‘Brainright Israel’: A smart move

‘Brainright Israel’: A smart move

Rutgers professors help counter antisemitism through meetings of the scientific minds

Dr. Michal Schnaider Beeri of Rutgers University (Elzbieta Kaciuba), left, Dr. Mark Gluck of Rutgers University, Dr. Illana Gozes of Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Hermona Soreq of the Hebrew Univerity of Jerusalem (Douglas Guthrie)
Dr. Michal Schnaider Beeri of Rutgers University (Elzbieta Kaciuba), left, Dr. Mark Gluck of Rutgers University, Dr. Illana Gozes of Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Hermona Soreq of the Hebrew Univerity of Jerusalem (Douglas Guthrie)

Campus antisemitism has not touched Dr. Michal Schnaider Beeri personally.

Dr. Beeri is Israeli; she’s also a professor of neurology and the director of the new Herbert and Jacqueline Krieger Klein Alzheimer’s Research Center at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick.

Everyone from the school’s chancellor to its dean has been extremely supportive of her since October 7, she said.

Nevertheless, Dr. Beeri quickly became aware that Jews at Rutgers, as on many college campuses across the country, were feeling threatened and fearful amid an alarming rise of antisemitic, anti-Israel rhetoric following the deadly Hamas attacks triggering the war in Gaza.

“Look what’s going on, we can’t stay quiet!” she emailed her colleague Dr. Mark A. Gluck, a professor of neuroscience and public health at Rutgers University-Newark and director of its Aging & Brain Health Alliance, a center for Alzheimer’s research and community brain health.

She recalls Dr. Gluck’s response was, “I don’t go into politics. I always go for things that transcend politics. Let’s try to build a one-day conference with the best people in Alzheimer’s research in the United States and Israel.”

“I was bubbling inside with fear for the students and for myself,” Dr. Beeri said. “And Mark said, ‘Let’s move on and do something that is above that.’”

She saw wisdom in this approach. “Just like the arts, science is a space where you can really work with anyone at any time for the good of humanity as a whole,” she said.

That is the back story behind the plan to hold a U.S.-Israel Alzheimer’s Disease Research Collaboration and Cooperation Workshop in Israel on September 22, sponsored by Rutgers, Hebrew University, and Tel Aviv University.

It has long been Dr. Gluck’s approach to counter blind Jew-hatred with a clear-eyed vision for constructive scientific collaboration in the name of Rutgers.

“In 2003, there were academic anti-Israel boycotts going on in U.S. and European universities and academic societies. Journals were not accepting Israeli submissions,” he said.

“In response, I reached out to my colleagues at Hebrew University and said, ‘Let’s show how many people are not only not boycotting Israeli academics but are eager to come and build relationships.’”

It took some time, but in June 2005 Dr. Gluck and Dr. Hermona Soreq, an award-winning professor of molecular neuroscience at Hebrew University known for her research into neurodegenerative diseases, organized an academic conference exploring interdisciplinary approaches to understanding Parkinson’s disease.

What’s more, this one-of-a-kind international scientific conference was hosted jointly in Jerusalem by the Hebrew University and the Al-Quds Palestinian Medical School.

Three years later, Dr. Gluck and his colleagues at Rutgers, Hebrew University, and Al-Quds staged another brain research conference in Jerusalem, this time focused on early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The event drew neurologists and neuroscientists from Israel as well as New York, California, Istanbul, Budapest, and Zurich.

In addition to promoting advances in understanding and treating brain disorders affecting people across the world, Dr. Gluck hoped to involve Rutgers in creating more avenues of regional cooperation and sharing of resources and training.

This was not just a theoretical goal; he’d worked hard over the intervening three years to push such cooperation forward.

“Between 2005 and 2008, I got to know Palestinian neurologists through the efforts of my Israeli colleagues,” he said. “And in 2008, we did a big Alzheimer’s conference with Al Quds. It was the largest joint Israeli-Palestinian-U.S. biomedical conference, and we planned to do more.

“But with the Gaza war of 2008, all Palestinian medical schools and hospitals withdrew from formal public association with Israeli institutions, although things continued happening privately under the table, and I continued to help broker training and relationships unofficially. I was also helping the Palestinians set up a neuroscience initiative in depression research at Al Quds during that time.”

Dr. Gluck also advised the Israel Defense Forces and Jerusalem police on handling post-traumatic stress, including the IDF team responsible for the mental health evaluation and support of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit when he was released from Gaza in 2011 after more than five years of captivity.

“When October 7 happened, a lot of the issues we were dealing with in 2003 and 2005 in academia and university campuses came back in full force, and even much worse,” Dr. Gluck said.

