First Breath

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First Breath

Researchers at the Technion uncover new dangers of mechanical ventilation in preterm babies, and propose preventive therapy

The joy of a baby coming into the world is accompanied by fear for this helpless little being, completely reliant on outside help to survive. This trepidation is even greater for a baby born preterm, much more unprepared for the world that welcomes it, and needing help even to breathe. In the womb, the fetus receives oxygen from the mother, through the umbilical cord. Once born, the newborn must breathe independently. Many premature babies with underdeveloped lungs require mechanical ventilation. The more prematurely the baby is born, the longer they will need artificial breathing.

Using a 3D model of the babies’ upper airways, the research team of Professor Josué Sznitman, of the Technion Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, discovered that due to shear forces caused by the air jet from the mechanical ventilator, cells in the airways display stress, and an inflammation process begins. Following this discovery, the researchers successfully tested the use of an anti-inflammatory drug, commonly used to help asthma patients, to prevent the damage caused by the ventilator. 

Approximately one in ten babies around the world is born prematurely. In high-income countries, countries, most premature babies survive. But despite significant advances in the care of preterm babies and improved ventilation technologies, many suffer from lifelong disabilities of varied severity. One problem is offsetting adverse side effects of invasive mechanical ventilation, essential for maintaining the lives of babies incapable of breathing independently. Today, the impact of ventilation on patient health and the fundamental mechanisms causing damage is still not fully understood, which presents an obstacle to developing solutions. Prof. Sznitman’s team confronts these challenges by combining expertise in physics, physiology, and biology. 

Prof. Josue Sznitman (right) and Dr. Eliram Nof

In a study published last year in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Prof. Sznitman and (his then doctoral student) Dr. Eliram Nof identified an airflow phenomenon largely unnoticed in medical literature: a jet structure originating in the tube inserted into the trachea during mechanical ventilation. Using a physical (fluid dynamics based) model, they discovered regions of elevated shear stress, potentially incurring damage to the epithelial cell lining of the respiratory tract. Calculations revealed significant risks of injury from these forces, especially worrisome if exposed for lengthy periods in fragile patients such as premature babies. 

The 3D model, with epithelial cells-stained red.

In a follow-up study recently published in Bioengineering & Translational Medicine, the researchers tested their hypothesis in a new model featuring an artificial human lung epithelium. The team constructed a 3-D model of the upper respiratory tract, including the trachea and several branched airways. They cultured a layer of human lung epithelial cells in the model’s inner lumen, tracking their effects following mechanical ventilation. In doing so, they saw that the cells displayed stress and released cytokines – signaling proteins that influence inflammation.

Following this discovery, the group looked for means to mitigate or prevent the damage. The medication Montelukast, sold under the brand name Singulair, is commonly used in treating asthma patients. They found that topical delivery of the medication prior to starting mechanical ventilation considerably reduced cell death, It also altered the secretion of inflammation-related signaling proteins (cytokines). Repurposing an existing, fully approved drug saves the vast resources and time required for developing new medication, allowing for faster and easier adoption in other clinical uses.

“Today, we know that artificial ventilation incurs various trauma to the respiratory system despite being an established, life-saving procedure,” explained Prof. Sznitman. “Much of this damage has been attributed to mechanical factors such as high pressure and distention of deep (alveolar) lung tissue. In recent years, new insights into more complex processes have emerged. In the current study, we demonstrated in vitro the start of an inflammatory response at the core of morbidity in invasively ventilated infants. We linked the flow-induced shear stresses to inflammation by measuring cytokines, the messengers of the immune system, and tracking epithelial cell health.”  

Fluorescent bright-field microscopy imaging reveals a region of cell detachment localized at the first bifurcation. The epithelial cells are stained blue.

Damage caused by mechanical ventilation, particularly prolonged mechanical ventilation, is not just observed in premature babies. When the COVID-19 epidemic began, countries were racing to acquire ventilators. Soon, however, patients requiring prolonged respiratory support were developing inflammation and dying. Medical personnel started making every effort to postpone putting patients on ventilators, even when the patients were struggling to breathe on their own. The findings of Prof. Sznitman’s group could improve their survival chances and help patients suffering from other conditions, such as COPD, that necessitate prolonged mechanical ventilation.

Dr. Arbel Artzy-Schnirman

The methodology used by Prof. Sznitman’s group is of particular interest. Modeling the upper airways, they uncovered the mechanism of a deleterious effect and proposed treatment, all without necessitating animal studies. While animal testing cannot be eliminated from medical research entirely, advanced technologies permit scientists to use other means for earlier stages. Beyond reducing animal suffering, such methodologies permit scientists to obtain results faster, at a lower cost, and with reduced confounding factors, speeding up research. 

This study was led by Prof. Josue Sznitman, Dr. Eliram Nof, and Dr. Arbel Artzy-Schnirman, in collaboration with clinical specialists in pediatrics and otolaryngology, including Dr. Liron Borenstein-Levin, a faculty member at the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and an attending physician at the Neonatology Intensive Care Unit at Rambam Health Center. The work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Dr. Eliram Nof recently began his postdoctoral fellowship at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and Dr. Arbel Artzy-Schnirman has been appointed the Head of the Advanced Technology Center for Applied Medical Research at the Rambam Healthcare Campus in Haifa. 

