Azrieli Foundation’s latest donation will greatly expand autism research in Israel

Students stroll through campus at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. (David Saranga/Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Azrieli Foundation will donate $15.6 million to further autism research at two Israeli institutions, it announced Oct. 29.

The funds will go to the National Autism Research Centre of Israel, a collaboration between scientists from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and clinicians from Soroka University Medical Center, both based in Be’er Sheva.

In honour of the significant donation, the centre has been renamed the Azrieli National Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopment Research.

The six-year plan will expand the centre and its reach across Israel. A dedicated facility inside the Soroka hospital will double the space for working with children with autism and will house genetics/bioinformatics, bio-marker detection and neuroimaging labs.

Data collection will be expanded to multiple autism clinics throughout Israel, where clinical and behavioural data, blood and DNA samples and neuroimaging data will be collected. This data will enable the National Autism Database to triple in size within five years.

Autism is actually a “family of multiple disorders” with a variety of symptoms, Prof. Ilan Dinstein, director of the Azrieli National Centre for Autism, said in a news release.

“The big challenge is to determine how many types of autism there are, how to best identify them early, and most importantly, what interventions work best for each type. To determine this, scientists have to partner with clinicians and study large numbers of children with autism over extended periods of time,” Dinstein said.

Building a national system of extensive data collection and data sharing from sites where autism is diagnosed and treated “will enable multiple labs in all academic centers across Israel to study the disorder and advance the discovery of new diagnosis techniques and interventions,” he said.

Autism research and developing southern Israel are both particular interests of the Azrieli Foundation, the largest non-corporate foundation in Canada.

“Ben-Gurion University and the city of Be’er Sheva are especially close to our heart, as it is our goal to further help develop the Negev and create more opportunities in the area,” Danna Azrieli, chair of the Azrieli Group said in a press release, “It is our biggest wish to see the Negev flourish by developing its educational systems, academic facilities and its health services, all in the hope of creating an inclusive and equal society in Israel.”