Corona Research at Bar-Ilan

Bar-Ilan’s dual campuses -in the center of Israel in Ramat Gan and in the peripheral North in Tzfat -allow researchers across both campuses to collaborate and strengthen one another’s work. These research advantages are further enhanced by our close relationships with clinics and hospitals in the North, which allow us direct access to patients. During the current pandemic, faculty and students from Bar-Ilan’s Medical Faculty have been instrumental in developing and using diagnostic centers, both offering crucial help, and gathering important information.
Bar-Ilan has top expertise in three areas critical to the present fight against Corona, as well as in preparation for future pandemics. Click below to read some examples of the top research being done in these areas.

Public Health

Public Health is the research area focusing on all the non-medical factors that are relevant in health. In order to understand how to most effectively treat individual health, one needs to consider multiple variables: genetics of a population group, socioeconomic status, and broader policy decisions that affect larger communities. Without incorporating these variables into  health decisions, not only will prevention and treatment not be helpful, certain choices can actually cause additional harm.

Project 1:

Optimal vaccine distribution under constrained conditions:​

Mathematician Prof. Baruch Barzel, and Virologist Prof. Michael Edelstein are developing the safest, fairest and most effective model for vaccine distribution.

The integration of high level computer simulation and virologic knowledge is being applied to proactively determine how to address the distribution of a future vaccine. There will be insufficient vaccines for a country’s entire population- at least initially- and any side effects may cause more

 danger than benefit to some groups. Thus, a more complex model that accounts for all relevant variables needs to be developed. Professor Baruch Barzel- an expert in complex networks, and Professor Michael Edelstein- a world renowned virologist- suggest that by ignoring specific viral spreading patterns, existing strategies conclude that maximum effectiveness is directly related to the amount of vaccines available. They have found this is not the case, but rather that by mimicking viral spread one can be more efficient and successful with fewer vaccines. Together with the Israeli government, Professors Barzel and Edelstein are incorporating all relevant biologic, socio-economic and virologic data in their development of the safest, fairest, and most effective model for vaccine distribution.

Project 2:

Care for the chronically ill during a time of pandemic:

Bar-Ilan Medical students are visiting quarantined chronically ill patients to help treat their medical and mental health needs.

Because of the low socio-economics and poor health care in the Galil, there is a large population of people with pre-existing conditions and/or chronic illness. This population is at greater risk for complications if they become infected with the Corona virus, thus they have been ordered to self-

isolate for an indeterminate amount of time. While the quarantine does protect this vulnerable population from Corona contagion, there are negative consequences to this policy: these patients are not going for regular health check-ups or addressing any complications that may arise through pre-existing conditions, and their extended isolation may have a significant potential psychological impact.
Bar-Ilan’s advanced medical students are being trained to visit these individuals and deliver both primary health and psychological care. This proactive program is expected to minimize the negative effects on the self-isolating population, compared to other groups who are not given prophylactic attention and care. The results of Bar-Ilan’s unique program will have implications not only for this chronically ill population in the Galilee, but for all similar populations around Israel and internationally.

Project 3:

Education and prevention of Corona spread among vulnerable Arab populations:

Bar-Ilan has created a unique program to help stop the spread of Corona in Arab villages in the North.

Through conversations and assessments, Bar-Ilan researchers have determined that the level of understanding and knowledge of the Corona virus-basic facts and prevention- in Arab villages in the Galil is dangerously low, as is their trust in the government and official

announcements. This has become even more problematic, as these villages are among those most hit by the second wave of Corona infection; and, there is an expectation that the number of cases will rise with the advent of Ramadan. Arabic-speaking Bar-Ilan students have been educated in the specific cultural norms and values of these villages; this, combined with the level of respect already earned by the faculty and researchers of Bar-Ilan, creates a much greater likelihood of being accepted and listened to as experts. These students will be speaking with villagers and passing out “community kits” with information on preventive care.

Psycho-social Impact in the Time of Pandemics

While many researchers are appropriately focused on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the biological aspects of the Corona virus, it is also imperative that we better understand and develop treatments to address the human and psycho-social implications of this virus.  It is not only the patients of Corona who are suffering from this pandemic; the “healthy” population is also affected in large numbers.  We have learned from previous crises, there are tools and strategies that can address these invisible consequences; we need to better explore, develop and implement both known and newly developing treatments.

Project 1:

Corona, anxiety and pregnancy:

How to minimize anxiety among pregnant women during the pandemic and other high-stress situations.

