The University of Sydney
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Newsletter Issue #20 - June 2015






The University of Sydney’s historic MacLaurin Hall was the venue for the celebratory dinner at which the 2014 awards of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize were presented. The dinner was once again jointly hosted by the Fund and the Australian Friends of the Hebrew University. We were pleased that many of our supporters were able to celebrate with us the achievements of the Fund and of the award recipients.

The 2014 Prize was shared by two University of Sydney scientists A/Prof Anthony Gill and A/Prof Ostoja (Steve) Vucic each has made a significant contribution in his field.

Prof Vucic, Dr Schwartz & Prof Gill

A/Prof Gill has increased our understanding of a number of gastrointestinal and renal cancers. His discovery of hereditary components which some cancers have has resulted in the establishment of a low cost, widely available screening program. This allows hundreds of individuals with a hereditary cancer to be diagnosed early (before they develop cancer) and at a stage where early intervention is highly likely to lead to a cure and new treatment strategies.

A/Prof Vucic was recognised for his discovery of a unique mechanism underlying amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neurodegenerative disorder. His pioneering research has resulted in new therapeutic approaches which are being translated into clinical trials. Prof Vucic has also coinvented a much-needed diagnostic technique for ALS which is currently being commercialized. This invention could enable earlier and more definite diagnosis of ALS so that currently available neuroprotective therapies could be instituted earlier, potentially improving survival and quality of life for patients. The Prize of $10,000 and a medal crafted by Melbourne sculptor, Michael Meszaros is presented in alternate years at the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Schwartz Foundation Logo

The award in Sydney is sponsored by The Schwartz Foundation.

Dr Jerry Schwartz from the Foundation presented the 2014 Prize to the professors.

In addition to presentations from each of the awardees, the evening included presentations from:

Prof Emeritus Michael Stone

Prof Emeritus Michael Stone who is an internationally renowned Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, an editor of the official edition of the Scrolls and founding Director of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was also Professor of Armenian Studies and Gail Levin de Nur Professor of Religious Studies, Hebrew University, 1980–2007. Prof Stone provided some recent insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Prof David Celermajer

Prof David Celermajer an eminent Sydney cardiologist and researcher and a Trustee of the Fund. He spoke about cutting edge techniques and technology which are revolutionising heart health. Prof Celermajer was also the inaugural recipient of a SZCUF Traveling Fellowship in 1992, so he was able to outline how valuable this scholarship had been to him at that early part of his career and how this personal experience helps him understand the impact of the type of support provided by the SZCUF through its various projects.

Mr Eli Tal

Mr Eli Tal, Chairman of B’nai B’rith Lodge Sydney presented the Fund with a cheque for $10,000 to be presented to the 2015 Prize awardee in Jerusalem in June 2015. This continues B’nai B’rith Lodge Sydney’s on-going sponsorship support for the award of the Prize when it is presented in Jerusalem.

Ms Cecilia Minogue

Another landmark for the Fund was celebrated at the dinner with the introduction of Ms Cecilia Minogue, inaugural recipient of The Leslie Rich Scholarship for Dementia Research who spoke about the work for which she received her scholarship. Read more about Ms Minogue’s work on the Fund’s website at



The 2015 SZCUF Prize for Discovery in Medical Research has been awarded to:

Professor Assaf Friedler
Institute of Chemistry,
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

for his extensive and groundbreaking work focused on protein interactions as targets for drug design.

Prof Friedler's research deals with the fundamental questions of how proteins interact with each other in health and how these interactions are impaired in disease. This serves as a basis for developing new approaches for drug design. To achieve these goals he and his team developed an interdisciplinary experimental platform at the Hebrew University, combining chemistry, biophysics and biology. The major achievements of this work are two novel approaches for drug design that significantly expand the scope of potential drug targets and can be applied to a large variety of disease-related proteins. One of these approaches has been successfully demonstrated as a novel approach for anti-AIDS therapy.

