Technion Team Wins Award in Race to Stem the Rise of Antibiotic Resistance

November 27, 2017
Kevin Hattori

Team Prismatix – a collaboration between Prof. Ester Segal’s research group at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Department of Biotechnology and Food Engineering and clinicians from the Bnai Zion Medical Center – has been awarded with the Discovery Award – part of the Longitude Prize fund – for their promising developments in rapid diagnostics for antimicrobial resistance.

Team Prismatix: Prof. Ester Segal, Heidi Leonard and Liran Holtzman from the Department of Biotechnology and Food Engineering at the Technion (upper panel, left to right). Prof. Leigh Canham from the University of Birmingham, Prof. Ofer Nativ and Prof. Sarel Halachmi from the Department of Urology at Bnai Zion Medical Center.

The Longitude Prize is a $13.3 million prize fund that will reward a competitor that can develop a point–of–care diagnostic test that will conserve antibiotics for future generations and revolutionizethe delivery of global healthcare. The test must be accurate, rapid, affordable and easy to use anywhere in the world. The prize has been developed and is being run by Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation. It was launched by the Prime Minister at G8 2014, and is being supported by Innovate UK as funding partner.

Team Prismatix developed a technology that provides a determination of antibiotic resistance in less than three hours. Using minimal volumes, bacteria are grown on small photonic silicon chips. Technion Ph.D. student Heidi Leonard, who leads the research effort, explains that “By measuring how light reflects off the surface of these “bio-chips” (See Figure 1), we can determine whether bacteria are growing or dying in the presence of certain antibiotics and specific antibiotic concentrations. Importantly, our results are in excellent agreement with existing laboratory techniques.” The preliminary findings and concepts were recently published in ACS Nano.

In Europe alone, it is estimated that more than four million people per year acquire hospital-associated infections. Determining the correct antibiotic for an infection in a timely manner is critical for both a patient and to prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistance; however, a typical laboratory workup procedure requires 24 hours to confirm the presence of bacteria, and another 24–36 hours to identify the correct antibiotic to use. In total, the routine hospital lab time can take 1–3 days, during which time incorrect antibiotics may be administered, which can facilitate the growth of resistant strains. It is estimated that by the year 2050, antimicrobial resistance will be the cause of 10 million deaths per year worldwide, surpassing cancer to become the leading cause of death.

In addition to Heidi Leonard, Team Prismatix was comprised of Liran Holtzman, a graduate of the Technion Department of Biotechnology and Food Engineering; Prof. Ofer Nativ, chairman of the Department of Urology at Bnai Zion Medical Center; Prof. Sarel Halachmi, vice chairman of the Department of Urology at Bnai Zion Medical Center; Prof. Ester Segal, professor in Biotechnology and Food Engineering at the Technion; and Prof. Leigh Canham, a UK representative from the University of Birmingham.

For Team Prismatix, the Discovery Award will aid in the fabrication of disposable, microfluidic devices with integrated their photonic biochips in order to facilitate the analysis of clinical samples, such as urine and blood. The seeding grant is aimed to give the teams an advantage when applying for the final prize, sponsored by the innovation charity Nesta, of £10 million by September 2019, which already has over 240 teams (spanning across 41 countries) registered. In order to win the prize, the team must develop an affordable, fast, and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will allow health professionals to administer the correct antibiotics. For more information on Team Prismatix and the Longitude Award, click here.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a major source of the innovation and brainpower that drives the Israeli economy, and a key to Israel’s renown as the world’s “Start-Up Nation.” Its three Nobel Prize winners exemplify academic excellence. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world including life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation and nanotechnology. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a vital component of Cornell Tech, and a model for graduate applied science education that is expected to transform New York City’s economy.

American Technion Society (ATS) donors provide critical support for the Technion—more than $2 billion since its inception in 1940. Based in New York City, the ATS and its network of supporters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more.