The Azrieli Foundation recently announced a donation in the amount of NIS 40 million to the National Autism Research Centre of Israel (NARCI), a unique collaboration between scientists from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and clinicians from Soroka University Medical Center (SUMC). The center, originally established by the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology, is dedicated to translational research that will revolutionize diagnosis techniques and interventions for autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. In honour of this generous donation, the centre has proudly been renamed The Azrieli National Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopment Research.
Ben-Gurion University President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, "The Azrieli National Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopment Research is a quintessential BGU project. Innovative, cutting-edge, and super-disciplinary, designed to make world-class discoveries while providing critical support and hope to families. The Azrieli Foundation has been our partner on a number of innovative initiatives, and we are grateful that they recognize our unique vision."
Naomi Azrieli, Chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation, explains why the Foundation invested in the center. “Neurodevelopmental research and supporting people with neurodevelopmental disabilities is one of our core priorities. We help people maximize their potential by connecting them to resources, expertise, and education, and the Azrieli National Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopment Research will do exactly that – by building and nurturing networks that enable research and innovative technology.”
Danna Azrieli, Chair of The Azrieli Group and the Azrieli Foundation Israel:" We are delighted to join forces with Ben-Gurion University, a top-rated global institution, which has developed groundbreaking research studies and innovative technology. Ben-Gurion University and the City of Beer-Sheva are especially close to our heart, as it is our goal to further help develop the Negev and create more opportunities in the area. It is our biggest wish to see the Negev flourish by developing its educational systems, academic facilities, and its health services, all in the hope of creating an inclusive and equal society in Israel."
Prof. Ilan Dinstein, Director of The Azrieli National Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Research and a member of the Departments of Psychology and Cognitive & Brain Sciences explains how the donation from the Azrieli Foundation will help to advance the invaluable work currently performed at the centre. “Our research has demonstrated that autism is actually a family of multiple disorders, with a variety of symptoms that are caused by different reasons. The big challenge is to determine how many types of autism there are, how to best identify them early, and most importantly, what interventions work best for each type. To determine this, scientists have to partner with clinicians and study large numbers of children with autism over extended periods of time. The Azrieli Foundation contribution will enable us to do this on a national scale, by building a system of national sites in leading clinical centers where autism is diagnosed and treated. This extensive data collection effort will be matched by an extensive data-sharing effort that will enable multiple labs in all academic centers across Israel to study the disorder and advance the discovery of new diagnostic techniques and interventions.”
The six-year plan will vastly expand the centre and its reach.
A dedicated facility inside SUMC will be constructed that will double the space for working with ASD children and performing cutting-edge research. It will house state-of-the-art genetics/bioinformatics, biomarker-detection, and neuroimaging labs, which will process collected samples/data and provide services to autism researchers throughout the country.
Dr. Gal Meiri, Director of The Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at SUMC and medical director of the centre described the great excitement regarding the development of the centre. “We truly believe that combining clinical and scientific excellence will lead to critical breakthroughs in the way we currently diagnose and treat children with autism. We see this daily in the clinic where the use of research tools as part of the diagnosis and follow-up procedures improves the quality of clinical care that we are giving the children and their families. Today, we give families much more information about their child’s symptoms as well as their genetics. The Azrieli support will further enhance this effort and enable us to create a national network of sites that will yield not only ground-breaking research but also improve autism diagnostic services throughout the country.”
Existing data collection will be expanded to multiple autism clinics throughout Israel, where multiple types of clinical and behavioral data, biological samples (e.g., DNA and blood samples), and neuroimaging data will be collected. This data collection will enable the rapid expansion of the National Autism Database, which will triple in size within five years. New faculty members, post-docs, and graduate students, as well as scientific, clinical, technical, and administrative support staff will be recruited to manage this extensive data collection and sharing effort.
In addition to developing the extensive autism research infrastructure described above, the centre is also leading the development of a national autism research community by means of hosting an annual national autism research conference, periodic workshops from leading autism researchers throughout the world, and by dispensing seed funding for research projects that utilize the centre's data and/or infrastructure.
“We are extremely fortunate and grateful to be on the receiving end of such a generous donation from a world-renowned organization like The Azrieli Foundation,” says Mark Mendelson, CEO of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University. “This donation will enable world-class researchers at BGU to further explore the intricacies of Autism, allowing them to create and innovate new interventions, medications, and solutions for people living with this disorder.”
The Times of Israel
The Canadian Jewish News