A patient goes to a doctor with some medical complaints. After examining the patient and determining the symptoms the physician prescribes, instead of a traditional drug, some scientifically modified food items.
The details, still vague, are being worked out on a new collaborative effort between the Rutgers University Food Innovation Center and Israel’s Tel-Hai Academic College. The New Jersey-Israel Healthy, Functional, and Medical Foods Alliance, as the joint project is called, was established with a memorandum of understanding signed last month at Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus. Its leaders say it will sponsor scientific research designed to improve both people’s health and the economies of Israel and New Jersey.
The goal of the alliance is to develop foods that will strengthen the body’s immune system and present fewer side effects than drugs that are currently available. It has plans to develop products that combat obesity, diabetes, allergies, cancer, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome and other medical conditions that will be identified as research progresses, representatives of Rutgers and Tel-Hai said.
“It’s very broad,” said Lou Cooperhouse, director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center. “We’re making this very open.”
“Functional foods,” which make up an emerging field of scientific study, offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition; “medical foods” are designed to be consumed or administered under a physician’s care; “botanical drugs” are manufactured of vegetable, plant, plant algae or fungi.
In other words, perhaps, take two servings of asparagus and see me in the morning.
“The possibilities of success are tremendously high,” said Dr. Yosi Mekori, Tel-Hai president, a physician who specializes in immunology and allergies. He said a new generation of high-fiber products may figure into the Alliance’s development of “therapeutic” foods.
“There’s really nobody doing this [type of research] globally,” said Cooperhouse, who saw the potential for the joint effort while attending a food technology conference at Tel-Hai three months ago with Jessica Paolini, the economic development manager of Choose New Jersey, a non-governmental agency that conducts statewide marketing activities.
Israel and New Jersey “share … chutzpah and tachlis,” Cooperhouse said. Tachlis is the Hebrew word for bottom-line, concrete results. “Tachlis was what this was all about.”
Cooperhouse said the Alliance is in the spirit of Israel’s “Start-Up Nation” ethos, which has fostered a wide variety of successful, high-tech venture capital projects. “It’s entrepreneurial. We’re treating this as a business.” If successful, the Alliance’s work will create jobs in Israel and New Jersey, and serve as an incubator for start-up businesses, he said.
While the participation of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, could be seen as a slap against the growing BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement that is designed to economically isolate and weaken Israel, the Alliance “is not political,” Cooperhouse told The Jewish Week.
Participants at both schools will collaborate through Skype and teleconferencing, and by attending seminars at each institution.
Rutgers’ Food Innovation Center, part of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, is a business incubation and economic development outreach program that provides expertise to food and agribusinesses throughout the world.
Tel-Hai, which calls itself “Israel’s leading public college,” is based in the northern Galilee region, and has a student body of 4,500. It is the largest employer in the region.
The school, whose degree programs include life sciences and computer science, has served as a pioneer in developing new, safe foods that serve a medical purpose, Cooperhouse said.
The Alliance’s “outcomes” will likely include joint scientific research between Tel-Hai and Rugters, academic and student cooperation, entrepreneurship education and training, and community health and education.
No details of research deadlines or specific types of foods to be developed are available now. Research will start after the completion of the initial fundraising among foundations and private philanthropists, Cooperhouse said.
While the governments of Israel and New Jersey have not contributed any money to the Alliance so far, it was spearheaded by Erel Margalit, a veteran Israeli entrepreneur and member of the Knesset’s Economic Development Taskforce who heads the Israel Initiative 2020, a nonprofit foundation.
At the recent Rutgers ceremony, Margalit said his vision is to turn the upper Galilee into a hub for medical food research. “This alliance with Rutgers will create a center of excellence … that will leverage the [Galilee’s] agriculture, life sciences and food industry expertise, transforming the region into a medical food global powerhouse.”