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Trip to Israel Takes Many Turns

Trip to Israel Takes Many Turns

April 21, 2009

Alternative Energy, Desert & Water Research, Medical Research

Society Editor Skip Sheffield continues his report on his trip to BGU. His first article was published on April 5. The reports below were published in the Boca Raton News on April 12 and April 20. See his latest entry published on April 30.

April 12, 2009

Time seems to compress when you’re traveling in a foreign country.

When the travel is at the invitation of a major educational institution, there is an even greater urgency to make every minute count.

On our first full day of the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev 4th Annual Murray Fromson Media Mission, we got up early, traveled from Tel Aviv to a kibbutz out in the desert where we witnessed the latest advances in solar technology from Prof. David Faiman.

From there we continued to the biblical city of Beer-Sheva in the Negev Desert of Israel.

President Prof. Rivka Carmi

We were greeted at lunch by the BGU president herself, Prof. Rivka Carmi, M.D. Not only is Dr. Carmi Israel’s first female university president, she is a leading researcher on the molecular basis of specific genetic diseases in the Negev Arab-Bedouin population.

She has published in more than 100 publications in medical genetics, and she has identified 12 new genes and delineated three new syndromes (one of which is called the Carmi Syndrome).

As Dr. Carmi pointed out, almost 50 percent of the world has become desert, and in the past decade there has been an increased awareness and sense of urgency to the need to conserve water, tap solar energy, and find ways to alleviate world hunger.

What better way to research the environment in time of scarcity than in the desert?

An ordinary guy from America begins to feel rather insignificant among such great minds of science and medicine, but we are after all, human beings.

Homeland Security

We journalists were given the choice of hearing experts from the Homeland Security Institute or the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Israelis take homeland security very seriously. Even the campus cops carry Uzi machine guns.

BGU has in fact hooked up with the Israel Defense Force in developing new high-tech defenses, including “Fighting Terror in Cyberspace.”

Beer-Sheva was caught in the crossfire when hundreds of missiles rained in the Western Negev in December. Several missiles landed in Beer-Sheva, but with no major loss of life.

The attacks temporarily shut down the university and curtailed operations at the Soroka and Barzilai Hospitals. Faculty and student volunteers worked around the clock treating wounded soldiers and civilians.

Nevertheless, I opted for health sciences, for who among us is not interested in good health.

Health Sciences

BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences was established in 1974. There are 17 researchers working in the fields of immunology and microbiology and 20 researchers investigating cancer and tumors malignant and benign.

Prof. Ron Apte has been researching the possibility of intervening in the malignant process by neutralizing inflammatory components in the tumor.

“I am a mouse physician,” Dr. Apte jokes. “But cancer is unfortunately more resourceful than we are.”

Joking aside, Dr. Apte and his staff have made promising advances in the early identification and treatment of tumors in mice, and drug companies are interested.

Prof. Amos Katz is director of the Cardiology Department at BGU. He has been developing implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators to combat arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). He and his colleagues have applied for a patent on miniature electrodes on small animals.

Presumably humans are next. Dr. Katz notes that arrhythmia increases with age, and markedly so after 70.

Somehow age 70 does not seem that far distant.

April 20, 2009

There are two main challenges facing a layman writing about medical research for the first time.

Problem one is simply understanding the complex issues. Problem two is relaying what was learned in a fashion that won’t put a reader to sleep.

Our first day of heavy mental lifting at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev continued with a discussion of atrial fibrillation with Prof. Arie Moran, followed by sleep disorders with Ariel Tarsiuk.

Prof. Tarsiuk informed us that insomnia strikes men four times as often than women, and collectively as many as 80 percent of older people. All the more reason for continued research on sleep disorders.

Later we learned of the importance of zinc in the diet (but don’t take too much) and of the continuing research on the causes and possible cure of diabetes.


Prof. Dani Buskila specializes in pain research, and specifically fibromyalgia or chronic pain in muscles and connective tissue. This painful malady is 90 percent more likely to occur in women than men, and because of this, it has been historically given a lesser position in the parade of research.

Not so at BGU. Researchers there have been investigating the genetic causes of fibromyalgia and environmental factors that increase its severity.

Dr. Buskila blended humor with his presentation by showing paintings and photos of famous women who may have suffered fibromyalgia.

After a full day of facts and figures, our group of a dozen American journalists was only too happy to check into the Golden Tulip hotel in Beer-Sheva. The day wasn’t over yet, however.

Over dinner at “Mor Noodles Bar” we met two young BGU researchers: Dr. Iris Shai and Dr. Danit Shahar.

Dr. Shai concentrates on nutrition and specifically the effect on moderate alcohol intake. Dr. Shahar focuses on nutrition of elderly people.

When you’re on a “mission” (AAGBU 4th Annual Murray Fromson Media Mission), even breakfast involves note taking.

In this case, we noted Dr. Mony Benifla, who spoke on drug-resistant epilepsy, and Dr. Ilan Shelef from the BGU brain-imaging group.

Video Wheels

Adjacent to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is Soroka University Medical Center. Like the University of Miami’s Medical School at Jackson and Cedars Hospital, Soroka is a teaching and research institution as well as a working community hospital.

We met Dr. Eli Lewis, who recently published revolutionary research in treating diabetic animals, offering hope in the fight against juvenile and adult diabetes.

Prof. David Shinar is the chief scientist of Israel’s National Road Safety Authority. Dr. Shinar has a laboratory in the hospital complex that features a full-sized late-model Cadillac equipped with computer-simulated driving controls facing a large video screen.

In a sense, Dr. Shinar’s Caddy (donated by General Motors) is a giant video game. Test subjects sit at the wheel and “drive” the stationary vehicle through towns, cites and the open road.

This is a safe, practical way to test the effects of alcohol and drug impairment as well as advancing age. This might be a good idea to have such an effective test lab here in Florida for judging the ability of drivers.

Just around the corner were more wonders in the Negev: a fish farm and vineyard in the desert and the ancient outpost of Avdat on the biblical Spice Route or Silk Road from India to the Middle East.