Most Innovative Student Projects in Biomedical Engineering

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From fighting COVID-19 to detecting heart disease, these are some of the Technion’s most innovative student projects in biomedical engineering

From detecting cardiovascular disease, to fighting coronavirus, Faculty of Biomedical Engineering students recently presented an array of innovative projects that integrated everything they had learned.
During project development, the students had to go through all the stages needed to bring an idea to fruition. Starting with a medical problem which they had to tackle, they had to combine and implement medical know-how with engineering skills and scientific knowledge in order to provide a real-world solution. This hands-on experience exposes and prepares Technion graduates to the high-tech and biomed industries, and to biomedical research in a way that encourages multidisciplinary work. Therefore, such projects are vital for their future career and entrepreneurial skills.

Here’s a glimpse into some of the most intriguing (and often lifesaving) student projects in biomedical engineering.

 

Early detection of cardiovascular disease  – Sivan Barash and Shachar Zigron took first place in the student project competition, presenting a novel way of labelling macrophage cells, making them detectable by MRI. Macrophages are cells involved in the detection and destruction of bacteria. Cardiovascular disease is strongly associated in the public mind with fat storage in the body, but recent studies have shown significant involvement of inflammation in the process. Since macrophage cells have a major role in inflammation, being able to observe their movement within the body would facilitate scientists’ exploration of the connection between inflammation and cardiovascular disease. The duo’s project has lain the groundwork for in-vivo studies soon to be conducted in the laboratory of Prof. Katrien Vandoorne.

AI-based decision support machine for fetal monitoring  – Second place went to Amit Parizat and Rotem Shapira, who created an artificial intelligence (AI) system to analyze the output of the fetal monitor during labor and serve as a decision support machine. Complications during labor develop rapidly and can harm mother and child. The fetal monitor alerts healthcare providers of complications during labor. However, analyzing the monitor’s long signals manually is challenging and leads to obstetrics teams recommending a Caesarean “just in case” at the slightest indication, to the point that currently a third of all births in the U.S. involve a C-section, and only 20% of
C-sections are later found to have been necessary. C-sections carry risks to the mother and involve a long recovery and long-term side effects. Amit and Rotem proved the feasibility of training an AI machine to predict complications during childbirth, preventing unnecessary invasive intervention, while ensuring that intervention is performed when needed. To achieve this, the two worked with the Obstetrics and Newborn Medicine Division at the Carmel Medical Center.

Treating cancer  – Orel Shahadi and Or Levy, coming in third, developed a 3D model that simulates drug penetration into solid tumors, facilitating development of new drugs and drug combinations to treat cancer. Their innovative model features an inner cluster of cells engineered to display fluorescence, surrounded by an outer layer of cells. Change in the cells’ fluorescence served as an indicator, providing a way to measure drug penetration into the tumor with a high level of precision.

Detecting heart rhythm problems   – Yonathan Belicha and Daniel Cherniavsky, who took fourth place, explored a novel approach to diagnosing cardiac arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems), using nothing more than a few 1-minute videos of the patient – the kind of videos one might make using one’s smartphone. The natural contraction and relaxation of the heart cause minute changes in the human skin color. Yonathan and Daniel extracted those very small changes from the video, and from them – the subject’s pulse. Using this, they trained an AI system to recognize cardiac arrhythmia.

Fighting coronavirus with… ultrasound – Finally, Mor Ventura, Dekel Brav and Omri Magen, coming in fifth, tackled one of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 epidemic. Classification of the COVID-19 severity degree is usually done in hospitals using CT. However, CT machines’ availability is strained, they are expensive, and the process is further complicated by the need to transfer a patient with a highly contagious disease to and from the machine. Mor and Omri explored the possibility of using lung ultrasound instead, obtaining the necessary diagnostic information faster and more easily at the patient’s bedside, also significantly reducing the workload in healthcare facilities. To this end, they first developed an image-processing algorithm to “read” and label lung ultrasounds, identifying areas of interest and ignoring artefacts. Using the results of this algorithm, the trio then trained a neural network to classify the ultrasound videos and identify the severity of the patient’s illness. The project was conducted in collaboration with the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

