Prof. Rachela Popovtzer: A Gold-mine of (Molecular) Information
Prof. Rachela Popovtzer is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering and a member of the Nano-Medicine Center at the Bar-Ilan Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA), where she is working on the development of smart nanoprobes for molecular diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
Prof. Popovtzer has a few patents registered in her name, and is a winner of numerous international grants and awards, such as the Atol Charitable Trust Fellow in Nano Medicine, the Environment and Living foundation Prize given by the University of Knstanz in Germany, and the Intel Prize for outstanding PhD. Thesis.
With a B.Sc. degree in physics BIU, an M.Sc. in Biomedical Engineering and a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Tel Aviv University, Popovtzer completed her post doctorate in the University of Michigan with Prof. Raoul Kopelman, focusing on nanoparticles and nano-devices for biomedical and biological applications.
She came back to Bar-Ilan from Michigan as part of the cohort of returning scientists, a special program within Bar-Ilan University to recruit young Israeli scientists to return to work in Israel.
On returning to Israel and to BIU she says: “I couldn’t be happier with this move. I am working with excellent students, world leading scientists and highly advanced equipment. I am given the best resources to help advance my research.”
Digging for Gold (Chips)
Prof. Popovtzer applies engineering principles to address challenges in biology and medicine. She conducts seminal work in nano-bio-chips, tiny laboratories that can simultaneously test for thousands of different materials. She also uses advanced nanotechnology to develop novel techniques for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Methods developed in Popovtzer’s lab allow doctors to detect cancer earlier, determine how far the disease has advanced, and find small tumors with greater accuracy.
One of Popovtzer’s key innovations is an “intelligent” bio-sensor that integrates living organisms – genetically-engineered bacteria – into an electronic device used for identifying toxins. The bio-sensor can detect the physiological effect of the toxin on living system, within seconds.
This technology has a wide range of applications, and can be used for scanning for toxins in drinking water and the environment, screening drugs and medication for activity and toxicity, and for applications in neuroscience research.
Nano Imaging That Can Fight Cancer
Current methods of cancer diagnosis utilize CT imaging, which combines special X-ray equipment with sophisticated computers to produce images of the body’s internal tissues. Prof. Popovtzer and her team are working on developing nanotechnology tools that would expand the role of the CT beyond its present structural imaging capabilities, endowing it with functional and molecular-based imaging capabilities as well.
Popovtzer and her team synthesize gold nanoparticles that can be administered to the patient through an IV infusion, and then they travel directly to the cancer cells and attach themselves to the membrane. This, in turn, creates a “golden” signal on a CT scan that reveals the exact location of cancer within the body, providing a clear target for chemotherapy, as well as an important “early warning” system for cancer metastasis.
Striking Gold at BIU
Popovtzer feels she made the perfect choice returning to Israel and to Bar-Ilan, where she runs her lab in the Faculty of Engineering. She notes she was able to create several working collaborations with academic institutions around the world, using the connections created at BIU. “Even though universities in the States have extensive financial resources, grad students of the level and quality you find at BIU are hard to come by. I couldn’t ask for a more dedicated team.” Popovtzer also works closely with several of BIU’s leading scientists in other departments – Prof. Gal Yadid in the Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, Prof. Chaya Brodie of the Faculty of Life Sciences, Dr.f Dror Fixler of the Faculty of Engineering, and Prof. Jean-Paul Lellouche of the Department of Chemistry, with whom she collaborates on stem cell research.