Negev Connection: Spring 2022

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C O N N E C T I O N BGU’s Medical Breakthroughs: Leading-Edge Education, Research & More PAGE 6 Meet Dr. Oren Shriki, BGU’s Resident Brain Science Expert


Building a Healthy, Thriving Negev Community A MESSAGE FROM THE CEO These are difficult times; my heart goes out to those whose lives have been uprooted by the crisis in Ukraine. As families continue to be displaced and disruptions to all facets of life mount for people living in Ukraine, I am immensely proud of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) for opening its classrooms, dorms, and labs to Ukrainian students and scholars studying and performing research. Faced with continued global uncertainty, we at Americans for Ben-Gurion University recognize the importance of tikkun olam — or repairing the world, from environmental research to global health. BGU has quickly become a leader in scientific innovation, inter-disciplinary research, and applied sciences. Throughout these pages, you will read about breakthroughs in medical research taking place at BGU, where physicians and researchers are working to prevent diseases such as diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Graduates from BGU’s two renowned medical schools, as well as other disciplines in the Faculty of Health Sciences, leave campus equipped to change the world — and together, we are doing just that; in the Negev, the State of Israel, and global communities. As always, thank you for your partnership and your dedication to Americans for Ben-Gurion University.

BGU’s Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School In 1973, the Council for Higher Education in Israel voted to establish Israel’s fourth medical school—which was also the first medical school in the southern half of the country. Collaborating with Soroka University Medical Center and Clalit Health Services, BGU’s medical school set out to educate the next generation of physicians and improve healthcare in the Negev region. Big changes came in 1995, when the medical school was named the Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School and received an influx of philanthropic support, advancing BGU’s medical education efforts and the overall health of the Negev’s multi-ethnic population. Thanks to the generous support of the New York-based Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation, the medical school and the Faculty of Health Sciences’ impact and influence have risen exponentially. Facilities have received substantial upgrades, the quality of teaching has improved, the research capacity has grown, and the program’s graduates are better prepared than ever before.

“We provide medical education aimed at fulfilling our founding mission to train humane, holistic, ethical, and skilled physicians oriented toward primary care and community service. We expanded our mission to educate future physicians who will act as catalysts for scientific progress, technological innovation, and improving the quality of medical care in the Negev.” – PROF. ANGEL PORGADOR

Doug Seserman Cover photo: Dr. Oren Shriki, Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Dean of BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences

The Goldman Medical School is a six-year program, followed by a year of internship, with a unique emphasis on the early acquisition of clinical skills. It is taught predominately in Hebrew and annually boasts more than 700 students, with 150 students set to join this year’s incoming class. The medical school is committed to helping improve healthcare in the Negev by addressing the gaps between the needs of underserved communities and the resources available. Residents of the Negev reflect a multi-ethnic population who face diverse sociological, physiological, and psychological concerns, as well as complex healthrelated problems. A disproportionate share of the Negev’s population is under-resourced, including immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, India and Arab lands, as well as Bedouin community members.

Over the years, teaching methodologies have evolved, and medical care, along with research, has changed dramatically with improved diagnoses, treatment, and prevention techniques. In the face of these changes, the Goldman Medical School and its corresponding faculty have adapted, improved, and become stronger institutions.

In addition to focusing on education and research, many members of the faculty are clinicians who serve the community at Soroka University Medical Center or at health centers throughout the region. By having first-hand experience with the issues facing the local population, these clinicians are well-positioned to identify and initiate research designed to address the needs of the community and improve healthcare in the Negev.

Through the Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School, BGU provides a top-level education for future generations of Israeli physicians and imbues them with “the Beer-Sheva spirit.” The medical school’s unique approach to the practice of medicine is improving the health of the local and global community with innovative research and programs aimed at providing solutions for Negev residents and people around the world.