Award-winning FemTech startup – Asaf Licht and Zeinat Awwad presented the entrepreneurship project. Just finishing their bachelor’s degree, the two have already turned their project into a startup called Harmony. Their project is a FemTech initiative, developing a wearable, continuous, and non-invasive tracker to monitor women’s hormonal levels, aiming to ease the process of IVF, but also relevant for avoiding pregnancy, or alternatively for increasing the chances of getting pregnant. Currently, IVF procedures requires a blood test multiple times a week; Harmony seeks to replace that with an at-home device that provides continuous measurements while reducing discomfort. This project won first place in the EuroTech Innovation Day startup competition.

To read about additional student projects recently presented at the Technion, click here

Do All of Us Understand Coronavirus News Coverage?

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Do All of Us Understand Coronavirus News Coverage?
Attitudes towards math more important than school math attainment for public understanding of quantitative COVID-19 data

Being afraid of math prevents people from engaging with it when they need it – even if they learned it at school, a new study claims

Since COVID-19 emerged as a global crisis, the news has been dominated by graphs and terms like “R numbers” and “exponential growth,” referring to the rate of spread of the disease. To what extent does the average adult understand the quantitative information appearing in the news? The results of a new study paint a gloomy picture: When asked about “math in the news” items presented to them, even people who had taken advanced mathematics classes in high school did not typically figure everything out, but obtained only an average “grade” of 72/100. But these advanced learners make up a small minority of high school graduates. Those who took only the mandatory level of high school math – as over 50% of high school graduates with official Israeli matriculation certificates tend to do – correctly interpreted much fewer items on average (54/100).

Prof. Einat Heyd-Metzuyanim

Results were even more troubling for participants who had not passed all the examinations required for the official state certificate. Participants in this group obtained an average “grade” of 44/100 – suggesting they didn’t understand over half of the items in the questionnaire. This latter group represents about 45% of the total cohort of 17-year-olds in Israel in recent years. These findings raise concern about the relevance of school mathematics to the real-life needs of most learners and call attention to the importance of providing all learners with mathematics literacy.

Dr. Aviv J. Sharon

The findings emerged from a new study on mathematical media literacy among a representative sample of 439 Israeli adults. The study was conducted by a team of researchers at the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology during the first wave of COVID-19 cases in Israel (March-April 2020).

The researchers were surprised to find a factor that appears to be even more strongly associated with the participants’ understanding of mathematical information in the news than the level of math they had taken at school: the participants’ self-perceptions as being “good at math” and the extent they find mathematics useful and interesting. This finding suggests that being afraid of math prevents people from engaging with it when they need it – even if they had learned it at school.

Prof. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari

“These results seem to show that school mathematics, especially in its high levels, may prepare adults to understand critical information important for their well-being, such as at a time of global pandemic. However, they also indicate that negative attitudes towards math may significantly hinder adults’ engagement with such information,” said the study’s lead author, Prof. Einat Heyd-Metzuyanim. “Our findings should trigger some soul-searching in the mathematics education field,” she added. “After all, the goal of learning mathematics, for most of the public, is to be able to deal with mathematical information in their daily lives. We should therefore make sure that high-school graduates leave school with both the cognitive tools for processing mathematical information around them, and the attitudes and dispositions that would allow them to do so.”

Click here for the paper in Educational Studies in Mathematics

 

Scientists Use Machine Learning to Pave the Way for the Design of Antivirals

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Scientists Use Machine Learning to Pave the Way for the Design of Antivirals

Why are there no drugs that can cure Covid, SARS, or the flu? Why is it that if you have a strep throat, you get prescribed an antibiotic, but with a virus, you are told to sit it out? In short, why are there no antivirals in similar quantity, variety, and effectiveness as antibiotics?

