requested proposals for research projects that would team U-M researchers with scientists at Israeli institutions. LSI received proposals for collaborative projects on topics ranging from heart disease and cancer genetics to stem cell biology, deafness and tissue engineering.

The teams include scientists from Israel's top-flight research centers: the Weizmann Institute of Science, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

A selection committee is reviewing the proposals and will make awards in two categories: the Fund for Collaborative Research (up to $100,000 for one year) and the Fund for Student and Faculty Research Exchange (up to $50,000 to support an exchange opportunity).

"This is a way to support both the University of Michigan and Israel by utilizing the wonderful brainpower at each," says Detroit businessman, philanthropist and U-M alumnus Joel Tauber.

"It's a great opportunity for Israeli scientists to make use of the unrivaled research facilities at the Life Science Institute," says Tauber, co-chair of the committee that oversees the partnership. "At the same time, our scientists benefit from the tremendous intellectual capacity of the Israelis and the fact that they do work in some areas we can't get into."

For example, Israelis scientists are leaders in embryonic stem cell research. In Michigan, state law had placed tight limits on embryonic stem cell research, though a ballot initiative approved by voters on Nov. 4 will loosen those restrictions.

"Israeli scientists, per capita, probably have the strongest scientific community in the world," Saltiel says. "And they're very entrepreneurial. The Weizmann Institute, for instance, has incredible revenues from discoveries and patents and products that have come out of their research."

Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Amnon Rosenthal said he's confident the U-M/Israel partnership will speed the development of new disease therapies.

"I don't have any doubt about it," says Rosenthal, who serves on the partnership committee. "The outcome of many of these basic-research studies will be clinical applications related to the origins of disease and the treatment of medical disorders."

Awarding the first round of cooperative research grants marks the next phase in the evolution of the U-M/Israel Partnership for Scientific Research.

"We think this thing is really going to explode, because the benefits are just so great for both sides," Saltiel says.

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