Bar-Ilan University Professor Named to Head the Massive Project
With the potential of speeding cures for diseases as diverse as cancer, autism and eye disease, Bar-Ilan University Professor Rachela Popovtzer was chosen, from among dozens of research groups world-wide, to head up the European Union (EU) nTrack project, part of EU’s Horizon 2020 research program.
The goal of the program is to develop nanoparticles capable of tracking the effects of cell injection therapies. It is expected to launch today (October 16, 2017).
Professor Popovtzer was recruited back to Israel as part of Bar-Ilan’s groundbreaking “Returning Scientists Program” that is reversing Israeli “brain drain” by bringing back outstanding researchers from international postdoctoral positions. With this program, Bar-Ilan is tapping the best and brightest of Israeli scientists who might have otherwise continued their research in the US or Europe.
Prof. Popovtzer received early support in her career from two American-based Foundations, serving at various times as the Elias, Genevieve, Georgianna Atol Charitable Trust (Los Angeles) Fellow in Nano Medicine and a Crown Family Foundation (Chicago) Returning Scientist.
Rachela Popovtzer is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and a member of Bar-Ilan’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA). She received her B.Sc. degree in physics from Bar-Ilan University and her M.Sc. and PhD in Electrical Engineering from Tel Aviv University before accepting a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. She currently heads Bar-Ilan’s Bioengineering track and the Laboratory for Nano-Medicine and is a recipient of numerous international grants and awards. Prof. Popovtzer has spent the last decade developing nanoparticles for medical use.
When Ronnie Stern, President of the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University received the news about the winning Israeli team, he lauded “this terrific development for BIU. By bringing Prof. Popovtzer and others like her back to Israel, Bar-Ilan is making great strides and significant advances in catapulting the university to the forefront of cutting edge technology. What an impressive win this is, given that dozens of research groups competed for the EU grant to lead this unprecedented project.”
Cell therapy involves injecting either stem cells or other types of cells into patients to heal tissue or treat a disease. The project’s goal is to develop a tracking nanoparticle that will be ready for clinical testing on humans within four years. The nanoparticle will track the injected cells to see where they go in the body and what effects they produce, letting researchers determine how successful this therapy is. This method is also suited to any technology — including devices such as MRIs or CTs.
Prof. Popovtzer is excited about the chance to reduce waiting and tracking times, currently months, to significantly shorter periods while simultaneously developing models of how an injected cell moves through the body and what it does. In this way, researchers will be able to know at a very early stage what the potential for success is in every patient and adjust for any failings, even in mid-treatment.