Unlike antibiotics, antiviral drugs are typically designed to target one virus. This narrowness of scope makes it uneconomical for drug companies to invest in developing new antivirals. As a result, non-HIV therapeutics comprise less than 1% of the total therapeutics market, which stands in direct contrast to the dominance of infectious diseases in everyday human experience. While the obvious solution to this problem is to develop antivirals that can be used to treat multiple infectious diseases, finding such broad-spectrum drugs has proven to be a highly elusive goal for the scientific community.

Prof. Roee Amit

A groundbreaking study conducted in collaboration between the laboratory of Prof. Roee Amit of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering and the group of Prof. Yaron Orenstein from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev provides a feasible pathway forward to achieving this goal. The study, led by Dr. Noa Katz, demonstrates that a combined synthetic biology and machine learning approach can result in the discovery of molecules which can bind proteins from two distinct viruses.

Prof. Yaron Orenstein

The traditional method for identifying therapeutics is to apply a low-throughput and labor-intensive screen for molecules that might perform the required function. In contrast, the synthetic biology and machine learning approach seeks to map the “space” of potential interactions so that molecules with the desired properties can be reliably predicted. This is done by first generating a large and high quality experimental dataset from a library (i.e. collection) of various known and suspected potential virus-protein-binding molecules. The dataset is then used to train a neural network to allow it to form a multidimensional mathematical function representing the collective’s protein-binding capability.

Dr. Noa Katz

Once computed, such a function can then be used in reverse. Namely, it can be used to identify regions of high binding capability, and extract “predicted” molecules not previously tested. These unseen or predicted molecules can then be synthesized 

Eitamar Tripto

and tested for the desired biological functionality.  The researchers applied this approach to first map out the binding space of two distinct coat proteins from two different bacteria-attacking viruses, and then synthesized and validated RNA molecules that were predicted to be at the interface between the two spaces, and which therefore possess both functionalities.  This achievement provides the scientific community with a blueprint

 for an approach that can be used to identify novel RNA sequences that could potentially become key ingredients of broad-spectrum anti-viral drugs.

Click here for the paper in Nature Communication

Technion City Opens for Spring Semester

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Technion City Opens for Spring Semester

The Technion campus has opened; students are back in the classrooms.  “It’s just like the first day of first grade,” said one biology student

Students return to campus.

The Technion opened for the 2021 spring semester on Sunday, using a model of hybrid teaching – a combination of online and frontal teaching – in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s restrictions and “green” guidelines. After a challenging year of online learning , students are returning to classrooms, campuses, and frontal learning after presenting a vaccine certificate and pre-registering. 

The Technion buildings and faculties were well prepared for the students’ return. The security unit has assigned bouncers, security guards, scouts, and certified COVID-19 inspectors on the contained campus to keep students and faculty members safe, and to ensure that green regulations for COVID-19 are maintained. Only students with a vaccine certificate are able to study in classrooms, and class sizes are regulated.

Returning students were greeted by a banner that read, “We Came Back Green,” placed by the Office of the Dean of Students and the Student Union. The celebration also included eye-opening flags, placards, fortune cookies, and cards.

“This is a special day for all of us,” said Technion President, Professor Uri Sivan on a tour of the campus with Senior Vice President Professor Oded Rabinowitz and the Deans of the Technion. “The members of the academic and administrative staff have already gradually returned to campus in the past two weeks, in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines. Today, it is the turn of the students, who are the heartbeat of the Technion, to return to the classrooms. This spring semester comes after a long winter, and after the pandemic that lasted a whole year. Now we can finally go back and hear the academic hum in the classrooms, in the labs, in the hallways, and in the offices. With the return of the students, the campus will return to being a vibrant intellectual center.” 