For the article in Bioengineering & Translational Medicine click here

Video: https://youtu.be/u4R0MQqXISI
Particle image velocimetry (PIV)-based visualization of the air jet in the airways.

Self-healing nanomaterials usable in solar panels and other electronic devices

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Self-healing nanomaterials usable in solar panels and other electronic devices are being explored at the Technion

From the Terminator to Spiderman’s suit, self-repairing robots and devices abound in sci-fi movies. In reality, though, wear and tear reduce the effectiveness of electronic devices until they need to be replaced. What is the cracked screen of your mobile phone healing itself overnight, or the solar panels providing energy to satellites continually repairing the damage caused by micro-meteorites?

The field of self-repairing materials is rapidly expanding, and what used to be science fiction might soon become reality, thanks to Technion – Israel Institute of Technology scientists who developed eco-friendly nanocrystal semiconductors capable of self-healing. Their findings, recently published in Advanced Functional Materials, describe the process, in which a group of materials called double perovskites display self-healing properties after being damaged by the radiation of an electron beam. The perovskites, first discovered in 1839, have recently garnered scientists’ attention due to unique electro-optical characteristics that make them highly efficient in energy conversion, despite inexpensive production. A special effort has been put into the use of lead-based perovskites in highly efficient solar cells.

The Technion research group of Professor Yehonadav Bekenstein from the Faculty of Material Sciences and Engineering and the Solid-State Institute at the Technion is searching for green alternatives to the toxic lead and engineering lead-free perovskites. The team specializes in the synthesis of nano-scale crystals of new materials. By controlling the crystals’ composition, shape, and size, they change the material’s physical properties.

Nanocrystals are the smallest material particles that remain naturally stable. Their size makes certain properties more pronounced and enables research approaches that would be impossible on larger crystals, such as imaging using electron microscopy to see how atoms in the materials move. This was, in fact, the method that enabled the discovery of self-repair in the lead-free perovskites.

Group photo. L-R: Professor Yehonadav Bekenstein, Sasha Khalfin and Noam Veber Credit : Rami Shelush

The perovskite nanoparticles were produced in Prof. Bekenstein’s lab using a short, simple process that involves heating the material to 100°C for a few minutes. When Ph.D. students Sasha Khalfin and Noam Veber examined the particles using a transmission electron microscope, they discovered the exciting phenomenon. The high voltage electron beam used by this type of microscope caused faults and holes in the nanocrystals. The researchers were then able to explore how these holes interact with the material surrounding them and move and transform within it.

They saw that the holes moved freely within the nanocrystal, but avoided its edges. The researchers developed a code that analyzed dozens of videos made using the electron microscope to understand the movement dynamics within the crystal. They found that holes formed on the surface of the nanoparticles, and then moved to energetically stable areas inside. The reason for the holes’ movement inwards was hypothesized to be organic molecules coating the nanocrystals’ surface. Once these organic molecules were removed, the group discovered the crystal spontaneously ejected the holes to the surface and out, returning to its original pristine structure – in other words, the crustal repaired itself.

Electron microscopy images displaying the formation of the hole on the surface of the nanocrystal and its movement inwards. Credit: Bekenstein lab

This discovery is an important step towards understanding the processes that enable perovskite nanoparticles to heal themselves, and paves the way to their incorporation in solar panels and other electronic devices.

Prof. Yehonadav Bekenstein completed his degrees in Physics and Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, he joined the Technion faculty in 2018. He has received multiple awards, including the Käte and Franz Wiener Prize (Excellent PhD Thesis Award), the Rothschild Fellowship for postdoctoral scholars, and the Alon Scholarship for the Integration of Outstanding Faculty. In 2020 he was awarded the ERC Starting Grant for early-career scientists.

For the article in Advanced Functional Materials click here

Click here for a video explaining the research

Electron microscopy video displaying the formation of the hole on the surface of the nanocrystal and its movement inwards

Electricity from the Sea

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Electricity from the Sea

Researchers from the Technion have developed a new method that harvests an electrical current directly from seaweed in an environmentally friendly and efficient fashion. The idea, which came to the doctoral student Yaniv Shlosberg while swimming at the beach, has been developed by a consortium of researchers from three Technion Faculties who are members of the Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP), along with a researcher from the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute (IOLR).

 

The researchers have presented their new method for collecting an electrical current directly from macroalgae (seaweed) in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics. The paper describes results obtained from researchers from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, the Faculty of Biology, the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, GTEP and IOLR.

The use of fossil fuels results in the emission of greenhouse gases and other polluting compounds. These have been found to be connected to climate change, as evidenced by a variety of terrestrial phenomenon that have brought climate change to the forefront of global concerns. Pollution due to use of these fuels starts from their extraction and transportation around the globe, to be used in centralized power plants and refineries.