“We felt we could provide a clear counternarrative to many disturbing activities at Rutgers and nationally, by taking the opposite approach, to proactively seek to increase the presence of Israeli students and trainees at Rutgers and on other campuses, and to expand Rutgers’ and other U.S. universities’ scientific and educational cooperation with Israeli counterparts.”

Dr. Beeri, a global leader in Alzheimer’s disease clinical research, agreed to help Dr. Gluck organize another international conference. Before coming to Rutgers last April, she directed the Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center at Sheba Medical Center in Israel and was a professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Dr. Gluck’s two main Israeli partners in the previous conferences, Dr. Soreq and Dr. Illana Gozes, also enthusiastically signed on.

“I collaborated with Mark 15 years ago in organizing a joint U.S.-Israel Alzheimer’s disease meeting in Jerusalem, with both Israeli and Palestinian Ph.D. students participating; that was a great success and a clear reflection of the nonpolitical nature of science,” Dr. Soreq said. “Now is clearly a great time to re-reflect such solidarity among worldwide academic researchers, with the U.S. and Israel leading this international effort, and with peaceful intentions and belief in the bridging power of science.”

Among other things, Dr. Gozes directs a molecular neuroendocrinology lab at Tel Aviv University and is president of the European Society for Neurochemistry. In 2021, she won a U.S. National Academy of Medicine Healthy Longevity Catalyst Award for her contribution to Alzheimer’s research.

“I agreed to participate in organizing and lecturing at the Alzheimer’s disease conference spearheaded by Mark Gluck, accompanied by Hermona Soreq and Michal Beeri, and volunteered Tel Aviv University campus as a venue,” Dr. Gozes said.

“We aim to strengthen the ties of Alzheimer’s researchers in Israel and the U.S., promoting young scientists and collaborative efforts toward a brighter future of excellent research, disease management, and preventive measures.”

Dr. Gozes said she plans to present her latest findings on sex differences in the brain and personalized sex-dependent medicine against Alzheimer’s disease-like pathology with a drug candidate whose development she led.

“With excellent co-organizers and with brilliant brains assembled for lectures and ample grounds for poster presentations, I am honored and excited … and I am anticipating a great exchange,” she said. “I’m hoping for good science to bring us solace, friendship and peace.”

The roster of presenters for the September conference includes the four organizers and other top Israeli Alzheimer’s researchers from each country, Dr. Gluck said.

The physicians and Ph.D.s scheduled to speak include neuroimmunologist and Israel Prize winner Michal Schwartz from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot; neurologist Amos Korczyn of Tel Aviv University, chairman of the scientific medical board of the Israeli Alzheimer’s Disease Association; behavioral neurologist Gil Rabinovici of the Memory & Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco; David Bennet, director of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago; Mary Sano, neuropsychologist, a world leader in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine;; and Sudha Seshadri, founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Texas.

The conference also will feature a poster session and job fair, intended to foster U.S.-Israel research collaborations.

“The real engines of collaboration tend to be the graduate students and postdocs, not the senior faculty,” Dr. Gluck pointed out. “In Israel, people often do postdocs in U.S. universities. Given the current political climate, they might be anxious about coming to the U.S. or may find themselves passed over. So we are creating what is basically a job fair for Ph.D.s. We hope Arab Israeli students will come too.”

Dr. Gluck recruited two Israeli postdocs and one Palestinian graduate student for his lab from the conferences in 2005 and 2008, and that led to other collaborations.

“Usually in conferences there are posters and speakers, and the student looks for mentors there,” Dr. Beeri said. “The way we are doing it, due to the current circumstances, is these big names in Alzheimer’s in the United States will right away be interviewing Israelis for potential postdocs in the United States.”

She added that in the last 10 years, “90 percent of my publications are American and Israeli student collaborations.”

Dr. Gluck and Dr. Beeri also anticipate that members of their labs on the two Rutgers campuses may want to spend a summer at an Israeli research institute, hospital, or university, possibly leading to further cross-continental collaboration.

“Rutgers would love to have more international study-abroad programs,” Dr. Gluck said. “We can send people to Israel and they can come back not only scientifically enriched but also culturally and globally enriched and have a context for what they see, hear, and read about Israel.”

He hopes to bring as many neuroscience students from Rutgers as possible to the September conference — not just Jewish students, Dr. Gluck emphasized — and he is fundraising actively to help cover the cost of their participation.

“I jokingly refer to this program as ‘Brainright Israel’ because we want to highlight all that the world has to gain from Israeli strengths,” he said. “U.S. universities can benefit hugely from expanding contact with the incredible scientific and medical resources in Israel.

“The more we can do to bring them together synergistically, the closer we’ll be to a cure for Alzheimer’s.”

For information on the conference, go to www.brainhealth.rutgers.edu/us-israel.

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