FACULTY OF HEALTH SCIENCES RESEARCH HUBS AT BGU Active Aging Research Autism Research Brain Medicine Research Capacity Building of Health Teams for Emergencies Research

Chronic Disease Management Research

Precision Oncomedicine Research

Improving Obesity and Diabetes Care Research

Skeletal Biology Research

Microbiome Research

Reproduction Research

Wound Healing Research



Meet Wentiirim Annankra, M.D. BGU-Trained Global Physician The Medical School for International Health (MSIH) is the second medical school at BGU and the only English-taught medical school in Israel focusing on global health. Established in 1998, MSIH has already graduated more than 600 physicians who have gone to work in global health scenarios all over the world.

“Studying at MSIH and in Israel is the best combination of high-tech medical care and access to a very diverse population group.” – DR. WENTIIRIM ANNANKRA MSIH Class of 2020

“To my surprise, instead of being assigned to shadow a doctor, I was given a doctor’s seat! With every patient I saw, I staffed with the supervising physician,” Wentii said. Wentii had just completed her first year of studies at MSIH and feels that BGU’s unique medical school started to prepare her for a career in global health from day one, with its comprehensive curriculum emphasizing skills such as asking open-ended questions and listening to patients—skills that were put to good use while working with patients in Ghana. MSIH alumna Dr. Annankra meets with patients in Ghana to gather their medical histories.

The school offers a four-year American-style MD degree and is the only medical school in the world where global health studies are integrated into all four years of instruction. The unique program includes an affiliation with Columbia University Medical School, fourth-year electives in North America, and an eight-week clinical experience in one of several resource-scarce countries. When BGU alumna and then-medical student Dr. Wentiirim “Wentii” Annankra went on a medical mission to Ghana after her first year of medical school at MSIH, she had no idea what lay in store for her. “When we got to the villages of Southeastern Ghana,” explains Wentii, “we discovered there weren’t enough doctors for this mission.”

Dr. Annankra examines a patient while on a medical mission in Ghana.

She chose MSIH because of a passion for its global health program, plus its small class size, which made her hearing impairment more manageable. Currently, the Ghana native can be found in the United States, where she is a second-year resident in pediatrics at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. As it’s clear from Wentii’s story and that of so many other students — MSIH graduates gain the training necessary to practice medicine while meeting the challenges of global health, and they make a true impact wherever they go.

Making Practice Perfect:

BGU’s New Medical Simulation and Classroom Building BGU’s newest building, the Medical Simulation and Classroom Building, is nearly complete — and it’s set to transform Israel’s healthcare landscape. The Medical Simulation and Classroom Building includes a comprehensive, state-of-the-art simulation center and teaching space that will dramatically expand BGU’s impact in healthcare training, education, and research.

Medical Simulation and Classroom Building

BY THE NUMBERS 52 simulation stations featuring advanced manikins and equipment ranging from cardiac monitors to intubation kits and ventilation machines

27 simulation rooms including an ambulance simulator, an operating room, and more

8 classrooms complementing hands-on learning and seating an average of 78 students each

4 lecture halls 2 dedicated debriefing rooms providing space for discussing experiences, viewing recorded scenarios, and optimizing learning outcomes

critical focus of clinical research. The exercises will complement and improve medical education. The new building will also offer the University’s strategic partners in the Negev, such as Magen David Adom, a much-needed training facility. Top: BGU medical students perform a simulation exercise. Bottom: Virtual reality plays an important role for BGU students and researchers.

The Field Family Medical Simulation Center, supported by Larry Field, z”l and his family and housed within the building, will be the largest and most advanced medical simulation center in Israel. In addition to training and educating the next generation of physicians, nurses, paramedics, and physiotherapists, simulation exercises will be a

Simulation rooms include an operating room, an internal medicine ward, an ambulance simulator, rooms dedicated to emergency medicine, and even a treatment room for multicasualty events. Manikins, actors, and virtual reality will allow students to encounter life-like situations and practice procedures to develop their clinical skills without harming patients. The facility will also serve as a magnet for talent by attracting Israel’s best and brightest degree candidates and faculty members to BGU’s Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School and Medical School for International Health. 5

Tikkun Olam Through Medicine Medical Breakthroughs at BGU Researchers and students from across BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences’ eleven Research Hubs are improving the world, one research endeavor and one clinical trial at a time. The interdisciplinary Hubs have ushered in a new era of innovative, crossdisciplinary research based on integration of the basic sciences and applied research. Here are just a few of the hundreds of BGU’s medical researchers who are transforming medicine as we know it.

