Multidisciplinary center connects hospitals, government and academic institutions in Israel and around the world to prepare for future epidemics.

By Abigail Klein Leichman, ISRAEL21c

Despite tens of millions of Covid-19 cases worldwide, much remains unknown about the origin and long-term effects of the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus.

One thing that scientists know without a doubt: We can expect more pandemics in the future.

That’s why Tel Aviv University recently launched the Center for Combating Pandemics, thought to be the first of its kind anywhere.

“In the past 15 years, the world has seen a string of viral pathogens infect large numbers of people, among them SARS, MERS, swine flu and avian flu. Clearly, we are not safe from dangerous emerging diseases,” says Center Head Prof. Itai Benhar of TAU’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research.

The center aims to improve frontline containment of infection; bolster biomedical knowledge for developing vaccines and treatments; and help nations strengthen their capacity to ensure social and economic resilience.

Experts in preventive and emergency medicine, epidemiology, disaster management, psychology, social work, and the health professions, along with data science, environmental studies, and engineering are all working toward these goals.

In the area of containment, a Google-funded study at TAU’s AI and Data Science Center is employing AI techniques and advanced statistical methods to build a model of the spread of the pandemic to assist in planning and testing methods for stopping infection.

In another project, a team led by Prof. Motti Gerlic and Prof. Ariel Munitz has developed a robotic blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus. The Israel Defense Forces will test the method on soldiers.

he center also plans on establishing a Biomedical Solutions Task Force to deepen understanding of the mechanisms underlying the virus and develop precision methods to diagnose, treat and prevent it.

Already under development are a vaccine candidate from Prof. Jonathan Gershoni that has a US patent and funding from the 3M Corporation; a nano-vaccine; and an antibody “cocktail” to treat Covid.

Scholars in economics, law, public policy, management, employment and education will comprise a Social and Economic Resilience Think Tank to inform national policy during medical crises.

The Center for Combating Pandemics also will be a coordination point for 100 TAU groups researching the coronavirus. It will provide graduate fellowships, host visiting professors, and host conferences and workshops as well as facilitate international collaborations.

“Over the longer term, we envision the center not only contributing to global efforts to combat and contain the current crisis, but also building the scientific and professional foundations to enable us to successfully cope with the next one,” said Benhar.