Technion President Prof. Uri Sivan with students on campus tour

“I haven’t taught on campus in over a year and it’s definitely refreshing – a thousand times more comfortable than teaching on Zoom, which is sadly what we’ve become used to,” said Professor Eitan Yaakobi, researcher and lecturer in combinatorics in the Taub Faculty of Computer Science. “For the students here in class today, it’s the first time that they are studying live on campus. We now understand how important it is to have a personal relationship with the students, something I really missed this past year. Good luck to all the teachers, and especially to those learning, the students.”

“I’m really excited to be here, and I think the lecturer is more excited than anyone,” said Liad Pearl, a second-year student in computer engineering. “Suddenly, people are making jokes in class and laughing for real, not in front of a screen.”

“We’re very excited to be back in class,” said first-year biology students in Professor Meital Landau’s biochemistry and enzymology course, “just like on the first day of first grade.”

“Studying at home, on Zoom, was difficult for us,” said students in Dr. Nadav Amdursky’s analytical chemistry course, “both in terms of having technological issues as well as having distractions at home. We’re happy to be back in class.”

A year ago, on the eve of opening the spring semester 2020, Israel Council for Higher Education imposed a blanket ban on frontal teaching. Despite the short notice, the Technion managed to open the 2020 spring semester online on the scheduled date of March 18, with hardly any problems. It was the result of a conscious and ongoing effort to introduce digital teaching technologies in the years prior to the pandemic.

The two semesters since March 2020 have taken place online, thanks to the tireless work of Technion Senior Vice President Professor Oded Rabinowitz, Dean of Undergraduate Studies Professor Hossam Haick, and many others. This period has shown that while digital platforms allow for online learning and continued studies, they cannot completely replace frontal teaching. The interaction between students and lecturers is an essential component of campus life, learning, and student development. This is the background for the advancement of hybrid teaching, which combines online teaching with active classroom learning.

Time to Care – Tackle Health Challenges and Propose Technological Solutions

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Time to Care – Students from the Technion and Cornell Tech together tackle health challenges and propose technological solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic may have created many obstacles, but it also provided opportunities for finding creative ways to overcome them. On January 14th, joint teams of students from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and Cornell Tech took part in the final event of a semester-long ideation course, where they presented technological solutions for health challenges.

The course represented the first virtual version of the iTrek program, a yearly effort of the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech that brings New York City-based master’s degree students to Israel to collaborate with Technion students and faculty. While COVID may have kept the Cornell Tech students at home, it did not stop them from visiting Israel virtually and working closely with colleagues in Haifa.

This year’s iTrek was organized and executed under the leadership of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, by Co-Directors Michael Escosia, Assistant Director of Operations, and Lucie Milanez, the Project Manager and Program Coordinator at Technion, and the MindState Ideation Lab. Co-founded by Tamar Many (Shenkar College, Tel Aviv University) and Henk van Assen (Yale, Parsons School of Design), MindState explores societal challenges through an interdisciplinary, human-centric methodology to achieve innovative change.  The main event, titled Time to Care, was a joint project of MindState Ideation Lab, the Technion, and Cornell Tech, with help and cooperation from the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

Academic leadership of the program was provided by Assistant Professor Joachim Behar, Director of the Technion Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Laboratory (AIMLab), Professor Ron Brachman, Director of the Jacobs Institute, and Professor Ariel Orda, the Jacobs Program Head at the Technion. Teaching assistance was provided by Sofia Segal of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at Technion. 

Twelve multi-disciplinary teams mixed with Technion and Cornell Tech students and professional designers from companies such as Wix, Lightricks, Google, Climacell, and Similar Web took part in the competition through the virtual spaces of Zoom and GatherTown. They, along with mentors from Sourasky Medical Center, tackled problems as varied as communication between patients and staff, challenges of a nurse’s daily routine, early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and even reducing food waste in hospitals.

