In the mid-1950s, when Raphael Mishan was studying mechanical engineering at the Technion in Haifa — now known as the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology — he had to pay his way by working in a machine shop, teaching, and unloading cargo in the port. “It was a very tough experience,” he said.
Blessed now with more than he needs, as he put it, the Matawan resident has chosen to give back to the Technion in two ways. For the past 20 years, as a member of the American Technion Society, he has supported the institution’s programs and facilities, and provided scholarships and fellowships, “to make it easier for students who are there now.”
The latest gift from him and his wife, Miriam, is for an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) research laboratory to facilitate research on small animals. The lab, due to be completed in September 2011, will be in the basement of the institute’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.
Asked why a mechanical engineer has chosen to fund a medical project, Mishan said that the Technion advises donors like himself of projects and endeavors they might find intriguing. “This has become close to my heart as I’ve learned about it,” he said, and explained with audible passion the extraordinary insights that the machine makes possible.
In traditional research on small animals, like mice, to see the effects of a particular chemical or process, the creature has to be killed and dissected. To get a picture of the longer-term progression, a number of them must be treated exactly the same way, with each killed at a later point.
“With this machine, you don’t have to kill them,” Mishan said. “You can follow up on the same individual as often as you want.”
‘So much talent’
The fMRI can measure the change in blood flow related to neural activity in the brain or spinal cord. The resolution is four to five times greater than that of the usual MRI used on human beings. It will make possible all sorts of therapeutic advances in another area of expertise originating at the Technion, stem cell research.
There is only one such fMRI machine in Israel at present, at the Weizmann Institute in southern Israel. Technion researchers have had access to it, but that means sharing time and transporting their lab animals there.
The Mishans, who visit Israel about once a year, were in the country recently for a tour organized by the Technion. They were honored at a ceremony that took place during the institute’s International Board of Governors meeting in mid-June.
Mishan was born in Syria and immigrated to Israel with his family when he was two. He served in the Israeli army and earned his undergraduate degree at the Technion. He went on to receive his master’s degree in industrial engineering from Columbia University, and 35 years ago established a dye-casting company, which he still runs. He and his wife have three daughters and eight grandchildren.
As he has done with his own children and grandchildren, Raphael Mishan takes delight in fostering talent. “In Israel, where there is so much talent and they produce such great results,” he said, “it is only appropriate that we give them the tools they need.”