These problematic issues are the driving force behind research into methods of alternative, clean and renewable energy sources. One of these is the use of living organisms as the source of electrical currents in microbial fuel cells (MFC). Certain bacteria have the ability to transfer electrons to electrochemical cells to produce electrical current. The bacteria need to be constantly fed and some of them are pathogenic.

Prof. Gadi Schuster

A similar technology is Bio-PhotoElectrochemical Cells (BPEC). As for the MFC, the source of electrons can be from photosynthetic bacteria, especially cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae).  Cyanobacteria make their own food from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight, and in most cases they are benign. In fact, there are cyanobacteria such as Spirulina, that are considered “super-foods” and are grown in large quantities. The research groups of Profs. Adir and Schuster have previously developed technologies that utilized cyanobacteria for obtaining electrical current and hydrogen fuel, as published in Nature Communications and Science. Cyanobacteria do have some drawbacks. Cyanobacteria produce less currents in the dark, as no photosynthesis is performed. Also, the amount of current obtained is still less than that obtained from solar cell technologies, so that while more environmentally benign, the BPEC is less attractive commercially.

Dr. Alvaro Israel

In the present study, the researchers from the Technion and IOLR decided to try to solve this issue using a new photosynthetic source for the current – seaweed (macroalgae). The research was led by Prof. Noam Adir and the doctoral student Yaniv Shlosberg, from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry and GTEP. They collaborated with additional researchers from the Technion: Dr. Tunde Toth (Schulich Faculty of Chemistry), Prof. Gadi Schuster, Dr. David Meiri, Nimrod Krupnik and Benjamin Eichenbaum (Faculty of Biology), Dr. Omer Yehezkeli and Matan Meirovich (Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering) and Dr. Alvaro Israel from IOLR in Haifa. Many different species of seaweed grow naturally on the Mediterranean shore of Israel, especially Ulva (also known as sea lettuce) which is grown in large quantities at IOLR for research purposes.

The picture shows one of the seaweed (Ulva) growth vats at the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute (IOLR) in Haifa. The vat is near the beach, and fresh seawater continuously flows through the system. Inside the vat we have introduced the electrochemical system. As the Ulva move in the vat, they associate with the electrode, producing a light-dependent electrical current that is measured by the external computer-operated potentiostat.

After developing new methods to connect between the Ulva and the BPEC, currents 1000 times greater than those from cyanobacteria were obtained – currents that are on the level of those obtained from standard solar cells. Prof. Adir notes that these increased currents are due to the high rate of seaweed photosynthesis, and the ability to use the seaweed in their natural seawater as the BPEC electrolyte – the solution that promotes electron transfer in the BPEC. In addition, the seaweed provides currents in the dark, about 50% of that obtained in light. The source of the dark current is from respiration – where sugars made by the photosynthetic process are used as an internal source of nutrients. In a fashion similar to the cyanobacterial BOEC, no additional chemicals are needed to obtain the current. The Ulva produce mediating electron transfer molecules that are secreted from the cells and transfer the electrons to the BPEC electrode.

The picture depicts a simulation of the processes harvesting electrical current from seaweed. The seaweed releases known molecules that transport electrons to a stainless-steel electrode (the anode). The electrons transfer to the second electrode (a platinum cathode) which can reduce protons found in the seawater electrolyte solution to hydrogen gas. The current can either be used directly, or if hydrogen is produced, the gas can be used as a future clean fuel. In the dark, the seaweed produces about 50% of the current obtained in light, as less electrons are produced in the absence of the photosynthetic process.

Fossil fuel-based energy producing technologies are known as “carbon positive”. This means that the process releases carbon to the atmosphere during the fuel combustion. Solar cell technologies are known as “carbon-neutral”, no carbon is released to the atmosphere. However, the production of solar cells and their transportation to the site of use is many times more “carbon positive”. The new technology presented here is “carbon negative”. The seaweed absorbs carbon from the atmosphere during the day while growing and releasing oxygen. During harvesting of the currents during the day, no carbon is released. During the night, the seaweed releases the normal amount of carbon from respiration. In addition, seaweed, especially Ulva, are grown for a variety of industries: food (Ulva is also considered a super food), cosmetics and pharma.

Doctoral student Yaniv Shlosberg

“It is a wonder where scientific ideas come from” says Yaniv Shlosberg, the graduate student who first thought of the possibility of using seaweed. “The famous philosopher Archimedes had a brilliant idea in the bathtub, leading to the “Archimedes’ Principle”. I had the idea one day when I went to the beach. At the time I was studying the cyanobacterial BPEC, when I noticed seaweed on a rock that looked like electrical cords. I said to myself – since they also perform photosynthesis, maybe we can use them to produce currents. From this idea came the collaboration from all the Technion and IOLR researchers which led to our most recent paper. I believe that our idea can lead to a real revolution in clean energy production”

Prof. Noam Adir

The Technion/IOLR researchers built a prototype device that collects the current directly in the Ulva growth vat. Prof. Adir adds: “By presenting our prototype device, we show that significant currents can be harvested from the seaweed. We believe that the technology can be further improved leading to future green energy technologies”.

