Hebrew Uni to dedicate brain science centre

June 9, 2017 by Dov Smith
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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is to dedicate the new home of The Edmond and Lily Safra Centre for Brain Sciences (ELSC) in Jerusalem next week.

Lily Safra

More than 400 people from Israel and abroad will attend the gala dedication and naming ceremony of the largest neuroscience center in Israel and one of the most ambitious in the world.

Participating in the event will be Mrs. Lily Safra, a leading supporter of neuroscience research projects around the world, and Chairwoman of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, which pledged a lead donation of $50 Million of the Center’s $150 Million initial budget.

“I am truly thrilled to join in celebrating this defining moment for ELSC when such an extraordinary new building becomes home to a remarkable community of researchers and students,” said Mrs. Lily Safra. “Their multi-disciplinary study of the brain’s secrets will surely make a profound impact on how we treat disease and care for patients. I know that my husband Edmond would share my deep sense of pride that our names are associated with such pioneering work, and with such dedicated and inspiring people.”

The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences is at the forefront of the revolution in neuroscience research. Harnessing the extraordinary opportunities created by advances in technology and medicine, ELSC is shaping the next generation of researchers to advance the brain sciences and transform the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

“ELSC is unique in the way it brings together theoretical and experimental researchers to develop pioneering approaches to brain science,” said Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, President of the Hebrew University.  “The Hebrew University is grateful to Mrs. Lily Safra and the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation for their leadership in this historic initiative to unlock the mysteries of the brain.”

Lord Norman Foster, the award-winning Founder and Executive Chairman of British architectural firm Foster + Partners, which designed the new Center, will participate in the gala event.

“The project for the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences is much like a city in microcosm, with some of the same challenges: how do we best create a sense of community, share knowledge, bring people together, and support collective endeavours towards common goals? The building works flexibly, accommodating a diverse range of requirements from customisable, individual workstations to a central courtyard that is the social heart, breaking the traditional mould of learning and making the process more collaborative. It is a celebration of the brain, and of the vital work that is carried out by the researchers here,” said Lord Foster.

The 14,500 square-meter Center includes state-of-the-art labs, classrooms, an innovative imaging center, and areas for biological and pre-clinical research. Significant emphasis was placed on constructing an environmentally friendly building with a focus on conserving energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Prof. Israel Nelken, Co-Director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, and the Milton z”l and Brindell Gottlieb Professor of Brain Science, said: “At the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, scientists follow an interdisciplinary agenda to uncover the causal links between genes, neurons and circuits from which cognition and behavior emerge, paving the way to a wide spectrum of future applications, from clever gadgets that improve quality of life to better health care.”

ELSC scientists have already paved a way towards fundamental understanding of brain processes in health and disease. At the Lab for Understanding Neurons, Prof. Idan Segev, the David & Inez Myers Professor in Computational Neuroscience, uses mathematical tools to digitally reconstruct a whole piece of cortical circuits using powerful computers. Using these models his team recently discovered rich structures or connectivity previously unknown. These “hidden” circuit structures pose constraints on how sensory information is processed in the neocortex. Prof. Merav Ahissar, the Joseph H. and Belle Braun Professor of Psychology, with longstanding interest in studying dyslexia, recently found that a central problem for dyslexics is forming prediction, a fundamental aspect of brain computing that governs our behaviors.

ELSC’s young generation of researchers are also studying the brain at unprecedented resolutions. Dr. Ami Citri, for example, received  the prestigious $100,000 Adelis Brain Research Award for his outstanding work in the field of experience-dependent plasticity and its impact on diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders. Most projects are led by ELSC’s PhD students, an elite group of young scholars.

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