The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic and its rapid spread throughout the world, with an immense impact in Europe, is the greatest global health challenge we have faced so far.
COVID-19 is being fought on many fronts: in hospitals, where those affected are being treated and cared for, and on the streets and in homes with the confinement of the population to reduce and slow infections. Laboratories are also fighting coronavirus, with thousands of researchers using all of their know-how and talent to better understand how the virus works, and to design new methods to diagnose patients, antiviral treatments to help those infected, and vaccines to help prevent future outbreaks.
BIST researchers are committed to fighting coronavirus by participating in generous social initiatives and donations, as well as launching several research projects in extensive international collaborations to help us overcome this pandemic and to prepare ways to avoid future threats.
The COVID-19 projects currently underway by BIST researchers are the following:
Standardising COVID-19 data analysis
Scientists are working day and night to better understand SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, so that they can find its weak spots and fight it. An immense amount of scientific data is being published around the world as scientists expand their research more and more. However, some of the technologies used to study SARS-CoV-2, such as nanopore RNA sequencing, are so new that the results of one paper aren’t comparable to another due to the patchwork of different standards and methodologies used and the fact that scientists and clinicians currently lack systematic guidelines for the reproducible analysis of the data, thereby limiting the vast potential of the technology.
Prof. Eva Novoa, leader of the Epitranscriptomics and RNA Dynamics Group at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), a BIST centre, has developed, along with her research group, MasterOfPores, a computer programme to standardise the analysis of publicly available SARS-CoV-2 nanopore sequencing data. The programme, which has been featured in Frontiers in Genetics, is free to use and publicly available and will help researchers more quickly and accurately study how different variations of the virus grow, mutate, and make proteins.
Link to resource: https://covid.crg.euKnow more about the research at CRG
Accelerating the detection of SARS-CoV-2
One of the main challenges we face right now is having rapid diagnostic systems that allow us to detect people infected with COVID-19 and isolate them to reduce the spread of the pandemic. This is the objective pursued by various European teams —of the University of Barcelona, the University of Marseille, the Italian National Institute of Infectious Diseases (INMI), and the ICN2, a BIST centre—, which are working together on developing a nanodevice that will detect the new coronavirus in just 30 minutes.
Prof. Laura Lechuga, CSIC Research Professor at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), where she leads the Nanobiosensors and Bioanalytical Applications Group, is leading and coordinating the CONVAT project, with funding from the European Commission and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. CONVAT will develop a point-of-care platform for rapid diagnosis and monitoring of coronavirus. The biosensor device will also allow for the analysis of different types of coronavirus present in reservoir animals, such as bats, to monitor the evolution of these viruses and prevent future infectious outbreaks in humans.Know more about the research at ICN2
Bioinformatics to identify available treatments
Screening and identifying molecules that could work against the virus using advanced modelling and computing techniques is one of the strategies to find rapidly effective treatments for COVID-19. If these molecules are already approved drugs to treat other diseases or are being tested in ongoing clinical trials, they can be accessible for patients faster.
Prof. Patrick Aloy, leader of the Structural Bioinformatics and Network Biology Group at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), a BIST centre, and ICREA Research Professor, is participating in the project RiPCoN (Rapid interaction profiling of 2019-nCoV for network-based deep drug-repurpose learning), led by the Institute of Network Biology (INET), in Neuherberg (Germany) and with the participation of the INSERM (Marseille, France). The project involves a computational study of the interactions between coronavirus and human cells, with the aim of identifying drugs that are already on the market or in trials and that could halt the spread of the virus.Know more about the research at IRB Barcelona
The kidneys as a COVID-19 infection pathway
An international team of researchers is looking for ways to stop coronavirus from replicating and affecting other cells once the human body is infected. The team is studying human kidney cells because, next to the lungs, the kidney is the organ most affected by coronavirus. The use of lab-produced kidney tissue, or organelles, can speed up the study of how COVID-19 enters the kidneys and the ways it can lead to kidney pathologies and deduce whether the same pathways are also affecting patients’ lungs.
Prof. Núria Montserrat, Leader of the Pluripotency for Organ Regeneration Group at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), a BIST centre, and ICREA Research Professor, has specialized in the generation and study of kidney organelles. This expertise was sought by the international team, made up of research groups in Sweden, Canada, Austria, and France.Know more about the research at IBEC