Click here for the paper in Biosensors and Bioelectronics

 

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Quantum marbles in a bowl of light

An international study shows which factors determine the speed limit for quantum computations

Which factors determine how fast a quantum computer can perform its calculations? Physicists at the University of Bonn and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have devised an elegant experiment to answer this question. The results of the study are published in the journal Science Advances.

Quantum computers are highly sophisticated machines that rely on the principles of quantum mechanics to process information. This should enable them to handle certain problems in the future that are completely unsolvable for conventional computers. But even for quantum computers, fundamental limits apply to the amount of data they can process in a given time.

Quantum gates require a minimum time

The information stored in conventional computers can be thought of as a long sequence of zeros and ones, the bits. In quantum mechanics it is different: The information is stored in quantum bits (qubits), which resemble a wave rather than a series of discrete values. Physicists also speak of wave functions when they want to precisely represent the information contained in qubits.

The team of the University of Bonn with Dr. Manolo Rivera Lam (left), Prof. Dr. Dieter Meschede (center) and Dr. Andrea Alberti (right). Photo: Volker Lannert/University of Bonn

In a traditional computer, information is linked together by so-called gates. Combining several gates allows elementary calculations, such as the addition of two bits. Information is processed in a very similar way in quantum computers, where quantum gates change the wave function according to certain rules.

Quantum gates resemble their traditional relatives in another respect: “Even in the quantum world, gates do not work infinitely fast,” explains Dr. Andrea Alberti of the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bonn. “They require a minimum amount of time to transform the wave function and the information this contains.”

Quantum marbles in a bowl of light

Alberti-Quantenmurmeln.jpg: Quantum marbles in action – an artistic illustration of a matter wave rolling down a steep potential hill. Image: Enrique Sahagún – Scixel

More than 70 years ago, Soviet physicists Leonid Mandelstam and Igor Tamm deduced theoretically this minimum time for transforming the wave function. Physicists at the University of Bonn and the Technion have now investigated this Mandelstam-Tamm limit for the first time with an experiment on a complex quantum system. To do this, they used cesium atoms that moved in a highly controlled manner. “In the experiment, we let individual atoms roll down like marbles in a light bowl and observe their motion,” explains Alberti, who led the experimental study.

Atoms can be described quantum mechanically as matter waves. During the journey to the bottom of the light bowl, their quantum information changes. The researchers now wanted to know when this “deformation” could be identified at the earliest. This time would then be the experimental proof of the Mandelstam-Tamm limit. The problem with this, however, is that in the quantum world, every measurement of the atom’s position inevitably changes the matter wave in an unpredictable way. So, it always looks like the marble has deformed, no matter how quickly the measurement is made. “We therefore devised a different method to detect the deviation from the initial state,” Alberti says.

For this purpose, the researchers began by producing a clone of the matter wave, in other words an almost exact twin. “We used fast light pulses to create a so-called quantum superposition of two states of the atom,” explains Gal Ness, a doctoral student at the Technion and first author of the study. “Figuratively speaking, the atom behaves as if it had two different colors at the same time.” Depending on the color, each atom twin takes a different position in the light bowl: One is high up on the edge and “rolls” down from there. The other, conversely, is already at the bottom of the bowl. This twin does not move – after all, it cannot roll up the walls and so does not change its wave function.

The physicists compared the two clones at regular intervals. They did this using a technique called quantum interference, which allows differences in waves to be detected very precisely. This enabled them to determine after what time a significant deformation of the matter wave first occurred.

Two factors determine the speed limit

The Technion team with Gal Ness (left) and Prof. Yoav Sagi (right). Photo: Rami Shlush/Technion

By varying the height above the bottom of the bowl at the start of the experiment, the physicists were also able to control the average energy of the atom. Average because, in principle, the amount cannot be determined exactly. The “position energy” of the atom is therefore always uncertain. “We were able to demonstrate that the minimum time for the matter wave to change depends on this energy uncertainty,” says Professor Yoav Sagi, who led the partner team at Technion: “The greater the uncertainty, the shorter the Mandelstam-Tamm time.”

This is exactly what the two Soviet physicists had predicted. But there was also a second effect: If the energy uncertainty was increased more and more until it exceeded the average energy of the atom, then the minimum time did not decrease further – contrary to what the Mandelstam-Tamm limit would actually suggest. The physicists thus proved a second speed limit, which was theoretically discovered about 20 years ago. The ultimate speed limit in the quantum world is therefore determined not only by the energy uncertainty, but also by the mean energy.

“It is the first time that both quantum speed boundaries could be measured for a complex quantum system, and even in a single experiment,” Alberti enthuses. Future quantum computers may be able to solve problems rapidly, but they too will be constrained by these fundamental limits.

