Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg
Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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The establishment of 30 research centers, expected to lure back leading Israeli researchers from universities abroad, came a step closer yesterday with the announcement of the winners of the tenders for the first three centers.

The initiative for Centers for Research Excellence, known as I-Core, is part of a multi-year program of the institutions of higher learning and will eventually include 30 research centers operating for five year stretches. The overall budget for the centers stands at NIS 1.34 billion, which is on average NIS 45 million per research team. The funding is provided in equal shares by the Committee for Planning and Budgeting, the leading academic institutions, and contributions from various other bodies.

The Chairman for the Committee of Planning and Budgeting, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, said that because of the program, "it is expected that some 300 leading Israeli researchers from the best universities in the world will return to the country."

He and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who chairs the Council for Higher Education, announced the winners of the first three tenders, and said that the next round of winners would be announced in the coming weeks.

A group, led by Prof. Chaim Cedar of the Hebrew University, comprising 19 researchers from Hebrew U., Tel Aviv University, Bar Ilan University, Sheba Medical Center and the Hadassah Medical Center, were awarded an I-CORE entitled Systems-Level Analysis of the Molecular Basis for Human Diseases: From Genomics to Personalized Therapy.

Speaking to Haaretz, Professor Cedar said that he and his colleagues will research "the problems linked with common difficult diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, genetic diseases and neurodegenerative ones. Currently we have the technology, the know-how and the resources to enter the core of various diseases and the hope is that through this research we will be able to offer solutions for healing and preventing these diseases.

"In a normal human being all the systems operate and all the different molecular elements in the cells work like an orchestra. In various diseases this wonderful orchestra is distorted. What is nice about the Center is that it comprises many disciplines: the research requires a biochemist who understands genes, someone who understands the physiology of the cell, someone who can do the mathematical analysis. In Israel we are blessed with exceptional students in all these fields and now we can succeed in bringing more of them back to Israel," said Cedar.

Another I-CORE was awarded to a team headed by Prof. Yadin Dudai of the Weizmann Institute of Science, for Advanced Approaches in Cognitive Science. The team comprises 24 researchers from the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan universities, the Jezreel Valley College and the Sourasky Medical Center.

In the field of Advanced Topics in Computer Sciences, the I-CORE was awarded to a team led by Prof. Yishay Mansour of Tel Aviv University, made up of 24 researchers from Tel Aviv and Hebrew universities, and the Weizmann Institute.

According to the Council for Higher Education "the Centers will provide new researchers with especially qualitative research support, which will include among other things, a grant of hundreds of thousands of shekels per year for [as much as] five years, and an initial grant for research equipment and setting up a laboratory."

Meanwhile, the forum which coordinates the unions of the junior faculty, said yesterday that the I-CORE program does not give a real solution to the brain drain and the departure of young researchers abroad, and does not deal with the academics that have no university positions.

"It is very nice to add nice pots and crystal but one should not forget that in the kitchen we continue to eat with disposable cutlery. The Centers for Excellence will bring back minds who were abroad, and that is important but first we must prevent people from leaving in the first place," says Dr. Esther Saruk, chairman of the forum.