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$100,000 Adelis Prize to a young Israeli scientist

Dr. Yuval Nir believes monitoring brain activity during sleep can give us a ‘window’ for understanding how close to normal the brain’s functioning is
A baby seen sleeping in a cradle, illustrative photo (Photo credit: Chen Leopold/Flash90)
A baby seen sleeping in a cradle, illustrative photo (Photo credit: Chen Leopold/Flash90)
אדליס בטכניון 1
Adelis Brain Research Award for 2016 won by Dr. Yuval Nir

The Adelis Award for groundbreaking research by a young scientist has been presented to Dr. Yuval Nir of Tel Aviv University for his work in the field of sleep.

The Adelis Foundation — established by Mr. André Cohen Deloro of blessed memory to support academic excellence within Israel in general and within the realm of medical and scientific research in particular — decided in 2015, in consideration of the spiritual legacy of the Foundation’s founder and in loyalty to his vision, to inaugurate the Adelis Award for Brain Research and to budget $100,000 annually as a research grant to a groundbreaking young Israeli researcher.

The purpose of the award is to encourage excellence among young Israeli scientists performing brain research in Israel; to advance our knowledge and understanding of the brain, of its functioning, and of the ailments connected with it; and to achieve international influence.

Brain research holds a top position on the global scale of scientific research priorities.

The Foundation is proud to be presenting this award, which in its second year has already become a symbol of success and recognition among the community of young researchers in Israel.

For the award’s panel of judges, senior figures from Israel’s scientific circles were selected: Dr. Gal Ifergane, Prof. Moshe Bar, Prof. Illana Gozes, Prof. Eilon Vaadia, Prof. Haick Hossam, Prof. Rafi Malach, Prof. Alon Friedman, Prof. Emeritus Amos Korczyn, and Prof. Michal Schwartz, veteran brain researchers who all number among Israel’s foremost.

In this second year of activity surrounding the award, 29 research proposals were presented in competition. The Adelis Foundation was pleased, and proud, to see such an impressive number of high-quality proposals representing Israeli potential in the field of brain research.

The judging panel had no easy task, given the quantity of submissions and their superior level. Once their discussions had resolved the indecision, the 2016 award went to Dr. Yuval Nir, a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience.

The Brain Research Award winner’s certificate was presented to Dr. Yuval Nir by the President of the Adelis Foundation, Mr. Albert Deloro (brother of the Foundation’s creator), by Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie, and by Ms. Rébecca Boukhris representing the Adelis Foundation. The award ceremony took place at the Technion Board of Governors’ meeting on June 7, 2016.

Professor Emeritus Amos D. Korczyn of Tel Aviv University explained the judging panel’s considerations:

“The award panel faced many difficulties. The panel discussed on the one hand the nature of the work proposed, and on the other hand the candidate’s achievements and ability to perform the task. This audience requires no explanation of how many difficulties there are in comparing the nature of projects from differing fields, even if the fields are related. But the panel did overcome those numerous difficulties, and others, and it selected Dr. Yuval Nir as the deserving winner of the award.

“Yuval’s field of interest is sleep. We spend a significant part of our life asleep, whether we wish to or not. Generally we enjoy sleeping, but not always. Sometimes, on the contrary, we would prefer to stay awake but we fail. Why do we require sleep? The matter is important, scientists have been probing it for years with only meager successes, and it is considered one of the central unanswered questions of the natural sciences and brain research. With the help of new methods and techniques, Yuval has managed to progress toward solving part of the mystery. In addition, every neurological and psychiatric disorder expresses itself in unusual sleep patterns among its other symptoms, and therefore monitoring brain activity during sleep means gaining a valuable ‘window’ for understanding how close to normal the brain’s functioning is, and it means a chance to improve the processes that diagnose brain disorders.

“Among the important points that impressed the team on the judging committee for the award, one was that Yuval works on two planes in parallel. He examines the brain’s functioning in the lower mammals and in people. Whereas the animal study seeks answers about activity relating to normal sleep, sleep disorders are of no less interest and reports of them involve people almost exclusively.

“Both insomnia and hypersomnia, but also — and above all else — what happens during dreams and nightmares are phenomena almost limited to human beings. Only by integrating the collection of data on the physiology of sleep in animals and in humans can deep understanding of sleep disturbances in people be achieved. Yuval’s work does integrate those two areas, and the combination is very promising.

“Dr. Nir has successfully created links, increasing cooperation and synergy in research, with scientists in related fields, and he supervises a large number of research students. In this way he contributes not only to solving the problems that he will be discussing here later, but also to educating a further generation of researchers. His work has won recognition and admiration. He has published his research results in leading journals in the field and received research grants. The Adelis Foundation is not the first to support Yuval Nir’s work and will surely not be the last. We are certain that much will be heard of his future scientific achievements, and we are proud to have been able to support Yuval at this critical juncture in his professional progress.”

Dr. Yuval Nir was born in 1974 to Avinoam Nir (a professor emeritus of chemical engineering at the Technion) and Chava Nir (a social worker and psychotherapist). He grew up in Haifa. Yuval is married to Yehudit (a pediatrician at Schneider Hospital) and is father to Ido (8), Uri (4), and Tomar (1½). He lives in Moshav Neve Yarak. He served as a 2nd Lieutenant in an elite military intelligence unit. After his studies at Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute, he travelled from Israel to the University of Wisconsin–Madison for a postdoctorate at the Center for Sleep and Consciousness, specializing in sleep research, in electrophysiological recordings of rodents, and in optogenetic research methods. Yuval returned to Israel in 2012 to establish an independent research laboratory at Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Nir has published 22 articles in scientific journals and has written chapters in three books. His researches have been published in leading journals including Science, Nature, Nature Neuroscience, and Neuron; and he has won a number of awards for his work, including a grant from the Israel Science Foundation’s Center of Research Excellence in the Cognitive Sciences, the Siretsky Award for Brain Research; grants from the ISF, “Brainpower for Israel,” HFSP, and EMBO funds, and an award in honor of the founders of Teva.

At his laboratory, the research centers on sleep and on its relationship to sense perception and to cognitive processes such as learning and memory. The current research project, for which Dr. Nir won the 2016 Adelis Prize, examines the neural basis for sensory detachment from the external environment during states of sleep, anesthesia, and lapses of waking attention. His staff investigates how the brain reacts differently to auditory stimuli (sounds) depending on the brain’s internal state, and examines the role of the specialized neuromodulatory systems (such as the noradrenaline system) in exposing sensory information to an effective form of processing that creates awareness of perception and can guide behavior. In addition, the research laboratory examines how brain activity during sleep can serve as a “window” on how close to normal the functioning of the cerebral systems is, in hopes of improving diagnosis and medical treatment of various neuropsychiatric ailments.

About the Author
Yoram Dori is a longtime political and media strategic adviser. He served as the spokesman of the Israel labor party under the chairmanship of Ytzchak Rabin and served as the senior strategic adviser to Shimon Peres since 1990
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