Prof. Peretz Lavie - Technion & Beyond
Born in Petach Tikva, Prof. Peretz Lavie graduated from Tel Aviv University with a BA in Psychology and Statistics and completed his PhD studies in Physiological Psychology at the University of Florida in 1974. Following this Professor Lavie was a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego.
In 1975 Professor Lavie joined the Technion as a lecturer and there has been no looking back for him ever since. He is also a member of the American Sleep Research Society and a member and was the Vice-President of the European Sleep Research Society.
He is a leading figure in initiating reform of public policies and regulations dealing with sleep. In this capacity he has impacted regulations in Education, road safety, broadcasting and even the military. He assumed the Presidency of the Technion on October 1st, 2009. Presenting our Small Talk with him -
CE: Professor Lavie, you are the President of Technion – Israel’s leading technology University. Could you tell us a bit about your background?
Prof. Lavie: I was born in Israel and so were my parents and my grandparents. In 1970 I graduated from Tel Aviv University with a BA in Psychology and Statistics and completed my PhD studies in Physiological Psychology at the University of Florida in 1973. Then I went west and spent a year as a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego. In 1975, I joined Technion—Israel Institute of Technology where in 1989 I received the rank of Full Professor and in 1994 became a chaired professor (the Andre Ballard Professor of Biological Psychiatry). I headed the Technion’s Research Center for Work Safety & Human Engineering and between the years 1981 and 1993 headed the Unit of Behavioral Biology at the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion. Between 1993 and 1999 I served as Dean of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and from 2001 to 2008 I served as the Vice President for Resource Development and External Relations. In 2009 I was elected as President. I am married to a scientist, Dr. Lena Lavie, who is a Technion graduate, and we have three children and three grandchildren.
CE: How is your experience so far working with Technion?
Prof. Lavie: Looking back at my scientific career, I feel lucky that I was recruited by the Technion in 1975. At that time, my area of scientific interest, sleep research, was in its infancy, and in many academic institutes was not considered a true scientific area. The Technion not only offered me a job, but allowed me the freedom to develop my research while providing help and support. Later, when I joined the senior administration of the Technion, as a dean, vice president and now as president, it has become clear to me that one of the most important attributes of a successful research university is the ability of its leaders to identify ahead of time what will be the most important areas of scientific research and recruit excellent faculty members in these particular areas. The Technion excels in this task as is evidenced by its three Nobel Laureates who won the prize within a 7-year period. Added to this, a family-like atmosphere among faculty and administrative and technical staff, excellent students, and a sense of mission, make the Technion an awesome institute.
CE: You have founded Sleep Research Laboratory at Technion. Could you briefly tell us about the laboratory and the kind of work being done at the lab?
Prof. Lavie: My interest in sleep research spanned from the determinants and temporal structure of the 24h sleep–wake cycle, sleep and dreams of traumatized patients, the laboratory diagnosis of sleep disorders, and the cardiovascular impact of breathing disorders in sleep, to developing new devices to investigate sleep. When I joined the Technion I established a sleep research laboratory in which we investigated mostly students who were paid money in order to sleep in the laboratory for different research purposes. In these early days we showed that the 24h sleep-wake cycle of “morning” persons is different from that of “evening” people and that the typical pattern of sleep propensity during the day, that is the probability to fall asleep at any moment in time, is characterized by three distinct features. These include the evening “sleep gate”, a time during which the transition from wake to sleep is very fast and easy, the early-evening “forbidden zone for sleep” – a time period just before opening the gate, during which it is relatively difficult to fall asleep even in sleep-deprived individuals, and the well-known “midafternoon dip” during which there is a tendency to fall asleep faster. The timing of these three events is widely different individuals but is a stable individual trait.
Our studies in traumatized patients, particularly Holocaust survivors and war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), revealed that in Holocaust survivors, adjustment to life after the Holocaust was correlated with almost complete suppression of dreaming which led us to suggest that repression of dreaming is an important adaptive mechanism after a severe trauma. Later we showed that war-related traumatized patients actually sleep deeper than non-traumatized controls and that victims of car accidents who did not remember the events of the trauma were less prone to develop PTSD than victims who remembered the details of the accident.
In the field of sleep disorders my laboratory was one of the first in the world to report on the prevalence of sleep apnea syndrome (a sleep disorder characterized by repeated breathing cessations during sleep) in the general population and to demonstrate its association with hypertension. We also demonstrated that mortality in sleep apnea patients is highest in the youngest age groups (20-50 years old) and decreases after that. In recent years, together with my wife and colleague, Dr. Lena Lavie, who is a cell biologist, we focused on the pathophysiology of cardiovascular morbidity in sleep apnea. We showed that sleep apnea is an oxidative stress disease and that both oxidative stress and inflammation play a major role in the development of cardiovascular diseases in this syndrome.
