UK and Israel launch joint science projects


The first beneficiaries of a scheme to promote academic ties between Britain and Israel, backed by the governments of the two countries, have been announced by the British Council.

Fifteen partnerships involving British and Israeli universities will share grants worth £365,000 in all, ranging from research into the causes of diseases such as Parkinson’s to the evolutionary history of the universe.

The successful applicants were chosen for their “innovation and scientific excellence”, said Jim Buttery, director of the British Council in Israel. “We actually had 185 applications in total. It shows a real appetite from academics in Britain to work together with their Israeli counterparts.”

While there may have been calls to boycott Israel “in the background”, he explained, the British Council has been working for the past five years to foster academic links between Israel and Britain.

Some of the grant recipients are “built on existing collaborations, others completely new,” he said. “We’ve got a great mixed bag of collaborations which are going to strengthen relations between the two countries.”

Participating British institutions include Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Swansea, Aston, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton, Anglia Ruskin Universities, University College London and Imperial College.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who announced the scheme last year with the then Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, said: “The variety and diversity of these successful bids reflect the strong nature of the UK-Israel bilateral relationship. It was an honour for me to launch the scheme… and my government continues to support and actively encourage academic links between the UK and Israel.”

The main funders of the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership (Birax) are the Pears Foundation which has committed £550,000, and the UJIA, with £200,000, over five years. The two governments pledged £20,000 each.

But Mr Buttery said that other funders were being canvassed to extend the scope of the scheme and beyond an initial five years.

One partnership, between Tel Aviv University and Imperial College, will investigate the impact of pollution as it is inhaled through the nose.

“It is very difficult to replicate what happens in the body in a laboratory setting,” explained Professor Denis Doorly. “What we will do is to design a test environment which will allow respiratory cells to experience the sort of conditions that would be found in a real nose.”

The experiment will combine the ability of the Israeli team to generate respiratory cells in the lab with Imperial’s expertise in producing computer simulations of airflow through nasal passages.

“There will be great benefits,” Professor Doorly said. “People need to be better informed of the hazards associated with air pollution.”

Professor Doorly has visited Israel before on a British Council trip. He said: “It was a chance to see what research pairings might come out of it. There is great enthusiasm for research in Israel. They are also very resourceful.”

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