The Prize will be presented to Prof Friedler, in Jerusalem, in June 2015 during a ceremony which is part of the proceedings of the annual meeting of the Hebrew University’s Board of Governors.

bb logo

The 2015 Prize has been sponsored by B’nai B’rith Lodge Sydney.



Following the success of grants previously awarded to infra- structure projects in the Bosch Institute (USYD), in December 2014 the Fund undertook to support a further Bosch Institute project. Like its predecessors, this project will also provide an opportunity for researchers from the Institute’s many laboratories to have access to more state of the art techniques which will be available in the new multi-user facility.

The new Facility the Bosch Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Facility will guide and advise in two key analytical areas - biostatistics and bioinformatics.

Biostatistics is a specialised area of statistics which most biomedical and clinical studies use in either planning their experiments or trials, or in assessing the significance of results.

Bioinformatics is a subdiscipline that has grown over the last 15 years, as the power of analysis of gene expression has grown. Small ‘chips’ are now available – the size of a 20c piece - on which manufacturers ‘spot’ fragments of all the 30,000 genes in the genome of a human, or of an experimental animal like a mouse or rat. Tissue extracts are ‘interrogated’ by the chips, and specialised machines read the chips, giving an enormous volume of data concerning the expression of proteins and other molecules in the tissue. It has become an essential part of the molecular analysis of tissue.

The Fund will support the salary of a half-time Officer to run the facility and provide its services. The appointment will be for 3 years. The officer will be known as the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Bosch Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Officer.

In a similar spirit to support for the Bosch Institute, in late 2013, the Fund commenced a venture with the Hebrew University’s Authority for Research and Development (ARD) to jointly fund two scientific projects at HU aimed at improving treatments for common conditions.

One project headed by Prof Gershon Golomb aims to produce a new anti-viral drug which directly targets specific parts of the herpes virus to block its effect compared to current therapies which only alleviate symptoms without providing a cure. The other project headed by Prof Amnon Hoffman and Prof Eli Breuer aims to improve the effectiveness of currently available oral therapy for cancer patients with metastases.

At the end of the first year of funding, both projects have reported significant outcomes and progress.



In a further bid to support the development of novel scientific ideas and to promote cooperative work between USYD and HU, early in 2014 the Fund initiated the SZCUF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE NOVEL APPROACHES TO THERAPY GRANT with an award of $250,000 over 2 years for a research project aimed at developing and/or assessing new treatments for AD. Applicants were to be members of staff of USYD or HU. All else being equal regarding merit, joint applications for cooperative projects between members of staff of the two Universities were to be given preference.

Having considered the field of very excellent applications from both Universities, the Assessment Committee recommended to the Trustees, that the following project be awarded the grant:

Title: Non-invasive measurement of neuronal cell death

Chief Investigators: Prof Yuval Dor, Hadassah Medical School, HU; Prof Benjamin Glaser, Hadassah Medical Center

Prof. Yuval Dor
Prof. Benjamin Glaser

“A key challenge in Alzheimer’s research and a barrier for the development of effective therapy is objective diagnosis and monitoring of brain damage”, wrote Profs Dor and Glaser in introducing their project. They and their teams are working on a new approach which will allow specific, sensitive and quantitative detection of neuronal cell death in blood using fragments of DNA released from dying neurons. The potential outcome of the proposed research is a novel non-invasive method for the detection of neuronal cell death. In the long run, it can transform diagnosis, drug development and treatment in Alzheimer’s disease.

We look forward to reporting to you on the results as they come to hand over the two years of the project.



In late 2011, the Fund became the beneficiary of a bequest made to USYD by Mrs Hermina Rich. The terms of the bequest prescribed that it be used to establish a research scholarship in the field of dementia research to honour her beloved husband who had suffered an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease before he died and that it be named The Leslie Rich Scholarship and be administered by the SZCUF.

