Spotlight on Education: Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusale

The profound mysteries of the mind and brain have captured the attention and imagination of the finest thinkers and researchers worldwide. These mysteries equally fascinate medical professionals striving to treat neurodegenerative illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Particularly as populations age, there is a pressing need for research that expands knowledge of the brain and tackles neurological conditions and disorders.

Myriad unanswered questions surround the field of brain science. What happens when people experience brain lesions? How does the brain restore skills after injury? Why and how do we remember music? How do the cortex and spinal cord work together? What causes dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder?

Israel’s foremost institution of higher learning and research, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is home to prominent, award-winning neuroscientists. Its Ph.D. program in interdisciplinary neuroscience is producing new generations of “renaissance thinkers” equipped to initiate basic research and translate their findings into clinical applications.

Twice recognized by the European Union as a “Center of Excellence,” Hebrew University has an impressive record of success in brain science research and new drug development. Its resources span Faculties and Schools on three campuses — among these Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Science, School of Pharmacy and the Harvey Krueger Family Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

In 2007, an international academic review committee, including two Nobel laureates, visited The Hebrew University. These experts from Columbia University, Rockefeller University, MIT and the Max Planck Institute concurred that Hebrew University’s neuroscience community, pending the recruitment of additional new faculty and a state-of-the-art research building, has the potential to become one of the world’s top five brain research centers. The Report of the Neuroscience Review Committee, followed by a generous challenge grant from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, has led to a major fundraising campaign in support of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) on the Edmond J. Safra Campus at Givat Ram.

Among the many exciting discoveries and innovations produced by interdisciplinary research teams: the development of brain-machine interfaces that enable paralyzed patients to activate a robotic limb directly from their brains; devices that help visually impaired individuals through the means of artificial vision and sensory substitution; the creation of a blood test that can detect susceptibility to stress in humans; and the utilization of novel optical probes for detecting micro-changes in the living brain associated with the ability to learn and remember.

ELSC scientists have translated basic research of the basal ganglia into Deep Brain Stimulation; the medical technique, which relies on electrodes strategically implanted in the brain, is used widely to treat Parkinson’s patients, alleviating debilitating symptoms.

Joint meetings between artists and ELSC scientists have explored creativity and aesthetic expression as they relate to brain function. Teams working across disciplines have developed powerful theoretical modeling approaches for understanding how the nervous system processes sensory information and prompts movement.

This groundbreaking work focuses on five main research areas — molecular neuroscience, neuronal circuits, systems neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience and computational neuroscience. Each project may operate at a different level of investigation and use different research tools; however, all seek to uncover the mechanisms by which the brain activates behavior and cognition.

Research ranges from the intensive study of genes, molecules and single neurons, to experiments examining advanced and complex behaviors such as thinking, decision-making and emotions. Research teams study neuronal circuits and interconnected brain areas and structures which contain many neuronal circuits acting in coordination. Experts in computational neuroscience apply theoretical approaches and use experimental data to test and construct theoretical models of the brain.

To guarantee Israel’s position in the vanguard of global neuroscience, plans are under way to construct the Jerusalem Brain Sciences building on the Safra Campus. This state-of the-art building made of Jerusalem stone will provide maximum laboratory flexibility so that researchers can collaborate and innovate. With 28 laboratories housed in two wings, it will promote interaction between disciplines: neurobiology, physiology, biochemistry, psychology, physics, and computer science and engineering. Designed by acclaimed architect Lord Norman Foster, the building will also provide a dynamic forum for international scientific collaboration and conferences.

Hebrew University offers the world brain research of the highest caliber. The work of these visionary scientists, often assisted by Israel’s finest doctoral students, is saving and improving lives while expanding our understanding of the human brain and its crucial functions.

For a virtual tour of the Jerusalem Brain Sciences building, visit American Friends of The Hebrew University at