Professor Orit Taubman-Ben-Ari, a psychologist at the Louis and Gabi Weisfeld School of Social Work with expertise in life span development, is studying the impact of the Corona pandemic on the levels of anxiety in pregnant women. She is focusing on two important subpopulations that

can be assumed to have higher rates of anxiety during pregnancy: first time pregnant women, and pregnant Arab women. The goal of the study is to develop tools and resources that can employed by therapists and other health care professionals to alleviate anxiety among all pregnant women.

Project 2:

Recruiting and sustaining volunteers in times of national emergency:

How to target and retain the volunteers that are so crucial during the Corona pandemic and other emergencies.

Bar-Ilan sociologist, Professor Liat Kulik of the Louis and Gabi Weisfeld School of Social Work, is working with Israel’s National Volunteer Council and Home Front Command to determine the variables relevant in recruiting and sustaining volunteers during a time of emergency. She is developing a

typology of the profile of a crisis-time volunteer by examining those who are currently engaged in volunteer work during the Corona crisis and finding shared characteristics and traits. She is also using a pre-existing data base on volunteers form the time of Operation Cast Lead. The data we learn from this study will help us understand for the future who to target, and how to recruit, the volunteers so crucial in times of national emergency.

Project 3:

Corona and ageism:

How to reduce negative attitudes towards the elderly.

Unfortunately, the Corona pandemic has increased negative attitudes towards the elderly (ageism). Professor Liat Ayalon from the Louis and Gabi Weisfeld School of Social Work, an expert in ageism, is exploring which variables are more likely to exacerbate ageism, as well as determine whether

solidarity and cross generational interaction can minimize their impact. The agenda is to offer ideas on how to reduce ageism in the current crises, as well as in the future.

Nano-technological Prevention, Treatment and Engineered Diagnosis

One of the tremendous advantages Bar-Ilan has is the strength of its award-winning Institute of Nanotechnology. Over 100 researchers working in 64 advanced laboratories manipulate material in atomic or molecular form. Physicists, chemists and engineers collaborate with professors from our Faculties of Life Sciences and Medicine to advance cutting edge precision treatments for Corona.

Project 1:

Immediate and non-invasive detection of Corona-Associated Symptoms:

Engineering Dean Zeev Zalevsky has developed a camera that uses laser to scan for corona symptoms.

In order to limit the spread of Corona, we need to quickly distinguish the infected from the uninfected in airports, train stations, shopping centers, large offices, and other public areas. Professor Zeev Zalevsky, Dean of the Alexander Kofkin Faculty of Engineering, is developing a low-cost

optical device that enables the immediate detection of various symptoms associated with the Corona virus. A camera and laser, using patented technology, measures physiological variables such as temperature and oxygen saturation to identify those likely to be infected.

Project 2:

A clinical trial for a safer treatment for Corona-affected lungs:

Azrieli Medical Faculty Dean Karl Skorecki is testing a new, less dangerous, and more effective treatment to improve Corona patients’ lungs.

A not insignificant subset of Covid-19 patients progresses to severe lung injury, requiring connection to artificial respiration and ventilation; however, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that artificial respiration and ventilation may themselves create greater difficulties for patient recovery.

A clinical research team at Bar-Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine led by Dean Karl Skorecki, in collaboration with colleagues at the affiliated medical centers throughout the country, has received approval for a clinical trial using a small peptide which protects the lungs and is anti-inflammatory (FDA- approved for other purposes). The goal is to minimize lung injury and prevent or lower the need for artificial respiration and ventilator support.

Project 3:

A quicker accurate test for Corona:

Engineering Prof. Amos Danielli has reduced the time needed to test for Corona from 2 hours to 15 minutes.

One of the most critical elements necessary to begin a comprehensive exit strategy from quarantine that includes long-term maintenance, is the ability to quickly test for the Corona virus. Prof. Amos Danielli from the Alexander Kofkin Faculty of Engineering is working towards

significantly shortening the time it takes for PCR detection of COVID-19 – from 2 hours to 15 minutes. His technology is already being used in the Health Ministry’s central virology laboratory to test patients for the presence of the viral RNA of SARS and MERS, and he is adapting it for Covid-19 testing.

Project 4:

Ultimate protection against Corona:

Prizewinning Chemist Prof. Doron Aurbach has developed a disinfectant that safely and completely kills the corona virus on surfaces.

Covid-19 has proven to be extremely contagious, thus the development of protection against its transmittal is imperative. One of the greatest concerns is that the virus appears to be able to survive on surfaces for a long period of time. Professor Doron Aurbach, international prizewinning electro-chemist, has developed an innovative and inexpensive disinfectant solution that completely kills viruses-including Corona, while remaining safe for humans. The material has been clinically tested by virologists and in hospitals.

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