BIST researchers receive 2020 “laCaixa” Health Research Grants

By September 7, 2020January 4th, 2021BIST, CRG, IBEC, IRB Barcelona

Projects led by BIST researchers Elena Martinez, Xavier Trepat, and Pere Roca-Cusachs from IBEC, Manuel Irimia and Luciano di Croce from CRG, and Manuel Palacín from IRB Barcelona all received 2020 “laCaixa” Health Research Grants.

From new therapeutic targets for diabetes, to new treatments for schizophrenia, to personalised therapy for rare childhood cancers, and much more, the “laCaixa” Health Research projects led by BIST researchers are innovative and disruptive.

This year’s “laCaixa” Health Research Grants are the third edition of a call aimed at fostering biomedical and health research projects with high social impact. Of the 25 projects awarded, five are led by researchers from BIST centres and will receive nearly four million euros in total to use over three years to turn their ideas into meaningful results.

New therapeutic targets for diabetes
Diabetes is one of the biggest public health problems we face today. It occurs when pancreatic beta cells become damaged and can no longer make and secrete insulin. Manuel Irimia‘s project, which received nearly €500,000 in funding, aims to analyse the role of microexons – small pieces of genetic material – in changing beta-cell proteins. The work will contribute to finding new therapeutic targets for treating diabetes.

Irimia is an ICREA Research Professor and leader of the Transcriptomics of Vertebrate Development and Evolution Group at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (a BIST centre).

3D bioprinting, a new tool to improve cancer survival rates
Elena Martinez
has received nearly one million euros in funding to work on combining 3D bioprinting and liquid biopsy techniques in an organ-on-a-chip device. The work aims to discover new tools for following how metastatic colorectal cancers evolve in patients and hopes to improve survival rates.

Martinez is the leader of the Biomimetic Systems for Cell Engineering Group at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC, a BIST centre) and will receive nearly one million euros to complete her project with collaborators Lorena Diéguez (Laboratorio Ibérico Internacional de Nanotecnología) and Elena Elez (Fundació Institut Investigació Oncològica Vall Hebrón).

New treatments for schizophrenia and ictus
Manuel Palacín has received nearly €500,000 to study the atomic structure of an amino acid transporter protein key in regulating glutamate receptors. These receptors do not work properly in people with ictus and schizophrenia and Palacín’s project aims to design new compounds targeted to the amino acid transporter to improve their functioning.

Palacín is leader of the Amino Acid Transporters and Diseases Group at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona, a BIST centre) and will complete the project in collaboration with Oscar Llorca of the Fundación del Sector Público Estatal Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas Carlos III.

Personalised therapy against a rare childhood cancer
Luciano Di Croce‘s project entitled “Virtual patient derived xenografts for tumor treatment (vPDX)” aims to study brain stem glioma, a rare tumour primarily affecting children. Since the tumour varies greatly from patient to patient, personalised therapy is important treatment option that Di Croce is exploring. He plans to create a 3D multicellular reconstruction of the tumour using personalised models of the patient in mice, with the eventual goal of testing individualised treatments.

Luciano Di Croce is leader of the Epigenetic Events in Cancer Group at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG, a BIST centre) and will collaborate with Jaume Mora from the Fundació Sant Joan de Déu in the project, which has received nearly one million euros in funding.

Fluorescent sensors to study the physical forces in tumours
Malignant tumours have the capacity to spread to surrounding tissues and organs. Studying these mechanisms requires technologies to visualise the processes happening in cell nuclei. The project entitled “Enabling technologies to map nuclear mechanosensing: from organoids to tumors (Mech4Cancer)” will be led by Xavier Trepat, along with Pere Roca-Cusach, and aims to create a new type of sensor that can be used to see the processes inside the cell nucleus during metastasis, with the goal of finding new options for diagnosis and treatment.

Xavier Trepat is an ICREA Research Professor and leader of the IBEC Integrative Cell and Tissue Dynamics Group. Pere Roca-Cusachs is leader of the IBEC Cellular and Molecular Mechanobiology Group. Their project has received nearly one million euros in funding and will be conducted in collaboration with Jacco van Rheenen (Netherlands Cancer Institute).

Congratulations to all recipients!

More information can be found at the links below:
-> IBEC press release
-> IRB Barcelona press release
-> “laCaixa” Health Research Awards