Dr. Henri Rothschild facilitates Israel-Canadian partnership in brain technologies

July 5, 2011

Israel-Ontario brain research team at frontier of ‘inner space’

It’s a sad irony that the organ we use to make sense of the world is the one we understand the least. But a partnership between newly created Israel Brain Technologies and the Ontario Brain Institute is working to change that.

“About 25% of people in the Western world suffer from brain diseases,” says Rafi Gidron, president and CEO of Israel Brain Technologies. Brain diseases, he says, are everything from neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s, to disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and depression.

“Brain diseases are a big, big problem.”

Canada and Israel have a long history of collaboration, and the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation (CIIRDF) has facilitated partnerships across various industries, including automotive and health. The foundation, a partner in this week’s Canada-Israel Technology Innovation 2011 summit in Israel, worked with Israel Brain Technologies and the Ontario Brain Institute to host the first Ontario-Israel bilateral roundtable on brain research in Toronto last week.

Both Ontario and Israel are important brain research centres, says Dr. Henri Rothschild, president of CIIRDF. By collaborating on new technologies, he says, our collective understanding of brain diseases and disorders will improve, which will in turn improve treatment possibilities.

There’s no silver bullet solution, he adds, but the first step to understanding these diseases and disorders is understanding what normal brain functions look like.

“We’re beginning to learn it,” he says. “We’re beginning to know with far greater precision, and when you know with far greater precision how normal brain function works, you can also know with far greater precision how brain disorder works.”

Brain technologies such as imaging (an area of Ontario’s specialization) and brain stimulation through electrical, electro-magnetic or optical methods (one of Israel’s technological strengths and an important area of research for treating Parkinson’s disease), are improving rapidly and we’re poised for some big breakthroughs, Rothschild says.

“You can almost see it like exploring outer space. We were able to go out into space because we had the technology to send shuttles up and satellites up and things that go into orbit because of jet propulsion, because of all kinds of other technologies,” he says.

“Think of the brain as outer space, but it’s inner space, and we have the ability now to do this kind of exploration we didn’t have before.”

Just as technology builds on what came before it, so too does awareness. As mental health and brain diseases and disorders start to lose their stigma and become more widely recognized as health problems, more people are coming forward for treatment, which increases the profile of the problems, Rothschild says.

“If you think there’s greater awareness now and greater attention paid, just watch for the next five years,” he says. “This is an area that is going to grow in importance.”

As the population ages and life expectancy increases, Rothschild and Gidron agree that brain diseases will become a much greater economic burden unless new methods of repair, treatment and early diagnostics can be found, and they believe this partnership will be a key to those solutions.

“There isn’t a family in this country that does not know diseases of the brain. And if they do they’re denying it,” Rothschild says. “So this is something that resonates with everyone on a personal level.”

By Angela Hickman, National Post

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