President John A. Fry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem President Menahem Ben-Sasson and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia CEO Steven Altschuler announced a research consortium Nov. 11.
The agreement, publicized during Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s trade mission to Israel, focuses on pediatric medical research that has the potential to be commercialized. The agreement was signed with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
The first conference of this research initiative will take place Jan. 27-28, according to Drexel Vice Provost of Global Initiatives Julie Mostov. Mostov is responsible for the coordination of the consortium and management of the opportunities it will create for students.
“Drexel is really the leader of this consortium, based upon our work that we’ve already been doing with Hebrew University,” Mostov said. “All of these are truly collaborative programs, a collaboration that came out of the ideas and hopes of faculty members on both sides.”
According to Mostov, Drexel began its research relationship with Hebrew University in February 2010, leading to the first collaborative symposium between the two institutions, which was held that August in Philadelphia. Faculty from both schools came to the conference to focus on new translational research projects.
The Institute of Drug Research at Hebrew University and the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems at Drexel were the main forces behind these conferences. The first conference focused on sharing participants’ current research and collaborating on ideas for further projects. Sixteen teams, with members from both institutions, applied for grants to fund their projects. Each proposed ideas that had the potential to be commercialized to an advisory board made up of members from both institutions. Four teams were each granted $50,000.
The following February, faculty from Drexel traveled to Jerusalem for another conference in order to present the outcomes of the research conducted the previous summer. This conference also facilitated a new set of four projects, with $60,000 in funding per team.
“We were very pleased with the outcomes of the project,” Mostov said. “Even though it was very little money for that kind of research, for teams. Then there was only one [principal investigator] for each university, but of course there were [graduate] students involved and so forth. We did a survey of the participants, and we found out that everybody was really pleased with the collaboration and the engagement and many of them were already beginning to see some outcomes.”
Mostov did say that the teams had said that the current funding was not enough and that the time to do the research was too constrained.
It was with those criticisms in mind that Hebrew University suggested that the teams research pediatric medicine. Fry and Altschuler both supported the idea. They began to search for ways to gather the funding. Nutter’s office then approached Mostov with the idea of launching the project during the trade mission.
The organizers of the programs are currently working to bring the faculty members of the three institutions together to participate in the collaboration.
“We’re devising the conference around the complementary strengths of the three institutions,” Mostov said. “For instance, CHOP doesn’t have biomedical engineers. It may not have [some] of the other strengths that we have. On the other hand, they have incredible strengths in genomics and so many other areas. And then, people at Hebrew University are really good at drug delivery systems and some other areas.”
The research will expand and is open to all faculty members who have an idea that fits the criteria; Mostov cited computational analysis being done by computer science faculty.
“I think that international collaboration is always a good thing,” Christina Furia, a junior biomedical engineering major, said. “Especially for research because there’s a great experience for biomedical engineers to see how other countries research that may be outside of the lines of how we handle medicine. My specialty is pediatrics, so I may be interested. I have a lot of clinical experience with pediatrics and pediatric medicines for students with disabilities.”
According to Mostov, the research collaboration wanted to look into areas of research such as cancer and pain relief. However, the direction of the research is still emerging from the discussion. Other areas that she highlighted were the differences among drug delivery systems in pediatrics and finding more efficient ways to treat children. Research will be done in both Israel and the U.S., and Mostov predicted that project opportunities for undergraduate students could open up as early as April. Students who are interested in learning about the program can contact the Office of International Programs.