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Back to School: An Amazing Day on Campus

We enjoy a riveting day talking with (and debating!) world-renowned researchers and award-winning students

At TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Carmit Levy introduced us to her groundbreaking melanoma research. "We were all on a boat yesterday on the Red Sea — tanning — so this is very important for us to hear," said AFTAU President and CEO Gail Reiss. Dr. Levy and her students are developing novel approaches for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of skin cancer, particularly melanoma. A few floors down, we met with Dr. Neta Erez, an internationally recognized leader in the world of cancer research. Dr. Erez studies the "crucial interaction between the body's microenvironment and tumors" in the hopes of "one day turning cancer into a chronic but manageable disease."

"Together, Dr. Erez and her fantastic students are producing life-saving work — no other way to describe it," Jon Gurkoff said.

From medical research, we were transported straight into the heart of the animal kingdom — TAU's Zoological Gardens — the only research center and nature conservatorium of its kind in the world. We were stunned by the ducks, geese, peacocks, and many other birds and animals walking, climbing, and flying freely around us.

"This is truly wild, really unbelievable," said delegate Stevi Gurkoff as a peacock strutted past her in a flurry of color.

"We really hope we will be able to renovate the Gardens to modernize them in a way that protects the animals and spectators. Today we don't have the capacity to open it to the public, because of the way the animals are enclosed," said Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Schor, Head of the Ecological and Evolutionary Physiology Laboratory at the Department of Zoology.

We walked through the Gardens to Dr. Yossi Yovel's "Bat Cave" — the only facility in the world housing a colony of chip-imprinted bats. "At our lab, we are using the 'Big Brother' approach to monitor and study the social behavior of bats," Yovel told us. Marjorie Kaplan wondered, "Where do you find fruit bats in Israel?" Dr. Yovel, who held a bat out to his curious (but alarmed) visitors said, "Fruit bats in Israel dwell in the hills of Judea and Samaria or are 'bar-hoppers,' finding a new home every night in urban areas."

Out of the jungle and into the future, we were invited on a guided tour of TAU's pride and joy — the new Porter School of Environmental Studies Building — with Porter's Professional Director Dr. Arie Nesher. He wowed us with the intricate planning that went into making Israel's first LEED Platinum-designated building, "a self-sufficient building, a model for the future."

After a lunch enlivened by a student debate, we were privy to a discussion of ethics and medical technology. From TAU's Buchmann Faculty of Law Prof. Shai Lavi presented what he called "the paradox of Jewish bioethics in Israel — a conservative, ultra-Orthodox worldview encouraging the paradoxical pro-science, pro-technology culture in Israel."

"How is it possible to reconcile the scientific-religious relationship in the absence of actual laws?" Meryl Topchik asked. Due to the Jewish stance on life beginning at delivery — rather than conception, as in Christianity — reproductive technology and stem cell research have received a stamp of approval from religious authorities in Israel.

Prof. Dani Offen, of TAU's Sagol School of Neuroscience, then delved into his life-saving stem-cell research — the focus of which has been ALS. "We look for hope where there has been no cure," Prof. Offen told us. Prof. Offen has used stem cells to repair severed spinal cords in mice — and is hopeful about the procedure's prospects for humans. "How long after a spinal cord injury did you introduce the stem cells?" Alison Axelrod, a physical therapist by training, asked. "Immediately," said Prof. Offen. "Although I believe it could be used up to a week after injury."

From medical ethics to the start-up nation, we were then treated to a series of talks by TAU's leading entrepreneurs. Shlomo Nimrodi, CEO of Ramot Ltd. — TAU's tech transfer entity — explored the great success he has had turning early stage technology into profitable commercial products. "We are situated precisely where industry and academia meet," he said.

We also received a crash course in Israeli innovation taught by Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, Prof. Moshe Zviran. "Since the 1980s, Israel has demonstrated world-class levels of innovation and entrepreneurship," said Prof. Zviran. "But it is our objective at the Faculty to write the 'Start-up Nation 2.0,' to maintain our position of superiority in these fields." Prof. David Mendlovic — slated to head TAU's soon-to-be-opened campus-wide Innovation Center — also spoke about the skills and tools needed to maximize successful entrepreneurship.

We ended our day at Google's spectacular Tel Aviv headquarters — where we were led through scented corridors mirroring the distinct neighborhoods of Tel Aviv — to a meeting with Prof. Yossi Matias of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences, the Managing Director of Google's R&D Center in Israel, recently appointed a Vice President at Google. After discussing different community-focused initiatives launched by Google Tel Aviv, Prof. Matias said, "One thing I will stress — students today, more than ever, are in a position to change, to make a real impact, and Tel Aviv University is one of the top universities in Israel, and one of the top places we look for candidates."

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