To provide diagnostics and treatment of sleep disorders to the general public, I founded the Technion Sleep Medicine Center. Nowadays, the Center comprises four branches in Israel. In addition to providing clinical services, the Center has also been responsible for the establishment of two companies manufacturing medical equipment for sleep and cardiovascular diagnostic procedures. In 1997, together with two partners, I established Sleep Health Centers in Boston affiliated with the hospitals of Harvard Medical School.
My research has been reported in 400 scientific publications in professional journals and book chapters, and I have written and edited several books. My book “The Enchanted World of Sleep” was published in 1996 by Yale University Press and was translated into 15 languages. My book on sleep apnea “Restless Nights” was published also by Yale University Press in 2003. I served as the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Sleep Research and am a member of the Editorial Board of several scientific journals
CE: What is the future & aim of sleep research?
Prof. Lavie: The scientific study of sleep was started in 1953 when Nathaniel Kleitman discovered Rapid Eye Movements (REM) sleep, or dream sleep, at the University of Chicago. Since then, the field of sleep research has rapidly expanded and the amount of information on sleep has grown phenomenally. Two unsolved enigmas remain, however: What is the function of sleep? Why do we spend one-third of our life detached from the world around us; what is so important about sleep that evolution allowed organisms to be motionless and exposed to environmental dangers? The second fundamental question awaiting an answer is why we spend about one-fifth of our sleeping time in REM sleep during which we experience dreaming. These two questions are the Holy Grails of sleep research and I do hope that they will be answered during our lifetime.
CE: Could you tell us about exciting engineering research projects going on across Technion?
Prof. Lavie: It is difficult to pick just a few engineering projects currently performed at Technion because there are so many. However, the following are two of the projects that stand out as novel and imaginative with a potential for a technological breakthrough. The first is autonomous indoor navigation for micro air vehicles (MAVs). Researchers from the Faculties of Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science are meeting the challenge of autonomous, indoor navigation of rotary-wing vehicles (helicopters). The operation of MAVs can be life-saving in scenarios such as search-and-rescue, surveillance, and biological/chemical agent detection. Indoor flying is complicated by two significant unknowns: There is no a priori knowledge of the terrain and there is no external positioning aid such as GPS. Any collision between an MAV and another object can easily result in an immediate mission abort. The researchers in the Technion Autonomous Systems Program are writing the autonomous navigation algorithms that take the information provided by the laser scanner on the helicopter, creating, in effect, the ideal flight path as it proceeds. The second project is the Nanoscale Artificial Nose. Wouldn't it be revolutionary if doctors could sniff out cancer? Prof. Hossam Haick of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering is developing the NA-NOSE – an artificial nose that will be able to detect cancer and other diseases at the early stages. The patient simply exhales into the non-invasive device and with an array of nano sensors the device will do its life-saving work. The researchers have shown that this “electronic nose” can distinguish between molecules found in the breath of cancer patients and those of healthy people.
CE: What is your vision for Technion University?
Prof. Lavie: A science and technology research university, among the world’s top dedicated to the creation of knowledge and the development of human capital and leadership, for the advancement of the State of Israel and all humanity.
CE: What are the key factors that set Technion apart from other Universities in the world?
Prof. Lavie: Technion was founded in 1912 – this year we celebrate our cornerstone centennial – 36 years before the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, and is inextricably linked to the development and growth of the country, its flourishing economy and technological prowess. The key factor that sets Technion apart from other universities in the world is the unparalleled contribution of Technion graduates to the Israeli economy. Technion graduates have literally changed the economy of Israel from an agriculture-based economy, renowned for Jaffa oranges, to an economy based on high technology. 75% of Technion graduates are employed in the High-Tech sector, many of them in managerial and R&D positions. 42% have been involved with a start-up company and 25% hold at least one patent after graduation. Technion graduates founded, or run, 59 of the 121 Israeli companies registered on NASDAQ and run 11 of the 12 largest export companies in Israel. I do not believe that there are other examples where a single university has had such a profound impact on the economy of a country. Add to this our three Nobel Laureates in Chemistry and several landmark research achievements and you have what makes the Technion unique.
CE: What are your favorite pastime activities?
Prof. Lavie: I am an avid reader for which, unfortunately, I now have very little time. In recent years, spending time with my grandchildren has been a great joy!
CE: Thank you for participating in CrazyEngineers Small Talk. What is your message to all the members of CrazyEngineers (aka CEans)?
Prof. Lavie: Thank you for extending me this opportunity. We welcome your interest in the cutting-edge research being conducted at Technion and invite each of you to consider a personal visit to our campus. We are proud of the growing number of international students, post-doctoral fellows and visiting scientists, who join our ranks and help make possible the technological advances to which all humanity aspires.