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A Noble Evening for Technion

September 13, 2007 By:
Frank Rosci, JE Feature
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Avram Hershko
The level of interest and anticipation was Israeli blue-and-white sky high, and the excitement audible, as Israel's first-ever Nobel Prize winner, Avram Hershko, M.D., Ph.D., spoke before a by-invitation-only dinner audience about the pressing need to support ongoing research and the cutting-edge efforts of dedicated researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel's oldest and premier institute of science and technology.

The Technion continues its tradition of excellence in science, as it has since it was founded in Haifa in 1924. It is a tradition that includes Albert Einstein being named president of the first Technion Society, and who said, famously, that "Israel can win the battle for survival only be developing expert knowledge in technology."

The Technion moved to its present 300-acre campus on Mount Carmel in 1953. Some 12,771 students are currently enrolled in the school.

Today, Technion graduates comprise the majority of Israeli-educated scientists and engineers, who constitute more than 70 percent of the country's founders and managers of high-tech industries. In fact, 74 percent of managers in Israel's electronic industries hold Technion degrees.

Also, in part due to the ingenuity of Technion alumni, Israel is now home to the greatest concentration of high-tech startup companies anywhere outside of Silicon Valley, the U.S.'s high-tech haven in California. This industry accounts for more than 54 percent of Israel's industrial exports and more than 26 percent of the country's overall exports.

To continue and further the Technion's tradition in scientific education and medical research, Hershko's message is one of constant commitment to Israel's future.

In a private interview, Hershko explained in greater detail the need for graduate assistants and the importance of scientific research.

"Graduate students [in science] are very important," he insisted, "because they will be the leaders of tomorrow, and with recent government cuts from the Technion budget, there is a greater need than ever for funding."

Speaking after dinner, Hershko talked about supporting "excellent young people" at the school.

"We have to invest in people in Israel," said the professor, who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the crucial role played by the regulatory protein ubiquitin (so named because it's ubiquitous in the cells of animals and plants) in the process of protein breakdown in cells.

Hershko's own Technion graduate assistant and research partner was Aaron Ciechanover, Ph.D., who is himself a professor on Technion's faculty of medicine. He shared in the Nobel Prize, along with Irwin A. "Ernie" Rose, Ph.D., a scientist who retired from Philadelphia's Fox Chase Cancer Center, founded in 1904 as the nation's first cancer hospital.

The three men worked together on a string of epoch-making biochemical studies on the breakdown of proteins within cells. Starting in the late 1970s, much of their work was done during a series of sabbatical leaves that Hershko and Ciechanover spent as visiting scientists in Rose's laboratory at FCCC.

One Technion graduate student doing postdoctoral work at FCCC right now is Liat Binyamin, Ph.D., who spoke about her role as a Technion graduate and the challenges that brings. "Grad students at the Technion are basically part of the next generation that will lead the country, and also are the ones who will educate the next generation of students. It is to be part of a community that will help each other, since you come away with a lot of self-confidence, when you finish your studies.

"As a citizen of Israel -- and one who intends to spend most of my career back in Israel -- I am sure that I will be always in touch with the academic setting of the Technion," she added.

Hershko, who was born in Hungary in 1937 and immigrated to Israel at age 12 with his father, mother and brother, noted that his current work involves one aspect of cancer -- why chromosomes divide unevenly in cancer cells.

Of this and the work of others, he commented: "Basic research leads to applied research."

So that his work and the work of graduate students and other researchers may continue unabated, the American Technion Society (ATS) -- based in New York, with 20 branches throughout the country, including one in Bala Cynwyd -- is extending its "Shaping Israel's Future" fundraising campaign into an historic quest for $1 billion, stated Melvyn H. Bloom, executive vice president of ATS, who addressed the diners.

To learn more about the Technion, call ATS at 610-667-6777 or log on to to: www.ats.org.

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