The winner Defi aims to develop a portable defibrillator, which runs on a mobile phone’s power supply. They based their project off the fact that access and timely application of a defibrillator can save the life of a person suffering from a heart attack. The team of Ravit Abel (Nanoscience and Nanotechnology M.Sc. Candidate), Alon Gilad (Biomedical Engineering M.Eng. candidate) and Idan Shenfeld (B.Sc. in Computer Engineering, Rothschild program) from the Technion, together with Ashley Dai (Operations Research M.Eng. candidate) and Eric Chan (Double M.Sc. candidate in Applied Information Science and Information Systems) from Cornell Tech proposed a conceptual solution which would eliminate the large battery that constitutes most of the existing defibrillator’s bulk and charge it instead within seconds from any mobile phone. An accompanying app would provide instructions, automatically contact emergency services, and provide caregivers real-time information about the patient’s status. If the groups’ conceptual design would prove feasible, the defibrillator could become compact, cheap, and easy to use.

Second prize went to Minder, aimed at helping the elderly population keep track of medication and stay in touch with physicians as part of their daily routine. Third prize winner, Libi, targets patients recovering post-heart-attack by helping reduce a second incident of cardiac arrest through tracking and education.

By bringing together academics and industry leaders and mixing skills, the Ideation Competition was viewed as “an amazing experience.” Following their victory, Defi team members attributed their success to the, “opportunities [they had] to work with top professionals in the field, and to learn about the business side of creating a technological solution concept.” They added that “between us, we all come from different fields; we were able to put together our strengths, come up with different ideas, and achieve together what none of us could have achieved alone.”

Innovation, design thinking, and social impact have always been the driving force of the Jacobs iTrek program. Professor Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Sourasky Medical Center and one of the judges of the competition, concluded the final event by encouraging the teams to “keep on innovating because this is the way to advance medicine, even in the time of an epidemic and pandemic.”

The participating students are either in advanced years of their bachelor’s degrees, or in their graduate degrees. Defi was mentored by Professor Yaron Arbel, director of the Cardiovascular Research Centre at Sourasky Medical Center, and Mr. Eyal Kellner, CIO at the Sourasky Medical Center. The design team assisting them included Elad Rahmin, Oren Elbaz, and Vera Mordehayev from Climacell.

The activity was sponsored by Monday, IMed Medical Habitat, the Technion, the Jacobs Institute at Cornell Tech and the Israel Council for Higher Education. Prize awards in the total amount of $10,000 were provided by the Dr. Joseph Holt and Halaine Maccabee Rose Fund.

mRNA Formulates Its Instructions to Ribosomes

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Dynamic, Sophisticated, and Environmentally Sensitive:

This is How mRNA Formulates Its Instructions to Ribosomes

Yoav Arava and Ofri Levi

Technion researchers have discovered a new mechanism in the control of protein synthesis by ribosomes: an enzyme that edits mRNA and regulates its activity according to the organism’s needs. Their recent article describes similar gene editing processes to those used by Pfizer and Moderna in developing the new mRNA vaccines

Technion researchers have discovered an unknown mechanism that controls protein synthesis in the cell. The mechanism uses chemical modifications on mRNA to influence the rate of protein production by the ribosome, the cellular protein machine. The researchers, Professor Yoav Arava and doctoral student Ofri Levi of the Faculty of Biology, published news of the discovery in Nucleic Acids Research.

Gene expression control is responsible for translating the genetic code (written in DNA) into proteins that are adapted for their purpose in the specific tissue, taking changing environmental conditions into account. “If DNA is the cookbook,” said Ofri Levi, “then the chef is the ribosome – the cellular protein machine. The main mediator in the process is the mRNA molecule, which carries the recipe from the DNA to the ribosome. The right interaction between mRNA and the ribosome is vital to the normalcy and quality of the proteins.”

For some years, it has been known that mRNA does not carry the instructions from DNA in their original form, but undergoes numerous modifications on the way. These chemical changes recently made headlines in the context of the COVID-19 vaccines; the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on the introduction of synthetic mRNA into the body to create immunological proteins inside our cells. However, since the cell treats mRNA as a foreign body, it tends to attack it, and the rapid mRNA breakdown does not leave it with enough time to manufacture the essential proteins.

