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L to R: Dr. Grant Pierce, Larry Vickar, Rivka Carmi, Tova Vickar, Chuck LaFleche, Dr. Bruce Roe, Mark Mendelson, John Graham, Zach Ostrove

L to R: Chuck LaFleche, Dr. Bram Ramjiawan, Rivka Carmi, Mark Mendelson, Dr. Grant Pierce

L to R: Mark Mendelson, Dr. Rivka Carmi, Dr. Grant Pierce, Chuck LaFleche


by Rhonda Spivak, Sept 26, 2016

On September 12, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and St Boniface Hospital officially launched a very exciting partnership and research collaboration, Research Without Borders, which took place at the St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre.



Charles (Chuck)LaFlèche, The President and CEO  of the  of St Boniface Hospital Foundation and Mark Mendelson, CEO of the Canadian Associates of BGU  acted as MC's for the event, and spoke about how they "hit it off" and realized that the two prestigious institutions have a lot in common. They noted that, as leading research institutions, St. Boniface Hospital and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have determined that knowledge is better served when transferred and enhanced by collaboration.



Mendelson quipped that another reason that he and LaFlèche have gotten along so well is that "Chuck loves matzo balls" and that “I make the best matzo balls in the world." 



As was outlined at the launch, the special bond between the two impressive institutions was cemented when philanthropists Larry and Tova Vickar took Dr. Grant Piece, Executive Director of Research St Boniface Hospital and LaFlèche last year to Israel to see BGU and have high level meetings there. The trip was an "eye opener" in that they learned that there were many areas of possible collaboration between the two institutions, specifically in the areas of cardiovascular research (heart health), food sciences( research which  works towards commercializing food products that enhance our health), and neurodegenerative research (such as in the area of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease).



In his remarks at the event, Dr Pierce, who once worked on a kibbutz near Israel's border with Lebanon, provided some details about the areas where  the two institutions intend to collaborate, explaining that both institutions need each other to make groundbreaking advances :



“Their [BGU's] incredible expertise in large clinical trials in nutrition is truly world class.  We desperately want access to that capacity because we do not have it here.  And our ability through our CCARM scientists (like Drs. Taylor, Zahradka, Aliani, Aukema, Netticadan as well as many others) to tell them why their nutritional interventions work opens up a whole new avenue of collaborative studies down the road.  Similarly, our ability (through scientists in the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences with Drs. Kirshenbaum, Czubryt, Jassal, Dixon, Ravandi, Dhingra and so many others)  to do some of the best cellular and molecular work on heart disease in the world will improve their clinical cardiac research that desperately needs help in that area.  BGU has outstanding research going on in brain research.  What a perfect collaboration for our scientists like Dr. Ben Albensi working in Alzheimer’s to help each other make ... We are in for some exciting scientific discoveries through this unique partnership.”



The Honourable Kelvin Goertzen , Manitoba's Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living  was the first speaker at the launch event. He said that patients and their families talk about "the treatment they need" and that the search for improved treatments for various diseases is something which knows no borders. "We need to reach beyond borders for [this] knowledge," he said.



"This partnership has brought together two great institutions. Your reputations aren't confined by borders...This partnership will strengthen the bond between Manitoba and Israel," Goertzen said. He also indicated that “It was a pleasure to share my love with the people of Israel and the nation of Israel." 



Dr. Bruce Roe, President &CEO of St. Boniface Hospital spoke about the fact that both institutions "strive to provide better, more compassionate care," and that "this partnership will help us make advances we couldn't have made on our own."



Shelon Zamick, President of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Associates of BGU, spoke about how both partners to this collaboration think "out of the box". He noted that "BGU is known as Israel's youngest and, most dynamic university" and that “BGU has been voted the #1 place to study in Israel for six years in a row by the Union of Israeli students." 



Professor Rivka Carmi, President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev arrived to Winnipeg from Israel to be present for the launch and toured the world-renowned St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre for the first time.



Carmi, who is a medical doctor, and who served as dean of BGU’s medical school for many years, stated that she was thrilled to be part of this unique scientific partnership. "As our sages have said, 'this can be a light unto the nations' meaning that this should be a shining example of cooperation between two institutions - one whose roots are based in Catholicism and the other in Judaism."



Carmi noted that BGU "has two medical schools, one in Hebrew and one in English." (Its Medical School for International Health (English) specializes in global medicine. The Faculty of Health Sciences (Hebrew) has established 11 research centres in order to expand the scope of research, increase the emphasis in certain research areas and streamline interdisciplinary cooperation. ) She said that researchers at both  BGU and St Boniface Hospital have the same end goal, "to change the face of health care as we know it,"  and to make advances in overcoming debilitating diseases.




Carmi also said that Winnipeg was the first city she ever visited outside of Israel as her father's cousins lived here. She also thanked "Larry and Tova Vickar for envisioning the idea [of a partnership] and bringing Grant and Chuck to the Negev." She said that "you need people [like LaFlèche and Dr Pierce] “to make things possible" and to turn a vision into reality. She said that "David Ben-Gurion once said that "unfulfilled visions are false visions." This collaboration, on the other hand, between BGU and St Boniface Hospital was a vision that was "here to stay."



In his closing remarks Chuck LaFlèche noted that historically  St Boniface Hospital was one of the only hospitals in the province to give Jewish doctors the opportunity to practice. He gave the example of Dr Maxwell Rady born Avraham Radishkevich, who immigrated to Manitoba from Russia in 1893. "After completing medical school, Rady was one of the first Jewish doctors given admitting privileges at St Boniface hospital."



At the end of the launch both Drs Carmi and Pierce were presented with white lab coats.



At the launch, it was announced that fundraising for Research Beyond Borders will begin on October 16, 2016. The fundraising goal will be $10 million – the funds will be divided between each institution and will focus on collaborative research efforts that span across oceans.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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