The inaugural recipient of the scholarship in 2014 was Ms Cecilia Minogue, a doctoral candidate, in the School of Psychology, USYD. Her project was entitled, Cognitive decline in Older Aboriginal People: Is education protective? Ms Minogue gave a presentation about her work at the celebratory dinner in 2014 at which the 2014 Sir Zelman Cowen University Fund Prize was awarded. You can read about her presentation at

The 2015 Leslie Rich Scholarship For Dementia Research has been awarded to Ms Claire O’Connor for her project Understanding behaviour and function in frontotemporal dementia: developing better assessments and intervention approaches.

Ms Claire O’Connor

Ms O’Connor is a doctoral candidate in the Ageing, Work and Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney. She also holds a Bachelor of Science (Medical Science) from UWS and a Master of Occupational Therapy (Honours) from USYD.

Writing about her project, Ms O’Connor said, “Research into dementia primarily focuses on Alzheimer’s disease, with much less focus on other subtypes such as frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which is the second most common cause of young-onset dementia. There is a distinct lack of knowledge about the severe-advanced stages of the disease. Despite the current lack of effective pharmacological interventions for FTD, there is a paucity of rigorous research into potential non- pharmacological interventions.

My project will provide opportunity for further investigation into longitudinal relationships between function and behaviour in FTD; development of a tool to measure functional status of people in the severe-advanced stages of FTD; and, to investigate the potential benefit of the Tailored Activities Program (TAP), a community- based occupational therapy intervention. The results from this study will contribute to development of an occupational therapy framework for working with FTD cohorts.”

The scholarship will allow Ms O’Connor to purchase equipment and software to help her carry out her research as well as to attend the 10th International Conference on Frontotemporal Dementias (FTD) in Munich, Germany in August 2016. She hopes to make a presentation at the Conference.


However you wish to support the Fund, you will be making a valuable contribution to the Fund’s work.

You could consider a donation to the Fund:

  • in the name of a friend as a special gift
  • in lieu of gifts to you
  • targeted toward an area of your interest
  • to sponsor one of the Fund’s projects

Please contact the Fund Office to discuss these and other options. Ph: 9351 6558 or email:




Dr Michael Gillies, Melton Center for Jewish Education, HU visited the Dept of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies (USYD) in Semester II, 2014. Dr Gillies’ research interest focuses on Jewish education and on teacher education particularly in relation to modern approaches to religious education. While in Sydney, Dr Gillies taught classes for his host department; met with teachers in Jewish schools to discuss some of the challenges they face in teaching Jewish Studies, gave presentations on teaching other religions and on teaching Jewish thought at the national conference on Jewish education held in Melbourne. His visit also sowed the seeds for some future collaborations.

Dr Sharon Kangisser-Cohen

Dr Sharon Kangisser-Cohen, Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, HU presented the findings of her work on the testimonies of fifteen survivors of the Holocaust over a sixty year period when she visited the Dept of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, USYD in Semester II, 2014. She also worked with Dr Avril Alba in the Department on areas of mutual interest and gave lectures to students on topics related to her research. At the Sydney Jewish Museum she gave a talk on the aims and direction of Holocaust education in the 21st century.

Prof David Raubenheimer

Prof David Raubenheimer, Charles Perkins Centre, USYD visited the laboratories of Dr Dror Hawlena, HU in Semester I, 2014. The aim of his visit was to initiate a research collaboration to develop and empirically test, a new theory about how the characteristics of individual species can influence ecosystems.

The visit in fact resulted in establishing several collaborations all of which will contribute new information to one of Prof Raubenheimer’s central research interests, how nutrients influence the relationships between animals and their environment, from an ecological and evolutionary perspective. “Food influences everything we do. Nutrients impact on just about every aspect of an animal’s life, from reproduction to growth, resistance to disease, vulnerability to predators and, ultimately, lifespan,” Prof Raubenheimer said in a recent interview.

Prof Des Richardson, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney made a second SZCUF-supported trip to the labs of Prof Avi Domb (HU) in Semester I, 2014 to continue work on the very successful collaboration commenced in 2013.

