Five projects from the BIST centres receive CaixaResearch Health Grants

By August 12, 2021August 17th, 2021BIST

Projects led by researchers at the BIST centres CRG, IBEC, and IRB Barcelona have been awarded 2021 CaixaResearch Health Grants.

Thirty cutting-edge biomedical research projects have been selected out of 644 applications in the 2021 CaixaResearch call for health research projects. The chosen projects address major health challenges within five thematic areas: cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, neuroscience, infectious diseases, oncology, and enabling technologies. The initiative aims to enable researchers to translate their work into benefits for social health and wellbeing.

Conducted in research centres and universities in Spain and Portugal, the 30 projects have been awarded a total of €22.1M over the next three years. Nine of the selected projects will be carried out in research centres in Catalonia, and five are led by BIST researchers. Another five come from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC).

Studying cancer at CRG

Juan Valcárcel, ICREA Research Professor at the BIST centre CRG, is leading a project that aims to identify new therapeutic targets for cancer. RBM10 is a gene that encodes for a protein which regulates vital biological functions such as development, inflammation, and cardiac health. Alterations to this gene have been linked to tumour development in 10% of lung cancer cases, 5-8% of bladder cancers, and 5% of pancreatic cases. Collectively this results in 1.5 million new cases each year worldwide.

Prof. Valcárcel’s previous research has helped establish a role for the inactivation of the RBM10 gene in lung cancer growth. The CaixaResearch funding will help him and his team further study the consequences of RBM10 inactivation in bladder and pancreatic tumours, with the aim of identifying new therapeutic targets. The team will collaborate with Francisco X. Real’s group at CNIO in Madrid.

Learn more about this project here.

Dementia research at CRG and IBEC

CRG’s ICREA Research Professor Ben Lehner and IBEC’s Junior Group Leader Benedetta Bolognesi will work on a project targeting dementia. Neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the pathological accumulation of certain proteins in the brain. These come in various forms, such as beta-amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s, alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s, and Tau proteins in frontotemporal dementia. Certain mutations cause some people to accelerate the formation of protein deposits in the brain, leading them to develop in frequent and more aggressive forms of these conditions.

Dr. Lehner and Dr. Bolognesi aim to better understand the variants that cause these neurodegenerative diseases, to develop methods to predict whether a person is more susceptible to dementia, and to develop new prevention strategies.

Learn more about this project here.

Nanorobots against cancer at IBEC

Nanobots are nanomachines capable of “swimming” by themselves and transporting drugs in a targeted way into cancer cells, accumulating in specific locations and reducing side effects. Samuel Sánchez, ICREA Research Professor and Principal Investigator of the “Smart Nano-Bio Devices” group at IBEC, is a pioneer in this field, having developed nanobots for the most abundant bladder fuel: urea. The project BLADDEBOTS will make use of urea-driven multifunctional nanobots one million times smaller than human hair.

BLADDEBOTS will establish a new reference point in nanomedicine and in the intelligent and personalised administration of drugs for the treatment of cancer, providing improved penetration into patients’ bladders, a customised design for patient-derived samples, and efficient in vivo therapies. To monitor the movement and location of nanobots, as well as the progression of the disease in vivo, Sánchez’s collaborators at CIC BIOMAGUNE will use high-end molecular imaging tools and avant-garde techniques such as positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance.

Learn more about this project here.

Understanding obesity to combat non-alcoholic fatty liver at IRB Barcelona

Obesity and diabetes are two public health pandemics that have contributed to the increase in chronic liver diseases, the most prevalent of which is non-alcoholic fatty liver. This condition is difficult to diagnose and has no treatment. In addition, the accumulation of fat in liver cells can trigger cirrhosis or liver cancer over time.

Our project studies some metabolic markers that will allow for the development of new diagnostic tools and therapeutic targets for one of the most serious forms of fatty liver, namely non-alcoholic steatohepatitis,” says Antonio Zorzano, leader of the project. Supported by about €1M of funding, the project will be developed in a consortium involving the Pere Virgili Institute for Health Research (IISPV) and the University of Barcelona.

Learn more about this project here.

In search of new drugs against candidiasis at IRB Barcelona

Candidiasis is a growing public health problem. Eighty percent of women will have vaginal candidiasis at some point in their lives. This infection can be vaginal, oral, or systemic. Caused by different species of fungi, the infection is difficult to diagnose and, in some cases, has high mortality rates, especially when systemic. Moreover, treatments are limited due to high drug resistance.

The project that we are now launching seeks to improve the diagnosis of candidiasis and design new therapies by searching for patterns of infection and adaptation to drugs of the different candid species,” explains project lead Toni Gabaldón. The project has received around €500,000 through the CaixaResearch grant.

Learn more about this project here.