Dr. Ilovitsh received the grant from the "Israel science foundation" for her outstanding research of cancer treatment in Israel-China Joint Program of 2021

The grant will aid development of innovative methods to defeat tumors.

02 February 2021
Dr. Tali Ilovitsh
Dr. Tali Ilovitsh

Defeating cancer has been on the minds and hearts of scientists around the globe for decades. In the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tel Aviv University, Dr. Tali Ilovitsh is working on developing a method to destroy cancerous tumors. She is injecting microbubbles that bind to the cancel cells and then activate low-frequency ultrasound that causes those bubbles to explode like smart and targeted warheads, creating holes in cancer cells’ membranes and destroy the tumor.


Israel science foundation, the main body in charge of supporting groundbreaking research in Israel, announced the winners of the Israel-China Joint Program of 2021 and Dr. Ilovitsh is one of the recipients.


When discussing her research, she explains: "As part of the above grant, we will combine the mechanical treatment together with a thermal effect by heating the tumor in order to increase the immune system response and attack distant metastases”.


We talked with Dr. Ilovitsh to find out more about the mission of her research:


We know that you have PhD in Electrical Engineering. How did you arrive at the idea of focusing on cancer and tumors? 

"As an electrical engineer, my enthusiasm is towards the development of new technological platforms and tools. Towards the end of my PhD I was fascinated by the field of ultrasound and its vast applications in diagnostics and therapy, and this is my lab’s research field. One of the main advantages of ultrasound is its noninvasiveness, and we set out to develop a therapeutic platform for cancer therapy that in the future might replace invasive procedures such as surgical resection and help defeat cancer".


What are the goals of your research? Are they for all types of cancer or specific types only?

"In my lab we develop noninvasive medical ultrasound technologies for diagnostics, monitoring, and therapy. In the field of ultrasound imaging, we are developing optically-inspired ultrasonic techniques for overcoming current limitations in ultrasound imaging. In the field of ultrasound therapy, we utilize the unique ability of sound waves to penetrate deep into the body, in some cases even through an intact skull, and couple it with gas-bubbles. These bubbles are efficient theranostic probes that can be used for simultaneous imaging and controlled therapy at a targeted site. We develop enhanced ultrasound-mediated gene delivery methods, noninvasive ultrasound surgery for cancer therapy, and safe and precise blood brain barrier opening for brain therapy. In this grant our focus is on breast cancer, but in the future it could be used for other cancer types as well"


How will this grant help you achieve the goal of your research? 

"Nowadays, one of the main limitations in cancer therapy is the insufficient ability to treat metastases. Here, we aim to combine two effects: a mechanical effect to fractionate the tumor and a thermal effect to further destroy the tumor and stimulate the immune response. We believe that this combined approach could aid in eliminating distant tumors that were not directly treated and improve treatment outcomes"


Can you explain more in layman's terms, how this works?

"Microbubbles are microscopic bubbles filled with gas, with a diameter as small as one tenth of a blood vessel. At certain frequencies and pressures, sound waves cause the microbubbles to act like balloons: they expand and contract periodically. This process increases the transfer of substances from the blood vessels into the surrounding tissue. We discovered that using lower frequencies than those applied previously, microbubbles can significantly expand, until they explode violently. By injecting tumor-targeted microbubbles directly into tumors in a mouse model and applying low-frequency ultrasound, the majority of tumors cells were destroyed by the local explosion. However, it is not enough. In order to prevent the remaining cancer cells to spread, and trigger the immune system to attack distant cancer cells, we will combine the treatment with a thermal treatment. We will use mice that have tumors on both sides of their bodies, and conduct the treatment only on one side. With this approach we could observe the therapeutic effect on the distant side and optimize this cancer treatment". 


Could you tell us a bit more about the joint program with China? (China-Israel Joint Program Class of 2021) . What is your role in this program? 

"This is a joint research program that aims to encourage research cooperation between Israeli and Chinese scientists. The program is a cooperation between the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF), and is funded by the Chinese and Israeli governments. Me and my colleague Dr. Yi Feng (Department of Biomedical Engineering, Xi'an Jiaotong University), received the grant in the category of Life Sciences and Medical Sciences".


Do you have any tips you can provide to budding engineers?

"Find a field that you are interested in. This way, your daily job will also become your hobby".

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