University’s Global Reach Will Soon Extend Into Space

Thanks to the Jefferson Israel Center’s innovative relationship with Sheba Medical Center, four scientific experiments were selected for a 2022 mission to the International Space Station.

Early next year, the University will see its global strategy take four giant leaps into outer space—and that’s anything but hyperbole.

Thanks to relationships established during recent years and while expanding the footprint of Jefferson’s Global Centers in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, the University was well-positioned to get to work when an opportunity presented itself in Israel in recent months.

Specifically, the Rakia Mission—led by the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Ministry of Science and Technology—put out a call for multidisciplinary experiments expected “to lead to technological, scientific and medical breakthroughs that will influence life on Earth and beyond.”

In December 2020, that call for proposals went out to Israeli scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to submit suggestions for experiments to be carried out by astronaut Eytan Stibbe at the International Space Station (ISS) in concert with NASA. The mission is scheduled for early 2022.

This space mission is propelling us to new heights as we give life to our vision of ‘redefining humanly possible.’ –Dr. Mark L. Tykocinski

It wouldn’t be long before the Jefferson Israel Center, which for years has built a close relationship with Sheba Medical Center, would launch a warp-speed, three-week cooperative effort which ended with a trio of proposed experiments for the Foundation’s consideration.

In early May—after months of deliberations among a committee of “top-level figures from Israeli academia, industry and government”—the Foundation announced that all three submissions from Jefferson physician-scientists and collaborators were among the 44 experiments chosen for the private Axiom Space Ax-1 Mission.

This is a testament to an innovative, forward-thinking strategy that has seen Jefferson establish global centers in Israel, Africa, Ireland, India, Italy, Japan and Latin America.

“We take pride in being a 200-year-old institution that thinks and acts like a start-up,” says University provost Mark L. Tykocinski. “In our relationships with Sheba Medical Center, we’ve been leveraging both Jefferson’s clinical scale and discovery engine, which is now reflected in the groundbreaking research to be conducted on-board the International Space Station. This space mission is propelling us to new heights as we give life to our vision of ‘redefining humanly possible.’ This represents a major success for our Jefferson Israel Center, and more broadly, for our global center’s concept.”

How many universities in the world can say they’ll have creative research for the future of medicine, the future of health care and the future of health sciences being conducted in real time in space? –Dr. Zvi Grunwald

Dr. Zvi Grunwald, director of the Jefferson Israel Center, notes that this “groundbreaking collaborative research in space represents a defining moment for Jefferson and Sheba.” He adds that it’s an “unimaginable milestone” for two universities which share a common DNA and ecosystem.

“At the heart of Jefferson’s global strategy are a handful of select countries in regions in which we’ve established formal global centers,” Dr. Grunwald says. “The Jefferson Israel Center is a showcase one, targeted by us because of Israel and Sheba Medical Center’s exceptional—even astounding—innovation ecosystem which parallels that of Jefferson. Participating in the Rakia Space Project epitomizes this vision. How many universities in the world can say they’ll have creative research for the future of medicine, the future of health care and the future of health sciences being conducted in real time in space?”

Dr. Tykocinski concurs with that assessment, noting that the Jefferson Global Center strategy entailed focusing on a selected group of countries in which the University could “go deep and develop relationships with multiple institutions spanning different missions in education, research and innovation.” That strategy has blossomed since the formal 2018 launch of the Israel Center.

“This is huge, and it’s really cool to have experiments designed by Jefferson’s collaborative team going onto the space station!” he says. “We already had a toe in it with Jefferson helping develop lighting for the International Space Station, but now we have a foot in the door of space research. This time, we’re moving upward with actual experiments.”

This represents an opportunity to place the University at the forefront for what is possible, and moves us into the upper echelon for innovation and creativity. –Dr. Richard Derman

It has an impact on Earth, as well.

“Jefferson’s visibility in Israel takes us to a whole other level. Historically countries like Israel were familiar with the Harvards, Stanfords, MITs and Yales of the world,” shares Dr. Tykocinski.  “It was either associations with those institutions or nothing else for them. Well, here’s little old Jefferson with three experiments going up to the Space Station.”

Few know the impact of this announcement better than Dr. Richard Derman, the University’s first associate provost for global affairs, who is responsible for overall coordination of global activities that include collaborative research, educational exchanges and clinical initiation.

What this shows is that Jefferson’s innovation, and the mission we’ve been working on diligently, has completely taken off. –Dr. Mark Tykocinski

He says this announcement positions Jefferson exceptionally well on a global scale.

“This represents an opportunity to place the University at the forefront for what is possible, and moves us into the upper echelon for innovation and creativity,” Dr. Derman says. “In order to triangulate all the work we’re doing, we needed a major breakthrough. This is indeed a major breakthrough; one significant step forward with many more to come. We’re not looking to recreate what others are doing. We are building on the unique strengths we have here at Jefferson.”

Pardon the pun, but Dr. Tykocinski sees this as one small step forward for the global philosophy and one giant leap for the University as a whole.

“What this shows is that Jefferson’s innovation, and the mission we’ve been working on diligently, has completely taken off,” Dr. Tykocinski says. “It is a dramatic validation of our global strategy. We’re on the radar in these countries. Jefferson has gone from global to space, and through global to space.”

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