Life & Culture

Brain Powers Israel to a great global standing


Forget the start-up nation - Israel could soon be dubbed the “brain nation”.

An exciting new initiative to encourage innovation in brain-research technology has been launched, which is set to turn Israel into a global hub for neurotechnology, with far-reaching implications.

Israel Brain Technologies, inspired by the vision of Israeli President Shimon Peres, has launched a $1 million “BRAIN” prize (Breakthrough Research And Innovation in Neurotechnology) to find an individual or team that can demonstrate an extraordinary breakthrough in brain technology.

The enterprise is likely to position Israel as a world-leader in brain technology.

Amir Konigsberg, who is on the leadership team of Israel Brain Technologies (IBT), hopes Israel will soon be known as the “brain nation” instead of the “start-up nation.” He says: “It is already recognized as the ‘start-up nation’ and with its proven track record of technological innovation, its extremely strong academic foundation in neuroscience, and its world-leading commitment to research and development, it is destined to become a leader in brain technology.”

What’s more, he continues: “Brain research and brain technologies require collaboration between different disciplines: neurology, electrical engineering, computer science, and psychology, and in Israel, we excel at this kind of collaboration because of our culture and because the place is small and relations are close.”

Dr Konigsberg (pictured) cites the value of the industry as “huge. Think of this sector in terms of the costs of healthcare and illnesses, which exceed $2 trillion. Add to this, other, non-medical sectors that can benefit from neurotechnological innovation — fields such as consumer electronics, automotive, aviation, to name but a few — and it is clear that the potential size of the sector and its value are huge.”

A former strategist at Google, Dr Konigsberg could not pass up the opportunity to get involved in Israel Brain Technologies. He recalls: “I joined in 2011 after Dr Rafi Gidron, the founder and chairman of the initiative, told me about his vision and asked me to join. I had been interested in brain science for a while, and the opportunity of facilitating the advancement of a brain technologies ecosystem in Israel was irresistible. The field of neurotechnology will revolutionise industries, not only in medical fields but also the field of technology at large.”

So what are the business implications of this rapidly growing sector? Dr Konigsberg explains: “The 21st century wave of neurotechnology is expected to have huge economic and social effects, influencing every aspect of our lives. These include developments that will enhance human emotional, cognitive and sensory performance and serve as the new frontier in medicine and technology.”

It is hard to place a value on such a rapidly growing industry but according to The Neurotechnology Industry 2011 Report, brain and nervous sytem disorders account for more hospitalisations, long-term care and chronic suffering than nearly all other illnesses combined, resulting in a global economic burden of over $2 trillion per year — and $1.3 trillion in the US alone.

“The world is waiting for solutions to these problems,” says Dr Konigsberg, a research scientist with a PhD from the Centre for the Study of Rationality and Interactive Decision Theory at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem — he has also been a research scientist at Princeton University and the Free University in Berlin. “IBT and its programmes will accelerate the fight to relieve the global burden.”

A report by analysts at McKinsey and Company show that Israel is uniquely positioned to develop leadership in Brain Machine Interface (BMI) and therapeutic neuro-stimulation devices for treating a wide variety of brain disorders.

Mr Konigsberg acknowledges that Israeli innovation in neurotechnology would significantly boost the nation’s economy. “Naturally, if Israel is a leader in brain technology, the economic benefits will follow. More research turning in technology means more start-ups in the field, which means more investment.”

He has held various senior and advisory positions in start-ups, investment funds and multi-nationals such as General Motors and Google, where he worked as a strategist between 2005 and 2008. He was one of the founding members of Google’s operations in Israel and emerging markets. Following Google, he joined mySupermarket as vice president of marketing and business development. He is the author of several scientific publications.

So, what is Shimon Peres like to work with? “President Peres is a visionary with a passion for innovation in technology and science. IBT was founded by Dr Rafi Gidron and inspired by the President’s vision.

“The President is extremely enthusiastic about the initiative and its potential and is confident in the benefits it can provide.”

President Peres says: “There is no doubt that brain research in the next decade will revolutionise our lives and impact such major domains as medicine, education, computing, and the human mind.”

IBT is a not-for-profit group that is led by a team of technology entrepreneurs and life-science professionals. It is advised by a panel of renowned academic, industry and public sector representatives. The BRAIN prize is funded by private donors and will be awarded next year at the inaugural international IBT Conference

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