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Education Minister and Council for Higher Education chairman Gideon Sa'ar has recommended accelerating preparations for Bar-Ilan University's new faculty of medicine, due to open in Safed in October. Hundreds of students and lecturers have applied for the new school, a university spokesperson said yesterday.

BIU reported that 130 students have registered for new medicine faculty, the fifth in Israel. Fifty-seven other students, out of some 300 applicants, have been accepted for a three-year course intended for Israelis who want to return after completing three years of medical studies abroad. Registration for a four-year course intended for some 70 outstanding life-sciences graduates is currently in process.

"In view of the project's importance, the debates in the Council for Higher Education [to advance the project] have been sped up," Sa'ar said yesterday. "Setting up the medical school in Safed will enable training dozens of new doctors annually, strengthen the health system in the Galilee and contribute to the Galilee's economic and social development."

BIU intends to model the medicine faculty after the National Institutes of Health in the United States, in the form of research centers, unlike the existing medical faculties in Israel. For example, the faculty will consist of research centers for cancer, heart diseases, aging, infectious diseases, trauma and child development.

The faculty will also have a bioinformatics center to determine genetic sequencing related to diseases and a center combining medical ethics and law, sociology and medical economics.

So far the university has contracted 10 scientists as the medicine school's founding core, eight of whom are Israeli medical scientists wishing to return to Israel after working abroad.

More than 150 Israeli medical professors working in Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Texas universities, University of Florida and University of California have applied to work in the new school. The ones chosen are engaged in research of medicines development, viruses, germs, bioinformatics, cancer, neuro-biology, anatomy and metabolism.

The faculty will start operating in a temporary structure currently being renovated.

The new school's dean-designate, Professor Ran Tur-Kaspa of Beilinson Hospital, said agreements to establish teaching courses have been signed with six hospitals in the north - Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, The Rebecca Sieff hospital in Safed, Poriya Hospital in Tiberias, the Scottish and Italian hospitals in Nazareth and the Mizra psychiatric hospital in Acre.

The medical faculty's management is negotiating with the various health maintenance organizations over teaching positions in Galilee community clinics. "Additional hospitals in the north are ready to cooperate with us. The faculty is also working in cooperation with Tel Aviv University's School of Medicine," Tur-Kaspa said.

BIU is offering students in the new faculty scholarships "to encourage students to work a few years in one of the Galilee hospitals. This will help to overcome the shortage of doctors in the Galilee," said Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Moshe Kaveh.

BIU is looking for structures in Safed and near the hospitals offering practical training, to house the new medical school's first students. In future BIU intends to expand the project and establish a permanent building for the faculty on a plot recently allocated by the Safed municipality.