Imagine being able to accurately predict the onset of an extreme medical event before it actually happens. Enter Dr. Oren Shriki, head of BGU’s Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences and co-founder of NeuroHelp. Through Shriki’s lab, a compact new wearable helmet was created that measures brain activity in order to predict seizures in epileptic patients and prevent falls, burns, and other injuries. Shriki’s research is not limited by the physical bounds of Earth: his helmet recently went into space to measure brain activity of astronauts. This invention is just one amazing innovation taking place within BGU’s Brain Medicine Research Hub, which aims to promote a future of neurowellness. “ The algorithms that we developed enable accurate prediction of impending seizures around one hour prior to their occurrence, based on non-invasive measurement of brain activity.” – DR. OREN SHRIKI

“ Clearly demonstrating the role of this peptide is just the tip of the iceberg.”



The future of cancer treatment may be starting in the Negev and at BGU. That’s because Associate Prof. Moshe Elkabets and his team at BGU’s Center for Evolutionary Genomics and Medicine made a potentially revolutionary discovery. The breakthrough relates to enzymes that can change a protein’s function. In their research, scientists were able to confirm that a small peptide, or short chain of amino acids, act as a kinase inhibitor. This means they are actually able to stop proteins from sending signals to cells by telling them to divide. Researchers believe that the discovery of peptides’ biological function is key to preventing the spread of cancer.

Molecules designed by BGU researchers could someday help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, and other degenerative diseases. The initial results were announced by BGU’s Prof. Esther Priel and came from studying the effects of this molecule in mice. Priel and her colleagues in BGU’s Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology and Immunology formed a company called Neuromagen Pharma, but were unable to take their testing from animals to humans due to a lack of sufficient funding. Thanks to recent backing from an Israeli investor, the approval process for human testing can now move forward. “The investment will allow us to push this to clinical trials, which was something we couldn’t do until now, as pre-clinical trials for FDA approval are costly.” – PROF. ESTHER PRIEL

There’s new evidence that feeding yourself falafel might be just as good for your belly as it is for your brain. That’s because research recently compiled by Prof. Iris Shai, director of BGU’s Health & Nutrition Innovative International Research Center, finds a Mediterranean diet low in red and processed meats helps decrease age-related brain damage. Shai’s research centers around polyphenols, a type of micronutrient found in plants. Results showed that a Mediterranean diet, specifically a green one, with plant-based shakes and green tea, significantly increased brain connectivity while reducing inflammation in the brains of people 50 and older. Both Mediterranean groups were given daily doses of walnuts, while the third, maintained a mere ‘healthy diet.’

BGU researchers have stopped progression of type 1 diabetes in newly-diagnosed children through clinical trials. Prof. Eli Lewis and his colleagues in BGU’s Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology have demonstrated that the infusion of a key protein could eliminate the need for insulin injections in type 1 diabetes patients, and many children are now off insulin or using much less as a result. The protein, known as AAT, or alpha-1-antitrypsin, helps reduce inflammation, and through the development of new drugs, could reverse diabetes and restore glucose control. Additionally, Lewis and his team are also researching an effective method for the treatment of tissue necrosis (death), with the same protein. “In our approach to type 1 diabetes research, we’re not introducing something artificial to the body that could interfere with original biological design. We’re basically extending something the body would have done for a week or two, into several weeks.” – PROF. ELI LEWIS


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HELP UKRAINIAN REFUGEES THROUGH BGU’S ASSISTANCE FUND The devastating crisis in Ukraine has uprooted thousands of students and researchers from Ukraine’s more than 30 universities. We are proud to partner with BGU

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to offer those impacted by the war an opportunity to continue their education and research unabated. These individuals long to continue their studies and research, and BGU is making that possible.

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