The study was funded by the Reinhard Frank Foundation (in collaboration with the German Technion Society), The German Research Foundation (DFG), the Helen Diller Quantum Center at the Technion, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Click here for the paper in Science Advances

 

Innovative Developments in Energy and Sustainability

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Grand Technion Energy Program Annual Research Day: Innovative Developments in Energy and Sustainability

The Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP) held its annual Research Day on December 15, 2021. According to Professor Yoed Tsur, GTEP director, “GTEP’s mission is to advance research and to promote multidisciplinary cooperation in sustainable energy related fields on campus. This year, in addition to GTEP’s direct students, we invited all Technion graduate students who conduct energy related research to participate and present a poster. We are proud of the students’ impressive achievements.”

During the event, graduate students presented their research on posters, and three lectures were given:

  • Green hydrogen production using innovative technology – Professor Avner Rothschild, from the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering, presented the innovative technology developed together with Professor Gideon Grader from the Faculty of Chemical Engineering that led to the establishment of the H2Pro start-up.
  • Innovative flow batteries– This presentation explained research by Ph.D. student Rona Ronen-Manukovsky, under the supervision of Associate Professor Matthew Suss from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering.
  • Impact on porous medium through flow pressures–Research byM.Sc. student Arnold Bachrach ,under the supervision of Dr.Yaniv Edery from the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was covered in this presentation.
L-R: Inbal Offen-Polak, Eliyahu Farber, Rona Ronen-Manukovsky, Emma Massasa and Joseph (Joey) Cassell

The first-prize winners in the poster competition were:

Eliyahu Farber, who developed new methods for the precise production of porous carbon materials. These materials are relevant to a wide spectrum of applications including batteries, supercapacitors, and fuel cells.

Inbal Offen-Polak develops low cost catalysts for urea oxidation – a useful process with applications in water treatment, hydrogen production, and even fuel cells.

Both Eliyahu and Inbal are GTEP Ph.D. students, conducting their research under the supervision of Professor David Eisenberg from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry.

Second prize was awarded to two Ph.D. students:

Emma Massasa from the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering, under the supervision of Assistant Professor Yehonadav Bekenstein, developed a method for improving properties of proboscites – new materials used in the production of solar energy.

Rona Ronen-Manukovsky from GTEP, who is developing energy storage solutions of a significant size, under the supervision of Associate Professor Matthew Suss from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering.

The Best M.Sc. Poster Award category was won by GTEP graduate student Joseph(Joey) Cassell, who developed technology for producing solar energy under the supervision of Associate Professor Carmel Rotschild from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. Joey and the two first-prize Ph.D. students, Eliyahu and Inbal, will represent GTEP with their research at the Technion’s Jacobs Graduate School Research Day on January 19, 2022.

Group Photo

 

Technion Students Cook Up Creative, Tasty, and Award-winning Food Solutions in European Innovation Competition

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Technion Students Cook Up Creative, Tasty, and Award-winning Food Solutions in European Innovation Competition

 Three groups of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology students recently won an international competition to develop healthy food based on natural ingredients.

The students from the Technion’s Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering won top prizes in the EU-supported Food Solutions Project, which is part of EIT FOOD – a program that fosters innovation to create healthy and sustainable food for all. The premise of the competition was to take real-world nutritional and sustainability challenges faced by the food industry and come up with innovative solutions with the potential to transform the food system and promote sustainability and health. Experts and mentors from top European universities supervised the student’s progress, together with leading companies Nestle, Danone-Nutricia, Döhler, IMDEA and Puratos.  Two of the Technion teams won first place and another came in third.

“This win wraps up a whole year of hard work,” said faculty members and mentors Dr. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas, Professor Uri Lesmes, and Professor Avi Shpigelman. “This achievement demonstrates the excellence of students in this faculty, not only in the engineering and technological aspects, but also creatively and in their ability to deal with all aspects of the process from market research, creating a business feasibility study, addressing regulatory and marketing issues, conducting shelf-life analysis, planning the commercial manufacturing process, and of course presenting their product to experts.”

From right to left, front row: Dr. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas, Hadar Kochavi, Christine Oviad, Professor Marcelle Machluf, Nova Neumann, Carolina Lejterer, Maayan Ben-David, Gil Raphael and Liora Bernstein; middle row: Dor Abu Hazira and Professor Avi Shpigelman; back row: Shahar Hefner, Dana Raz, Linor Rochlin, Shlomit Hakim, Victoria Skortov and Professor Uri Lesmes

This year, the Technion’s participating teams chose to tackle two challenges:

  1. ‘GrOAT’: creating an innovative, healthy, and sustainable product using an oat-based ingredient (a challenge presented by the Finnish company Myllyn Paras, which invests considerable resources in “plant-based innovation”)
  2. FoodFE’: (Food for the Elderly): Designing novel food products for the elderly that address the issue of loss of taste, palatability, and efficiency of nutrient uptake.

Once the teams had formed, they spent around six months developing their product from ideation to final product and presentation. The process involved attempts to assess product manufacturing at the Technion’s food pilot plant under the guidance and extensive mentoring of the three faculty members, and support from senior industry representatives. The students also consulted with chefs at Bishulim – Tel Aviv’s culinary school – who helped refine and resolve some of the culinary aspects.

