The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic and its spread throughout the world, with an immense impact in Europe, has been the greatest global health challenge we have faced so far.
Researchers all over the world have been using their know-how and talent to combat the virus by developing effective vaccines, designing new methods to quickly diagnose patients, and advancing knowledge about effective disinfection. The work of scientists has been indispensable.
BIST researchers have been fighting coronavirus from the very beginning of the pandemic. They have participated in generous social initiatives and donations, and launched impactful research projects in extensive international collaborations to help overcome this pandemic and to prepare ways to avoid future threats. Read about some of the research underway at the BIST centres below.
The CoNVat project: Accelerating the detection of SARS-CoV-2
A big challenge we are currently facing is the need for rapid diagnostic systems that detect people with COVID-19 and isolate them to reduce the spread of the pandemic. This objective is being pursued by various European teams —at the University of Barcelona, the University of Marseille, the Italian National Institute of Infectious Diseases (INMI), and the BIST centre ICN2—, who are working together to develop a nanodevice to detect 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, one of 17 urgent COVID-19 projects funded by the European Commission, 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 outbreaks in humans. The CoNVaT project has received significant media attention, appearing in more than 200 individual pieces in European and international media specialised in science and healthcare, as well as numerous other pieces in the general press.
Using kidney receptors to fight COVID-19 infection
Fighting the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic requires international collaborations and rapid translation of research findings to industry partners. The MAD-CoV 2 project is funded by the European Commission and involves a multidisciplinary team from France, Austria, Germany, the UK, Sweden, and Spain. The collaboration, which includes the BIST centre IBEC, studies coronavirus infections in host cells and quickly translates the knowledge into new medicines and health protocols. Recent studies have shown the coronavirus can infect the human body by way of binding to ACE2 receptors (present in several human organs including the kidneys) and the MAD-CoV 2 team aims to better understand the role of ACE2 in coronavirus infection, and to develop new antivirals against the virus and other diseases.
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 specialised in the generation and study of kidney organelles. She has already identified a drug that blocks the effects of SARS-Co-V2. The results were published in the journal Cell (DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.004) and are key for the MAD-CoV 2 project’s objectives. Prof. Montserrat has also received several prestigious awards since the start of the pandemic, including the EMBO Young Investigator Prize, an ERC Consolidator Grant, and the Constantes y Vitales award for best biomedical publication of the year.
Compact devices to detect the evolution of COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has sent many into intensive care units (ICUs), often to receive invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV) which, although potentially lifesaving when used in the correct cases, can also cause ventilator-induced lung injuries. Research shows one of the main features of COVID-19 is damage to blood vessels. Monitoring a patient’s blood flow in the ICU is critical for understanding how the disease is evolving and whether IMV is necessary.
Prof. Turgut Durduran, an ICREA Research Professor at the BIST centre ICFO leads the international project VASCOVID, which will deploy and mature a portable, non-invasive, and real-time health monitoring device to assess microvascular health in COVID-19 ICU patients. The unit will help to determine whether aggressive respiratory therapy is needed. This initiative is a sister project of the HEMOCOVID-19 consortium, an international group led by ICFO and Hospital Parc Taulí that has already tested a first version of the tool. VASCOVID, which was selected for funding in the European Commission’s emergency call for innovation, will improve the commercial technology that has already been developed by providing more accurate biomarkers for prognostic purposes. VASCOVID involves seven partners from Spain, Ireland, Italy, and the Netherlands, and has been featured extensively in local and international media.
Other COVID-19 projects
Many other projects focused on the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and analysis of COVID-19 are ongoing at the BIST centres. Some of these are:
• Susceptibility to COVID-19 of people with Down syndrome
• Animals and susceptibility to coronavirus infection
• Folding@Home: Computing resources at the service of COVID-19 research
• Impact of COVID-19 confinement measures on mental health
• Master of Pores: A programme to standardise international COVID19 data analysis
To follow the latest news about COVID-19 research at BIST, click below.MORE NEWS ABOUT COVID-19 RESEARCH AT BIST