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Ontario, Israel urged to boost brain research

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Israeli President Shimon Peres, left, is greeted by Dr. William Reichman, president and CEO of Baycrest, at a brain research roundtable in Toronto on May 9.

TORONTO — Israeli President Shimon Peres says Ontario and Israel should increase their research co-operation in developing new treatments for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Peres spoke at a roundtable sponsored by Baycrest in partnership with the Ontario Brain Institute and the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation during his state visit to Canada.

Addressing the panel, Peres said that  “we live in a new age with an old mind. There is a disharmony between how we live and what we have to face.”

In modern human development, he said, land has suddenly stopped being humanity’s major provider. “It has been replaced by science, and science is totally different. The army can’t control science, and science doesn’t have borders.

“The brain is the most brilliant instrument we possess. It guides us, but we don’t have any idea how it functions. We know what is happening around us, but we don’t know what is happening inside us. We have to try to understand this mechanism. [It contains] one of the greatest secrets of our lifetime.”

Also participating in the roundtable were experts in various areas of brain research and the commercialization of applications related to it.

They included University of Toronto president David Naylor; Peter Carlen, senior scientist at the Toronto Western Research Institute; Rafi Gidron, founder and chair of Israel Brain Technologies; Randy McIntosh, director of Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, and John Soloninka, president and CEO of HTX – the Health Technology Exchange.

Each spoke briefly about their respective areas of research or expertise, and each praised the potential scientific, medical and other benefits to Canada and Israel of increasing such high-level collaboration between the two countries.

In introducing the roundtable, William Reichman, president and CEO of Baycrest, said that two years ago, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty led a trade mission to Israel and the West Bank to promote Ontario’s innovative life sciences companies, as well as to attract investment and strengthen cultural ties.

It was during that mission, Reichman said, that participants realized the world was on the threshold of a new age.

“Whoever we are, we are enabled by a healthy mind, and a healthy mind is supported by a healthy brain. We must find the next generation of therapies.”

He said that if the onset of Alzheimer’s disease can be delayed by five years, the prevalence of the disease could be lowered by 50 per cent.

“If it can be delayed by 10 years, it could be eradicated,” Reichman said.

“We must do for brain [research] in coming years, what we have done for heart research.”

Panel facilitator Henri Rothschild, president of the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation (CIIRDF), said that brain research spans a range of disciplines, from research to application.

The panel, he said, represents a road map of what Canadians are capable of doing as partners with Israel.

Soloninka, the self-described “business guy” on the panel, said that globally, Ontario stands fourth in neuroscience research. “Israel and Ontario [share a vision] and have the ability to contribute to each other. The Brain Institute embodies that collaboration.”

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