Dr. Popovtzer's Lab
Dr. Rachela Popovtzer is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering and a member of the Nano-Medicine Center at the Bar-Ilan Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA).
She came to Bar-Ilan University from the University of Michigan, as part of the 2007 cohort of returning scientists, a special program within Bar-Ilan University to recruit young Israeli scientists to return to work in Israel.
Nanotechnology and Materials Science
Popovtzer is a bio-engineer who applies engineering principles to address challenges in biology and medicine. Popovtzer and her group have conducted seminal work in nano-bio-chips, tiny laboratories that can simultaneously test for thousands of different materials.
In addition, they use advanced nanotechnology to develop novel techniques for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Methods developed in Popovtzer’s lab allow doctors to detect cancer earlier, determine how far the disease has advanced, and find small tumors with greater accuracy.
One of Popovtzer’s key innovations is an “intelligent” bio-sensor that integrates living organisms – genetically-engineered bacteria – into an electronic device used for identifying toxins. The bio-sensor effectively screens for thousands of chemicals at once, and can detect the presence of a toxin within sixty seconds.
This technology has a wide range of applications, and can be used for scanning for toxins in drinking water and the environment, screening drugs and medication for activity and toxicity, and for applications in neuroscience research.
Cancer Research and Imaging Microscopy
Current methods of cancer diagnosis utilize CT imaging, which combines special X-ray equipment with sophisticated computers to produce images of the body’s internal tissues. Dr. Popovtzer and her team are working on developing nanotechnology tools that would make the diagnosis process more accurate and efficient.
Popovtzer and her team synthesize gold nanoparticles that are covered with antigens. When these nanoparticles are administered to the patient through an intravenous (IV) infusion, they travel directly to the cancer cells and attach themselves to the membrane.
This, in turn, creates a “golden” signal on a CT scan that reveals the exact location of cancer within the body, providing a clear target for chemotherapy, as well as an important “early warning” system for cancer metastasis.
In a related project, Popovtzer and her group have created gold nanorods that form the basis of a new method for targeted, light-activated cancer therapy. These nanostructures are tuned so that they heat up when exposed to near-infrared light.
The nanorods, which attach themselves to cancer cells, can be activated non-invasively by light from the skin surface, destroying the cancer while leaving non-cancerous tissue unharmed.
Looking to the Future
The overall goal of research conducted in Popovtzer’s lab is to develop a new class of Computed Tomography (CT) contrast agents, which will enable cancer diagnostics based on molecular markers rather than anatomical structures, with a clinical CT machine.
This non-invasive and non-ionizing molecular cancer imaging tool will facilitate early cancer detection and will provide researchers with a new technique to investigate the in vivo expression and activity of cancer-related biomarkers and molecular processes.