Bioat’s vegan labane

The Bioat Group won first place for developing a vegan “labane” cheese spread based on fermenting the oat ingredient and dietary fiber. The team was not only awarded first place by the professional judges, but also came in first in the crowd favorite category. All four team members are graduate students: Maayan Ben-David, Liora Bernstein, Carolina Lejterer, and Gil Raphael. They explained that “we have worked in product development, experienced ups and downs and overcome many challenges on the way from taste and texture to product safety. We are proud of the result and happy to contribute to the global challenge of developing sustainable substitutes for dairy products.” According to the judges, the taste was unique and delicious, and employees from a company with origins in the Middle East gave it the authentic stamp of approval by claiming that the taste was very close to the original labane they were familiar with.

The concept for the product came about when one of the team members was on maternity leave and looking for dairy-free alternatives while nursing her new baby. Her search exposed a big gap in the market for healthy and tasty dairy-free products and so the idea for Bioat was born.

CRACKEAT team with their supervisors – from right to left – top row: Linor Rochlin, Victoria Skortov, Shlomit Hakim, Professor Uri Lesmes. Bottom row: Professor Avi Shpigelman, Dor Abu Hazira, Hadar Kochavi and Dr. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas

The CRACKEAT Group won first place in the Food Products Challenge for the Elderly, keeping in mind their struggles with obesity, diabetes, and nutritional requirements. The team came up with a soy-based, creamy treat with a crisp cookie on top. The product was praised by the judges for its unique presentation and taste. The final product provides a complex experience of different textures, while also being more environmentally friendly than current packaging solutions. It is high in protein and fiber, sugar-free, and low in saturated fat. CRACKEAT went through many taste tests among its target population who gave it the thumbs up for taste and texture. Members of the group were Dor Abu Hazira, Shlomit Hakim, Hadar Kochavi, Victoria Skortov, and Linor Rochlin.

LiteDelight – a vegan and low-calorie personalized chocolate cake based on natural ingredients

Coming in third place in the Food Products Challenge for the Elderly was another group from the faculty – Shahar Hefner, Nova Neumann, Christine Oviad, and Dana Raz. The four developed Lite Delight, a unique nutritional snack based solely on natural ingredients and tailored to the needs and desires of the senior population. The product offers something chewy but not too chewy that is portable and tasty. The individual brownie-like cake bar was praised for its soft, fluffy texture, combined with a sweet taste and no added sugar. It went through many rounds of rigorous taste testing among its target audiences that resulted in a winning ginger-orange flavor.

LiteDelight team – from right to left: Shahar Hefner, Christine Oviad, Nova Neumann and Dana Raz

The Proof is in the Pudding

Due to covid restrictions, the groups did not fly to Europe to present their products but sent them by courier to the judges so that they could taste them firsthand, having already impressed them with their innovative ideas and business plans. The judges praised Bioat, CRACKEAT, and Lite Delight for their quality and congratulated the teams on their professionalism and attention to detail on their packaging and branding.

From right to left; back row – Faculty Dean and Professor Marcelle Machluf, Dr. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas, Professor Uri Lesmes and Professor Avi Shpigelman/ Front row: The Bioat Group – Liora Bernstein, Carolina Lejterer, Gil Raphael and Maayan Ben-David

The teams’ wins are the latest in a string of student victories from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering in similar EIT FOOD competitions. In 2018, a Technion team won first place with Algalafel – a spirulina-enriched falafel – and in 2020, the Microbes Team won the top spot  for its biological solution for preventing fruit juice from spoiling, a phenomenon whose damages are estimated at tens of billions of dollars a year.

 

 

 

 

AI improves the accuracy of antibiotic selection for the treatment of UTI

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Maccabi Healthcare Services and the Technion: AI improves the accuracy of antibiotic selection for the treatment of UTI

Shortly after the AI-based advanced tool was introduced, there was a 35% drop in the need to switch antibiotics. The technology was developed by the Technion and Maccabi Healthcare Services

Doctors at Maccabi Healthcare Services have recently begun to work with an AI-based predictive algorithm developed by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology together with KSM (Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi), the Maccabi Research and Innovation Center. The new algorithm advises doctors in the process of deciding on personalized antibiotic treatment for patients.

The first diagnosis on which Maccabi chose to focus is urinary tract infection (UTI) – the most common bacterial infection among women. Around 30% of the females suffer from the infection at least once during their lifetime, and up to 10% experience recurrent infections. Until now, in most cases general treatment has been administered based on clinical guidelines and medical judgment. Sometimes, the bacteria prove to be antibiotic resistant, resulting in the need to change the treatment plan.

Since the new algorithm was introduced, Maccabi doctors have treated tens of thousands of cases, and there has been a drop of around 35% in the need to switch antibiotics following the development of bacterial resistance to the drug prescribed. This is significant because accuracy in the choice of antibiotic is far greater thanks to the new technology. In light of the success of this new development in the treatment of UTI, Maccabi has begun working on the development of additional detection systems that will help to contend with other infectious diseases that require personalized treatment with antibiotics.

