Ottawa funds joint Israeli-Canadian medical research

Pictured at the Ontario Science Centre are, from left, Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, International Development Research Centre president Jean Lebel, Finance Minister Joe Oliver, Canadian Institutes of Health Research president Alain Beaudet and Azrieli Foundation CEO Naomi Azrieli. CP IMAGES/STEPHANIE LAKE PHOTO

TORONTO — Thanks to a new investment by Ottawa in the Canada-Israel Health Research Program, the best and brightest of the Canadian and Israeli scientific communities will work together to improve our understanding in the fields of neuroscience and biomedicine.

On behalf of the program’s partners – the Azrieli Foundation, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Israel Science Foundation – Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced June 25 at the Ontario Science Centre that the seven-year, $35-million program will fund up to 30 research projects.

The first call for applications, focusing on new frontiers in neuroscience was announced in January. Up to six $1-million grants per year will be awarded to joint Canadian-Israeli research teams for up to three years.

Subsequent calls for applications may include areas of interest such as cancer biology, immunology, stem cell research and molecular medicine.

“Canada and Israel are renowned for excellence in health research, particularly in the neurosciences,” Oliver said.

“The Canada-Israel Health Research Program harnesses the collective energies of our two great nations to pursue basic biomedical research aimed at improving health outcomes for Canadians, Israelis and people throughout the world.”

Benny Gieger, chair of the academic board for the Israel Science Foundation, the primary public funding body promoting basic research in Israel, said he was “extremely excited” to be part of this program.

“First and foremost, the research achievements of both Israeli and Canadian researchers in different biomedical fields – including brain research, cancer biology, and immunology – are truly outstanding and in many cases, highly complementary,” Geiger said.

“Secondly, we are genuinely excited at the thought of working with IDRC, CIHR, and the Azrieli Foundation, with whom we share the commitment and dedication to promoting scientific excellence.”

The program will also include researchers from developing countries, who will contribute to and benefit from their involvement in the program. One of the goals of the program is to enhance the research capacity in developing countries and build international scientific relationships.

Azrieli Foundation CEO Naomi Azrieli said her organization has offered research grants to scientists for the past 10 years, but 1-1/2 years ago, she began to seek new ways to promote collaborations between Canada and Israel, as well as fund revolutionary scientific research.  

“Canada is our home and our pride is to be a Canadian foundation, but Israel is our passion, and funding science at the highest level is our mission. If we can bring our pride and passion and mission together in this, the sum is greater than its parts,” Azrieli said.

“Both Canada and Israel have some of the finest neuroscientists in the world, truly doing cutting-edge research, but with slightly different focuses. Canada has some real depth of expertise in neuroimaging, and Israel has a particular depth of expertise in computational biology, systems biology of the brain and bringing multi-disciplinary collaborative teams together from both countries… it’s a wow factor to bring them together.”

Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, said Israel and Canada enjoy “excellent co-operation” when it comes to health research, and this program will help “get together the best and the brightest on both sides.” 

Barak, who said he is grateful to the Canadian government and the partners for funding this program, noted that neuroscience is becoming more important as people live longer, “and the brain is the last organ in our body that remains to be discovered.”