Rapid COVID Tests on Campus

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Technion President Professor Uri Sivan and Professor Naama Geva-Zatorsky

First in Israel – a COVID-19 test developed at Technion offers rapid testing on campus to prevent chains of infection

While Israel undergoes a mass vaccination program, the ongoing window of risk is being closed at Technion through an innovative system of rapid testing for COVID-19. The Technion announced the extensive testing operation as a fundamental protective measure for dormitory residents. The “NaorCov19” test being used in Haifa was developed in April 2020 by Professor Naama Geva-Zatorsky of the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.

“To protect the health of campus visitors and residents, to lead as normal a lifestyle as possible, and to return to routine life during the pandemic, it is necessary to break the chain of infection rapidly, through effective monitoring and diagnosis,” said Technion President, Professor Uri Sivan. “Living alongside COVID-19 is an enormous challenge for all the population, and I hope and believe the rapid implementation of the novel technologies developed by Technion researchers will assist us in arresting the spread of the virus, and that it will serve as a model for other places across the country.”

The technology has been commercialized by the Technion for further development by Rapid Diagnostic Systems ltd., which is developing the molecular diagnostic platform under the name “Naor.” (www.naordia.com). The technology had been field tested and developed in collaboration with multiple institutions and researchers including MAFAT (the R&D arm of the Israeli Ministry of Defence) and the Rambam Health Care Campus.

The NaorCov19 test rapidly detects the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is based on a saliva sample and a short isothermal process that can be done on-premises. The process takes less than an hour if done on site, and dozens or even hundreds of samples can be processed simultaneously. Technion students and staff leave saliva samples at stations around campus and use their phones to record it. They are then electronically notified about the results within a few hours of the sample collection. The Technion community members are encouraged to be tested at least once a week, in order to reduce the risk of campus infection.

Thanks to its simplicity, the NaorCov19 is suitable for rapid testing on campuses and schools, at workplaces, airports and even onboard airplanes. It is also scheduled for self-testing at home.
The on-campus Naor tests are being performed as part of a study that has received the approval of the local institutional review board (IRB).

At the start of the 2020-21 academic year, the Technion administration announced the “Creating an Open and Safe Campus” initiative, which offers multi-layered protection of campus visitors.

The First Layer is strict adherence to the “purple badge” rules: wearing a mask, hygiene, and social distancing.

The Second Layer involves the monitoring of the campus sewage system using novel technology developed at Technion by Professor Eran Friedler of the Department of Environmental and Water Engineering. Sewage testing supports the monitoring of a large population, effectively and rapidly locating cases without the need to reach each individual. It has already effectively disrupted potential chains of coronavirus infection.

The soon to be implemented Third Layer is the Technion-developed “NaorCov19” test. This individual, rapid, and non-invasive system will help track and diagnose cases on campus.

The Fourth Layer involves regular PCR tests for those who have relevant symptoms or who test positive on the “NaorCov19” test. Since the “NaorCov19” test is still waiting for the approval of Israel’s Ministry of Health, persons who test positive go on to take a regular PCR test for confirmation.

The “Creating an Open and Safe Campus” project is led by Executive Vice President for Research Professor Koby Rubinstein, Professor Avigdor Gal of the Faculty of Industrial Engineering & Management and Professor Danny Raz of the Henry and Marilyn Taub Faculty of Computer Science.

Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla to receive Technion Honorary Doctorate

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Technion to Award Honorary Doctorate to Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla

Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla

The President of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Professor Uri Sivan announced that the Technion will award an honorary doctorate to Pfizer CEO and Chairman Dr. Albert Bourla, for his extraordinary achievement in leading the record time development of the novel vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine, which is helping to end the coronavirus crisis, is expected to serve a model for the development of a wide range of future mRNA-based treatments.

“As Chairman of the Board of Pfizer Inc., Dr. Bourla headed the trailblazing effort to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus,” explained Technion President Sivan. “In his 27 years with Pfizer, Dr. Bourla promoted multiple areas within the company, among them technological innovation. The development of the COVID-19 vaccine is an extraordinary biotechnological achievement that exemplifies the importance of science and multidisciplinary research. The vaccine, and similar ones, will bring healing to all of humanity and will rescue the world from the crisis that began at the end of 2019, with the epidemic outbreak. Dr. Bourla’s family history, as a son of Holocaust survivors from Thessaloniki, is a symbol of the remarkable vitality of the Jewish people, their liveliness, and their renewal capacity in the wake of the Holocaust.”

“I am moved by the news and honored to receive a degree from such an important and historical institution as the Technion,” Dr. Bourla said to President Sivan during a phone conversation informing him of being awarded the degree. “In my youth, I considered studying at the Technion; this is an emotional closure for me.”

Dr. Albert Bourla was born in Thessaloniki in 1961 to a Jewish family, part of which perished in the Holocaust. His family, who arrived in Greece from Spain following the Alhambra Decree, dealt in jewelry and diamonds, and their business spread across many countries. The Thessaloniki Jewish community, once the largest in Greece, had a population of approximately 80,000 in the 1930s. Approximately two-thirds of them perished in the Holocaust.

