Following the visit of Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to Israel in the beginning of the week, the end of the week of January 18th saw a visit by a group of leading Japanese scientists to Rehovot, Israel. The Advances in Brain Sciences conference the scientists attended was jointly hosted by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan. The parallels were more than incidental: Abe and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed furthering business, research and development contacts between the countries; Weizmann and RIKEN researchers are already working to advance scientific collaboration between the two institutes and the two countries.
The Weizmann Institute’s Dr. Ofer Yizhar
, one of the conference organizers, is currently involved in a collaborative research project with RIKEN researcher Toru Takumi. “Takumi creates mice that have a genetic defect which mimics autism, while my optogenetics lab can work with these mice, turning neurons in the brain “on” and “off” with light. Together, we hope to discover how autistic spectrum disorder develops in the brain and what neural mechanisms are involved in autistic behaviorisms,” says Yizhar.
Over the two days of the conference, speakers touched on many different aspects of brain research: Yasunori Hayashi of RIKEN, for example, gave a talk on the roles of the cells’ internal cytoskeleton in maintaining the plasticity of the synapses between certain brain cells. The Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Rony Paz
talked about his findings showing how our tendency to overgeneralize may sometimes work against us, for example, when memories of traumatic events turn into post-traumatic disorders. The keynote speaker, Prof. Shimon Ullman
of the Weizmann Institute, gave a talk on visual recognition – a subject that crosses the boundaries between neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Ullman, who has worked with RIKEN’s Dr. Tanifuji for a number of years, says: “Scientific and personal connections have deepened over the years, and we are currently planning the next steps of joint work in the future.”
Informal events and visits to labs during the two-day conference gave the researchers from the two countries an opportunity to meet and discuss ideas for future research directions. “RIKEN is the premier brain research center in Japan, and one of the best in the world,” says Prof. Yadin Dudai,
one of the conference organizers. “We see that much of Weizmann Institute research complements that being done in Japan; there is great potential to work together in many areas. This can benefit both sides, and we hope to see more cooperation in the future.”