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BIU's $75m. Effort to Prevent, Treat, & Cure Diabetes

November 2021

Ramat Gan, Israel - The Azrieli Faculty of Medicine at Bar-Ilan University and The Russell Berrie Foundation have announced a new $75 million, comprehensive 10-year program to help transform diabetes care in the northern Galilee region and spur innovations in diabetes treatment and prevention that can be applied around the world.


Soil dirt on hands

“I believe that it will serve as a stepping stone to forthcoming national and worldwide comprehensive programs, using cutting-edge scientific models for improving health services for disadvantaged communities” said BIU Prof. Naim Shehadeh, the program’s director.

The program is being called the Russell Berrie Galilee Diabetes SPHERE, an acronym for “Social Precision-medicine Health Equity Research Endeavour.”

It centers on collaboration between health funds, hospitals, researchers, municipalities, social services and industry professionals, religious community leaders, women’s organizations and nonprofits in the region, who will work together to develop best practices for the prevention of diabetes and the care of people with the disease.

The program has four pillars: prevention, control, care and the search for a cure.

“The need for innovative models and approaches is expected to be greater than ever in the COVID-19 and post-pandemic era due to its amplified effect on chronic disease health inequities. Having thoroughly examined the diabetes landscape in the Galilee, we believe that this coordinated effort will lead to substantial impact and consistent and sustainable improvement in the region, as well as set an example for other initiatives dealing with chronic diseases in geographic and social peripheral communities.” said Azrieli Faculty of Medicine Dean Prof. Karl Skorecki, who initiated SPHERE.

In Israel, of the million Israelis expected to have the disease in less than 20 years, a disproportionate number will be from areas like the Galilee, which is home to Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Jews, Druze, Bedouin, Circassians and Maronites – many of whom are poorer and have low health literacy.

Dr. Sivan Spitzer – Credit: Bar-Ilan University

The idea is to effect change by “bringing all the different partners around the table. The true innovation is cutting down silos and creating true synergy for health,” said Dr. Sivan Spitzer, who will serve as deputy director of SPHERE.

To start sphere, the Russell Berrie Foundation has provided Bar-Ilan with a $20 million lead grant.

“We see this investment as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve quality of life in the Galilee region and substantially reduce healthcare disparities, while also making a significant contribution to the global field of diabetes treatment and prevention,” said the foundation’s CEO Ruth Salzman.
“When you look internationally, the big diabetes research centers are focused on biomedical research. There are only a few that focus on health disparities and diabetes, and certainly not to this magnitude. If we are able to crack the DNA, to understand the model, it will be important internationally,” according to Dr. Spitzer, who is an expert in identifying, designing and evaluating organizational strategies aimed at reducing health care inequities.

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Read full coverage of this initiative in The Jerusalem Post »

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