To overcome this challenge, the two companies integrated modifications that mimic natural changes that occur in the body into their mRNA molecules. These modifications indeed enable the synthetic molecule to survive and to work long enough to create the protein from the virus.

According to Prof. Arava, “The connection between mRNA and the production of proteins is a process that has occupied us for some years, and we are focusing on the effect of mRNA on building the proteins and on their stability. We are trying to understand the ‘conversation’ in which mRNA tells the ribosome what to manufacture for the cell. We are conducting the basic research on Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a budding yeast that we know as baking or brewing yeast, and we have a solid basis to assume that what happens in the yeast is highly relevant to what happens in the human body.”

In a previous article published in PLoS Biology in July 2019, Mr. Levi and Prof. Arava presented a new role for certain enzymes prevalent in all kingdoms of life. The researchers discovered that these enzymes serve as significant control elements in protein production – a role that was unknown before the article was published. To perform this function, these enzymes bind to the mRNA and regulate the quantity of mRNA molecules available to the ribosome.

In the present study, Mr. Levi and Prof. Arava thoroughly explored the question as to how those enzymes identify mRNA among the medley of cellular components. They discovered that the answer lies in a unique chemical modification occurring in mRNA. This modification, known as pseudouridine, is created in various locations on mRNA; control elements identify the change and time ribosome activity accordingly.

To prove the importance of this modification, the researchers developed a method based on CRISPR/Cas9, which enabled them to “surgically” remove the psuedouridine without causing any other damage to the cells. Indeed, in the absence of psuedouridine, control of protein production was lost. According to Mr. Levi, “Like many scientists in the world, we too owe a huge thank you to Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier and Professor Jennifer Doudna for the dramatic breakthrough they achieved in the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 technology.”

Profs. Charpentier and Doudna were awarded the Technion Harvey Prize on November 3, 2019, and one year later, on December 10, 2020, they received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of the revolutionary technology for editing, repairing, and rewriting DNA. Thanks to this technology, Mr. Levi said, “we have been able to make progress in our research with unprecedented speed and accuracy.”

The Technion researchers estimate this is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism that exists across the animal kingdom. Since the mechanism is sensitive to environmental changes, it provides mRNA molecules with instructions tailored to environmental conditions, thus directing the ribosomes to optimal protein production.

As mentioned, one of the most important tasks faced by Pfizer and Moderna was to improve the activity of artificial mRNA in the human body, so they introduced a modification to the “immunological” mRNA that is very similar to pseudouridine. “We don’t yet know if the control elements we discovered are also able to detect the modification in synthetic mRNA,” said Prof. Arava. “If they are, this may open up further possibilities to improve mRNA activity and produce larger quantities of proteins.”

Beyond the present research and its implications, said Prof. Arava, “our discovery illustrates the importance of basic research in the development of sophisticated medical treatments and innovative vaccines. The public and the media are mainly hungry for publications about developments and applied science, but without a strong, broad infrastructure of basic science – in directions in which the applied horizon is not always clear – we would not witness such dramatic breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment, and vaccines, as well as in areas of life outside the world of medicine.”

The research was funded by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF). Ofri Levi is the winner of the Jacobs Scholarship for Outstanding Students.

Click here for the complete article in Nucleic Acids Research.

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.

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.

Technion Update: Advancements Against COVID-19

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Technion – Israel Institute of Technology is at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Researchers from 50 different labs are developing solutions including vaccine research and therapeutics, personal protective equipment, diagnostics, and assistive technologies for healthcare providers. Despite months of hardship and uncertainty, we have witnessed the power of unity and collaboration. 

“ICU ROOM OF THE FUTURE”

Israel’s Sheba Hospital recently unveiled what they call “the ICU room of the future”. It features many innovative technologies that were developed by Technion alumni including: AnyVision, Vocalis and CLEW Medical. This room maximizes care and comfort while minimizing risk to staff during the Coronavirus pandemic.