The two visits have resulted in two major collaborative initiatives focused on the design, synthesis and characterization of novel agents for the treatment of: (1) cancer and (2) Alzheimer’s disease. Reporting on his recent exchange visit, Prof Richardson said, “ I am very grateful to the Sir Zelman Cowen Fund for sponsoring my visit to Israel which ... has been very useful in strengthening collaborative research ties and encouraging interesting new research leads that could result in important therapeutics for the treatment of cancer and also Alzheimer’s disease.”



During 2014, four USYD students and three HU students participated in the official program of student exchange between the two Universities. For each of them a number of aspects of their exchange were focuses of attention when reporting on their experiences.
The high quality of the teaching they found at their host University merited comment from all the students and for some became instrumental in their decisions about their future.

For students from USYD for whom the focus of their studies was a language, Jewish history, culture, or civilisation or aspects of the Israeli political scene, being in the place where they could be in close contact with the focus of their studies was fascinating and often inspirational. Being in a different place and culture gave many of them the opportunity to have new experiences and provided new perspectives through which to look at the world and make decisions about their future directions.

USYD students who visited HU were Daniel Arbiv, Melanie Chambers, Ann Thompson and Simon Burke.

Daniel, as a student in the Bachelor of International and Global Studies Degree focused on international law and foreign policy at HU. The inspiration he gained from one of his professors in this course has motivated him to undertake a law degree in 2015 following on from his undergraduate studies. Realising that this professor had been an advisor to the Israeli Cabinet, had been involved in the Egypt Israel Peace process and had contributed many of the passages they were studying from peace documents, gave the course an added depth that he could not have found anywhere else.

Melanie, a third year Arts (Languages) student at the time of her exchange reported, “I have thoroughly enjoyed each class I have taken. My results reflect my enthusiasm and appreciation for the subjects I have taken.” Contributing to Melanie’s enjoyment of her courses was the fact of being where her studies were focused, “ For example, the course Archaeology of Jerusalem covers the development of Jerusalem as a holy city to Jews, Christians and Muslims from its origins as a Canaanite city to the conquest of the Umayyad Muslim dynasty. During this course, I completed 5 field trips around the city with our teacher looking at the finds discussed in class, adding immense interest to the course.” The exchange has also allowed her to bring her competencies in her areas of interest to a level which will be a great asset to her future goal of becoming an academic in the field of Classical Hebrew.

Simon Burke also a third year Arts student was keen to improve both his spoken Modern Hebrew and his spoken Arabic. The Arabic Immersion Program at HU became a key focus, as this opportunity is not available in many other places. Summing up his experience he said, “My time at HU has been greatly beneficial for my education and knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic. I plan to take what I’ve learnt and develop it further. I hope that in the future I will be able to make certain literary treasures from Hebraic and Arabic cultures available to more people by translating untranslated texts to English.”

Hebrew University students who visited Sydney in 2014 were Yael Israeli, Yahav Shadmy, Michael Vaknin and Shira Yellinek.

Their experiences and perspectives on being on exchange in Sydney and attending USYD had much in common with the experiences of the USYD students in Jerusalem. Like them the HU students found the teaching excellent and the subjects they studied at USYD to be very interesting. They too were focused on improving language skills, this time of course, in English and particularly, academic English. They were all very grateful to have had the Fund’s support to meet their accommodation expenses, as Yael put it, “ .. the scholarship is an enormous help. It helped me really concentrate on my studies in Sydney. I could finally attend all lectures, read all articles and books requested and prepare assessments with full effort as I did not have to worry about also fitting in some paid work. Studying in a different country where you have to learn from scratch how the system works and study and submit assignments in a foreign language, can be very hard. For me, almost everything I did consumed more time than it did in Israel. But since accommodation was funded, I could be calm, do less paid work and put a bigger effort in my studies, in order to make the best out of my time in Sydney.”

All the students expressed their appreciation to the Fund for giving them access to the exchange experience which will always be remembered as a very special period in their lives.

Daniel Arbiv
Melanie Chambers
Yael Israeli
Yahav Shadmy
Michael Vaknin