IBEC receives nearly one million euros to study respiratory diseases caused by viruses

By July 7, 2022July 11th, 2022IBEC

• The Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) is part of the REACT project, which recently received €7 million from the EU Horizon Europe programme, and is led by Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut.

• IBEC, with a budget of €913,000 of the total, will generate specific human nasal epithelial organoids as validation platforms and preclinical models for investigating host-pathogen interaction.

This week saw the green light given to REACT, an ambitious project that aims to investigate why the severity of viral respiratory disease is so variable, causing some people to become severely ill after infection.

Lower respiratory tract infections resulting from seasonal epidemics and pandemics are among the leading causes of death worldwide. According to a WHO report, they are the fourth most common cause of death in the world, and the second most common cause of death in low-income countries.

In order to provide solutions and fundamental knowledge that can explain which factors can predict the severity of viral respiratory disease progression, the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark will coordinate the REACT project with €7 million in funding from the EU Horizon Europe programme.

The BIST centre IBEC, with a budget of €913,000 of the total, will participate by generating specific human nasal epithelial organoids as validation platforms and preclinical models to investigate host-pathogen interaction, in order to detect the cause that determines the increased susceptibility to severe lower respiratory tract infections.

From this perspective, organoids offer an unprecedented in vitro platform to study virus-host interactions in a multicellular context,” comments Nuria Montserrat, ICREA research professor at IBEC, coordinator of the Biobanks and Biomodels platform at the Instituto de Salud Carlos III, and an international leader in the generation of human organoids created from stem cells.

Given the scarce treatment options available for viral respiratory pathogens and the urgent need for new models for early prediction of outcomes in order to personalise treatments, the REACT consortium includes experts in virology, immunology, clinical medicine, epidemiology, and bioinformatics. The consortium will analyse host-pathogen interactions in viral infections of the respiratory tract using new approaches.

The research team will focus on the three predominant viruses with the capacity to compromise the lower respiratory tract: influenza virus (or flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and SARS-CoV-2.

Key to the project will be investigating how the body’s immune response and two cell types that play a key role in this process – the so-called B cells, which produce antibodies, and the T cells, which eliminate virus-infected cells – are activated.

Within the REACT project, IBEC will continue working on the development of these biomodels to help determine the common and specific characteristics of viral infection, identifying the factors that determine a greater susceptibility to COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory infections,” says Nuria Montserrat. “In addition, in this project we are going to develop these new cellular models from biological samples from the National Biobanks and Biomodels Platform of the Carlos III Health Institute,” she adds.

The REACT project will publish all data from its research on a platform open to clinicians, researchers, health authorities, and society at large, giving them direct and immediate access to the findings, and facilitating future development of personalised treatments and vaccines.

A total of seven institutions are involved in the project, including four Danish, two Swedish, two Spanish, and one South African: Statens Serum Institut (coordinating institution), Region Hovedstaden, Danmarks Tekniske Universitet, Kobenhavns Universitet and Zealco Region Sjaelland, in Denmark; Karolinska Institutet and Ulund Lunds Universitet, in Sweden; the Centro Nacional Investigaciones Oncologicas (CNIO) and the Institut de Bioenginyeria de Catalunya (IBEC), in Spain; and the Wits Health Consortium in South Africa.

Learn more on the IBEC website.