Haifa girl wins annual Young Scientists Competition

Suggests replacing worn spinal discs with polymer injection.

March 25, 2010 06:43
2 minute read.
Adi Friedman

adi friedman 58. (photo credit: Judy Seigel)

Adi Friedman, a pupil at Haifa’s Leo Baeck High School, will get a full university scholarship for taking first prize in the annual Intel-Israel Young Scientists Competition for her technique for replacing eroded spinal discs by injecting a hydrogel polymer instead of major surgery.

Friedman, who developed and tested her entry with help from a Technion-Israel Institute of Technology scientist and her school adviser, was told of her top prize by President Shimon Peres at Beit Hanassi on Wednesday after competing with 59 other teenagers who presented 40 projects at Jerusalem’s Bloomfield Science Museum.

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The science pupil told The Jerusalem Post that conventionally, eroded discs that pad the 23 vertebra from the neck to the pelvis may have to be removed by surgery under general anesthesia, with metal and elastic segments inserted instead. But many times, these implants do not eliminate the pain.

Instead, she developed a synthetic “smart polymer” that can be injected between the spinal discs and interacts with the cells. It is liquid at room temperature but turns into a gel at body temperature and becomes more cartilage-like the longer it remains in place. Natural spinal discs are made of cartilage, protein and water. The artificial discs, she said, become more resilient when irradiated with ultraviolet rays, which can also be done from outside the body.

Friedman got the idea when her father suffered from pain due to an eroded spinal disc. Although she, of course, did not try the new material on any patients, she tested the material for suitability and hopes it will eventually go forward toward clinical implementation. No side effects were observed in the lab. About a quarter of adults suffer from spinal disc pain. Her original development helps the injured disc repair itself in a natural healing process.

Intel-Israel director-general and world Intel vice president Maxine Fassberg said that “great ideas begin by giving an equal chance to all. In this competition, pupils are given the opportunity to begin a wonderful journey of scientific discovery.”

Yishai Frankel, director of development at Intel’s Jerusalem facility, told the Post as the judges interviewed the competitors at the museum that the level of achievement seems to rise from year to year. Intel-Israel identifies the most promising and helps them prepare their entry and make contact with businesses that might be interested in implementing their ideas, he said.

Friedman was chosen for the top prize by a panel of judges headed by Hebrew University Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund. They awarded the second prize to two projects – one on the effects of galactin-8 on the process of bone absorption (by Nitai Aspis of Kibbutz Sasa), and on the magnetic characteristics of nanocrystal materials (to Daniel Neumark of the Amit Comprehensive Religious School in Beersheba).

Third prize was divided among Harel Levine, Uri Rabi and Yosef Racin for developing a cellular phone ear-piece that works on soundwaves without radiation; Adi Hershko for investigating the effects of zoo visitors on chimpanzee behavior; and Pavel Pedayev for his work on regions for the creation of HII-type stars. The top winners will represent Israel in the World Intel Young Scientists Competition and in the US.

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