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UV LIGHT TO COMBAT COVID-19

Prof. Ido Kaminer

An international team of research scientists, including Prof. Ido Kaminer of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, advocate the use of ultraviolet light as a “particularly efficient, easily deployable, and economically affordable” way to inactivate the Coronavirus and reduce transmission in indoor spaces. Their findings were recently published in the journal ACS Nano.

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AN ALGORITHM TO IMPROVE COVID-19 TREATMENT

Assistant Prof. Joachim Behar

Assistant Prof. Joachim Behar, head of Technion’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, together with Master’s student Jeremy Levy and doctors from Rambam Health Care Campus, have developed a new set of tools to analyze the data collected by oximeters, which monitor oxygen saturation levels in a patient’s blood. Information gathered by oximeters monitoring patients with COVID-19 could help doctors predict deterioration in a patient’s condition.

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99% ACCURATE RAPID HOME TEST 

Prof. Naama Geva-Zatorsky & Team

Prof. Naama Geva-Zatorsky, of Technion’s Faculty of Medicine, is leading a team of researchers in the development of a home kit that would enable people to be quickly and inexpensively tested for the Coronavirus. Without elaborate lab equipment, it has a 99% accuracy rate based on 200 biological samples from patients affected by the virus. Today, her lab is working on improving its sensitivity for detection in low concentrations.

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SURVEILLING SEWERS FOR COVID-19

Using the Internet of Things (IoT), original algorithms, and artificial intelligence, Israeli startup Kando, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and Ben-Gurion University have launched a pilot project to detect traces of the novel Coronavirus in the wastewater of Ashkelon. Kando allows experts to pinpoint specific areas affected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, enabling responses and potentially avoiding total lock-down in the event of a second wave of the Coronavirus.

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BOOSTING MASK EFFECTIVENESS

The unique “Maya” sticker is a 3D-printed sticker, developed by the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, led by Prof. Eyal Zussman. The innovative sticker contains nanofibers coated with antiseptics. Stuck onto surgical masks, the team says the sticker significantly upgrades protection, and is able to capture and kill nano-particles of 99 percent of viruses from droplets that reach the mask.  The next step is mass production for hospitals and the public.

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POOLED TESTING ACCELERATES COVID-19 SCREENING

Researchers at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology announced a successful trial of pooling medical samples and performing simultaneous testing for the presence of the Coronavirus in batches of 32 or 64 samples at a time. Now, the test is undergoing final validation and it should be available for widespread use by winter, when the prevalence of other respiratory diseases will make rapid diagnosis of COVID-19 even more critical.

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DIAGNOSTICS ROBOTICS GOES GLOBAL

Diagnostic Robotics Ltd is an AI-based remote screening platform used by Israel to monitor the spread of COVID-19. It has now been deployed globally, including in the U.S., Western Europe, and Asia. Co-founders Jonathan Amir and Dr. Kira Radinsky, and Prof. Moshe Shoham are all Technion alumni. Prof. Shoham also teaches at Technion’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and heads the Kahn Medical Robotics Laboratory.

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CORTICA’S TOUCH-LESS TECH FOR A COVID-19 WORLD

Corsight, a subsidiary of the high-tech company Cortica, launched their touchless AI technology globally. Their high-speed AI facial recognition technology helps medical teams access locked areas without removing protective gear. Emerging from research at the Technion, Cortica was founded by Technion Prof. Yehoshua Zeevi and doctoral graduates, Igal Raichelgauz and Karina Ordinaev.

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Technion breakthroughs in COVID research and technologies have been a source of inspiration and hope throughout the pandemic. When you support the Technion       COVID-19 Emergency Research Fund, you contribute to the success stories that will help us overcome this health crisis as quickly as possible.

SUPPORT THE EMERGENCY RESEARCH FUND