Dr. Bourla completed all of his academic degrees at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and holds a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine and reproductive biotechnology. In 1993 he joined Pfizer, one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies, where he went on to hold a series of positions. He oversaw antibody development and served as Group President of Pfizer’s Global Vaccines, Oncology, and Consumer Healthcare business. In 2018 he was appointed Chief Operating Officer, and in 2020 he became the company’s Chief Executive Officer.

In recent years Dr. Bourla has led Pfizer in strengthening ties with technology companies and in adopting technologies such as artificial intelligence. At the beginning of 2020, following the global outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, he harnessed most of the company’s resources to develop a vaccine, meeting challenging schedules. Throughout the process, Dr. Bourla promised there would be no compromise with regard to the safety of the vaccine, and approval was obtained after an extensive study that included more than 40,000 subjects.

The honorary doctorate will be conferred on Dr. Bourla during the next annual Technion Board of Governors meeting in November 2021.

Distinguished Prof. wins Prestigious Award

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Dist. Prof. Nitzan Zohar

Distinguished Professor Yitzhak Apeloig of the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry has been awarded the 2021 Schrödinger Medal of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists (WATOC). Past recipients of this honour include four Chemistry Nobel Prize winners and many of the pioneers of computational quantum chemistry.

The prestigious medal is awarded each year to a single scientist whose contribution to theoretical and computational chemistry is particularly outstanding. Professor Apeloig’s selection was based on his seminal contributions to the chemistry of organosilicon compounds and to organic chemistry, and for the impressive combination of experimentation, computations, and theory in his research.

Professor Apeloig joined the Technion faculty in 1976 and served as President of the university from 2001 to 2009. He pioneered the use of computational tools based on quantum theory to predict molecular characteristics and molecular reactions, as well as organosilicon chemistry. He has received a plethora of important awards, including the Taub Award for academic excellence, the Distinguished Teacher Award from the Technion, the Humboldt Prize, the award of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the gold medal of the Israel Chemical Society, the Wacker Silicone Award, and the ACS Kipping Award in Silicon Chemistry. He is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the European Academy of Sciences, holds an honorary doctorate of science from the Berlin Institute of Technology, has been awarded the Order of Merit of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, and is an honorary citizen of Haifa, Israel.

The World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists (WATOC) aims to promote the field of theoretical and computational chemistry and to advance the interactions between scientists working in this field worldwide. Its most recent congress was attended by 1,500 scientists from all around the world.

The Schrödinger Medal is named after the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics and a Nobel Prize laureate who developed a wave equation named after him – the Schrödinger equation.  Some WATOC members work on developing mathematical methods and computer programs to solve the equation. Others, including Prof. Apeloig, apply these methods to study and predict the characteristics and reactions of various compounds. Prof. Apeloig was one of the first experimental chemists in the world to realise the potential of computational methods and applied them in his research already in the 1970s.

Today, many chemistry studies in the academy and in the industry (such as the development of new compounds, new medicines, etc.) are performed using computational methods, most commonly in a collaborative effort between experimenting and calculating research groups. One of the unique features of Prof. Apeloig’s research is that the experimental and computational research are usually performed by the same student, who acquires knowledge in both disciplines, an important factor in his/her scientific development.

A Canadian take on the Technion

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Q & A with Corey Kamen, a medical student at the Technion American Medical School.

Medical Student, Corey Kamen
  1. Why did you decide to attend Medical School at the  Technion?

I am from Thornhill, Ontario and I am currently in my second year at The Technion American Medical School. After finishing my undergrad and graduate work in Canada, I applied broadly to Medical School in Canada, the US, and Israel.  I chose the Technion knowing that I would  receive a very high calibre education and be well prepared for professional practice.  The school is also very well regarded internationally. So far, my experience at the Technion has been incredibly positive.

  1. How has being a Canadian at Technion shaped your experience? Do you bring a different perspective as a Canadian and what unique experience have you gained by studying in Israel?

There are 25-30 students per year in the Technion American School; the majority of each class is American.  As a Canadian, I bring a different perspective about health care, in that Canadians see universal access to health care as a right instead of a privilege.

I also believe there is a lot to gain by studying somewhere that is not your home country – where there is a different environment and language.  With Canada being so multi-cultural, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the experience of individuals who come from different cultures and countries, and the challenges they may encounter navigating through systems and languages that are different than what they know.  Living and studying in Israel also imparts a sense of chutzpah, resilience and a willingness to think outside the box.

  1. How has COVID-19 challenged you or impacted your experience as a Technion student?

The challenges of COVID-19 are not unique to being a student at the Technion, as education the world over has had to be altered. We are part of a global community of medical students and this is a common experience that we are all going through.  The Technion has worked hard to adapt the delivery of education by teaching on-line and providing additional supports for students throughout the pandemic. 

Being away from my family in Canada during this time has been a challenge, but it has made me appreciate them even more, as well as those that immediately surround me in the wonderful student community we are blessed to have here. 

  1. What else would you like to share?

As much as Israel is our home as Jews, it is not easy to leave one’s native country and family. However, with time, you really do see that all of Israel is family – from the hospital staff, to taxi drivers, to cashiers in grocery stores.  

When one comes here to study, one may be distant from their immediate family, but they are getting introduced to their broader family – that is Israel.