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Israeli university gets $50 million to study brain

Jerusalem's Hebrew University is using a $50 million gift from the foundation of a donor who was killed in 1999 to launch a new brain research center.

world Updated: Jun 01, 2009 00:05 IST

Jerusalem's Hebrew University is using a $50 million gift from the foundation of a donor who was killed in 1999 to launch a new brain research center.

The $50 million donation from the Edmond J Safra Philanthropic Foundation is the largest gift ever for research at an Israeli university, the university said.

Researchers at the center will work on developing treatments for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, said Prof. Eilon Vaadia, director of the new center, but will also focus more broadly on the way stimuli such as sight and sound are translated into brain impulses.

Edmond J Safra, a Jewish Lebanese billionaire who owned banks in the US, Europe and South America, was listed as one of Forbes' richest men when he was killed in his Monte Carlo home in 1999. Safra was suffering from Parkinson's disease, another neurodegenerative disorder, at the time of his death. Ted Maher, a former Green Beret from Auburn, Maine, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for Safra's death.

Officials put the total cost of building the center at $130 million. The university plans to raise the remaining money from alumni and other donors, and Vaadia said he expects it to be fully operational in about 10 years.

Israel is a relative newcomer to brain research, which is mostly centered in the U.S. and Europe, Vaadia said. But he said the country is gaining an international reputation for linking brain research with computer science and technology.

Safra's widow, Lily, will attend a dedication ceremony for the center June 8, according to the university. The center will be called the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences. The Safra Foundation has given millions to projects in Israel and elsewhere, including $30 million to Hebrew University in 2005 to establish the Edmond J. Safra campus near Israel's parliament building.