How does it work?

The automated system recommends the most suitable antibiotic treatment for the patient to the doctor, based on clinical guidelines and other criteria such as age, gender, pregnancy status, residence in an assisted living facility, and personal history of UTI and antibiotics administered.

The unique algorithm was developed by Professor Roy Kishony and Dr. Idan Yelin of the Technion Faculty of Biology, in cooperation with KSM, Maccabi’s Research and Innovation Center, headed by Dr. Tal Patalon, and was introduced and implemented among Maccabi’s doctors by the HMO’s Medical Informatics team and Chief Physician’s Department. According to Prof. Kishony, “The algorithm we developed together with Maccabi’s experts is a major milestone in personalized medicine on the way to AI-based antibiotic treatments, which are personally tailored to the patient according to the prediction of treatment response and mitigate the development of resistant bacteria.”

Dr. Shira Greenfield, Director of Medical Informatics at Maccabi Healthcare Services, said, “The significance of administering personalized antibiotic treatment is that it lowers the risk of antibiotic resistance developing – a global problem which all healthcare entities are working to solve.”

Molecule that inhibits degenerative processes related to Alzheimer’s disease

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 Researchers at the Technion developed a molecule that inhibits degenerative processes related to Alzheimer’s disease

Professor Galia Maayan

Researchers at the Technion – Israel institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers from CNRS, recently published findings about the development of an artificial molecule that may inhibit the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The molecule breaks down the toxic chemical complex Cu–Aβ, thus inhibiting the cell death that is thought to be related to Alzheimer’s. The study was led by Professor Galia Maayan and doctoral student Anastasia Behar from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, in collaboration with Prof. Christelle Hureau from the Laboratoire de Chimie de Coordination du CNRS, Toulouse, France.

Copper ions are a key component of the structure and function of various cells in the body. But their accumulation can lead to cell toxicity, causing dangerous conditions such as oxidative stress, cardiovascular disorders, and degenerative diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s.

Doctoral student Anastasia Behar

One of the mechanisms involved in the development of Alzheimer’s is the formation of free radicals that damage the brain cells. These are oxidizing agents formed, among other things, by Cu–Aβ, a complex of copper and amyloid beta. It is already known that the breakdown of this complex, and the removal of copper from the amyloid, prevents cell death, followed by the inhibition of the disease. The extraction of the copper is done by chelation – using molecules that bind the copper ions and extract them from the amyloid.

However, this is not a simple challenge, because the chelators must meet several critical chemical and kinetic conditions, including stability and resistance to oxidation-reduction reactions. It is also important that the chelator does not bind zinc ions during the copper extraction process, as they are also essential for neuron function (but do not cause toxicity when they are bound to the amyloid); if the chelator does not bind the zinc, it can continue to bind the copper ions, but if it binds zinc, copper binding will be inhibited.

In the figure, from left to right: Oxidation of copper ions in an amyloid complex (that also contains zinc ions) leads to the formation of a toxic amyloid complex and harmful oxidizing agents (ROS). The water-soluble chelator extracts the copper ion from the amyloid complex

The Technion and CNRS researchers report in the Angewandte Chemie on the successful development of a new artificial chelator that meets all these requirements. The chelator, called P3, is a peptide-like water-soluble synthetic molecule that performs its task selectively; it strongly binds copper and forms the complex CuP3, extracting the copper from the amyloid. By doing so, it inhibits and even suppresses the formation of harmful oxidizing agents, without creating new oxidation processes. Although it binds zinc ions and even extracts them from the amyloid faster than it extracts the copper ions, the binding to zinc is weaker, making the zinc-amyloid complex unstable, so in practice P3 mostly binds copper ions. by creating a new, stable complex, and inhibits the formation of harmful oxidizing agents (NO ROS), thereby neutralizing amyloid toxicity.

Click here for the paper in Angewandte Chemie

 

Scientists Discover Emergency Pathway to Help Human Cells with Protein Damage Survive

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Scientists Discover Emergency Pathway to Help Human Cells with Protein Damage Survive

Cell proteins damaged by oxygen radicals can be chemically “tagged” for elimination, but an “emergency pathway” bypasses strict protocol and can eliminate even without the need for prior tagging.

An international research team headed by Technion scientists has found an alternative manner for eliminating damaged proteins when the cells are impaired by “oxygen radicals,” as can happen in failing human hearts where there is poor cell respiration and cells become oxygen depleted, or suffer “hypoxia,” because of poor oxygen uptake.

Significantly, the researchers discovered that there can be a shift from the tightly controlled process of eliminating proteins in the cells to a less strict mechanism when cells enter an “emergency protocol.” This shift can “clear up” the toxic proteins before their toxicity levels get too high.

Their study was published on 26 October 2021 in Nature Communication. To carry out their study, the researchers investigated several “proteasomes,” protein complexes that work by a chemical reaction to degrade unneeded or damaged cell proteins. The researchers found that elevated levels of one type of proteasome, 20S, appears to contribute to cell survival, even for those cells under stress from damaged proteins.

L-R: Professor Oded Kleifeld, Professor Michael Glickman and Professor Ashraf Brik

Human cells – both functional and damaged – are constantly recycled by chemically “tagging” and targeting for removal when they are under stress by the ubiquitin system (2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry). At the same time, a few proteins that are intact and functional can also be dragged into the 20S proteasome “molecular disposal unit” along with the toxic proteins that have be targeted for destruction. Nevertheless, rather than harm cells, this mode of action by 20S proteasome may aid cells in rapidly remove toxic proteins. In their conclusion, the authors raised the interesting speculation that this emergency pathway can help even damaged cells to withstand bouts of stress and allow them to “age gracefully”.

Professor Michael Glickman (left) and Professor Indrajit Sahu

To carry out the study, Technion researchers Professors Indrajit Sahu, Michael Glickman, Ashraf Brik, and Oded Kleifeld, worked with Professor Sharlene Day, from the University of Pennsylvania, and the research team of Professor Yao Cong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, China.

 

Click here for the paper in Nature Communications

Cancer Cells Mobilizing the Nervous System? Let’s Use Them to Inhibit the Tumor

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Cancer Cells Mobilizing the Nervous System? Let’s Use Them to Inhibit the Tumor

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Technion researchers have just published findings in Science Advances that support the efficacy of the technology that they developed: Treatment of breast cancer by anesthesia of the nervous system around the tumor. The treatment not only inhibited tumor growth but also prevented metastasis to other organs                                                                                                

Professor Avi Schroeder

Researchers at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have developed an innovative treatment for breast cancer, based on analgesic nanoparticles that target the nervous system. The study, published in Science Advances, was led by Professor Avi Schroeder and Ph.D. student Maya Kaduri of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, and despite breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment, about one thousand women in Israel die of the disease per year. Around 15% of them are under the age of 50. Worldwide, some 685,000 women die each year from breast cancer.

Prof. Schroeder has years of experience in developing innovative cancer treatments, including ones for breast cancer and specifically triple-negative breast cancer – an aggressive cancer characterized by rapid cell division with a higher risk of metastasis. Technologies developed in his lab include novel methods for encapsulating drug molecules in nanoparticles that transport the drug to the tumor and release it inside, without damaging healthy tissue.

The researchers found that cancer cells have a reciprocal relationship with the nerve cells around them: the cancer cells stimulate infiltration of nerve cells into the tumor, and this infiltration stimulates cancer cell proliferation, growth, and migration. In other words, the cancer cells recruit the nerve cells for their purposes.

Based on these findings, the researchers developed a treatment that targets the tumor through the nerve cells. This treatment is based on injecting nanoparticles containing anesthetic into the bloodstream. The nanoparticles travel through the bloodstream toward the tumor, accumulate around the nerve cells in the cancerous tissue, and paralyze the local nerves and communication between the nerve cells and the cancer cells. The result: significant inhibition of tumor development and of metastasis to the lungs, brain, and bone marrow.

The nanoparticles simulate the cell membrane and are coated with special polymers that disguise them from the immune system and enable a long circulation time in the bloodstream. Each such particle, which is around 100 nm in diameter, contains the anesthetic.

Maya Kaduri

According to Maya Kaduri: “We know how to create the exact size of particles needed, and that is critical because it’s the key to penetrating the tumor. Tumors stimulate increased formation of new blood vessels around them, so that they receive oxygen and nutrients, but the structure of these blood vessels is damaged and contains nano-sized holes that enable penetration of nanoparticles. The cancerous tissue is characterized by poor lymphatic drainage, which further increases accumulation of the particles in the tissue. Therefore, the anesthetizing particles we developed move through the bloodstream without penetrating healthy tissue. Only when they reach the damaged blood vessels of the tumor do they leak out, accumulate around the nerve cells of the cancerous tissue, and disconnect them from the cancer cells. The fact that this is a very focused and precise treatment enables us to insert significant amounts of anesthetic into the body because there is no fear that it will harm healthy and vital areas of the nervous system.”

In experiments on cancer cell cultures and in treatment of mice, the new technology inhibited not only tumor development but also metastasis. The researchers estimate these findings may be relevant for treatment of breast cancer in humans.

The research is supported by the Rappaport Technion Integrated Cancer Center (RTICC) as part of the Steven & Beverly Rubenstein Charitable Foundation Fellowship Fund for Cancer Research, and by Teva, as part of its National Forum for BioInnovators. The research was conducted in cooperation with the Faculty of Medicine at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Institute of Pathology at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

Prof. Avi Schroeder is head of the Louis Family Laboratory for Targeted Drug Delivery & Personalized Medicine Technologies at the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering. Maya Kaduri, who has a B.Sc. from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering at the Technion, began researching under the guidance of Prof. Avi Schroeder during her bachelor’s degree, and this year she is expected to complete her Ph.D. (direct track).

For the article in Science Advances click here

Click here for video demonstrating the research