Cleaning the air of respiratory viruses, combating the resistance of infections to antibiotics, curing persistent covid, regenerating heart tissue after a heart attack, or developing a nanotechnology therapy to curb Parkinson’s disease. These are the objectives of some of the projects selected in the fifth call of the “la Caixa” Foundation’s CaixaResearch program for Health Research. Thirty-three cutting-edge research projects carried out in centers and universities in Spain and Portugal will receive more than €23 million.
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Since 2018, “la Caixa” Foundation has allocated nearly €95 million to 138 research projects
This initiative, unique in the Iberian sphere, aims to identify and promote basic, clinical, and advanced research excellence. The aim is to generate new knowledge to combat the most common serious diseases -cardiovascular, oncological, infectious, and neurological-, but also to retain and attract research talent. Since CaixaResearch kicked off in 2018, “la Caixa” Foundation has allocated nearly €95 million to 138 projects.
As in previous editions, an international committee of experts has been in charge of evaluating the 546 proposals and choosing those with the greatest potential value and social impact. The grants are up to €500,000 for initiatives presented by a single organization and up to one million euros for those involving between two and five entities. The 20 Spanish and 13 Portuguese research projects, to be developed over the next three years, reflect the dominant trends in medical research.
In search of the antibiotics of the future
It is estimated that by 2050 antimicrobial resistance will cause more deaths than cancer. This is one of the great challenges facing medicine today. Indeed, one-third of the projects in the 2022 edition of CaixaResearch are aimed at tackling infectious diseases. Of particular note are two of them, dedicated to alleviating antibiotic resistance, at the University of Porto and the Institute of Integrative Systems Biology of the CSIC and the University of Valencia. In the latter, Alfonso Jaramillo is leading the development of a new generation of protein-based antimicrobial molecules capable of anticipating the mutations that make bacteria resistant and without the side effects of classical antibiotics.
Two other projects are aimed at improving the understanding of the functioning of the immune system. At the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center of the CSIC and the Autonomous University of Madrid, the team led by Nuria Martínez is analyzing the communication between immune cells to identify the different responses to pathogens and to be able to test more effective therapies. At the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute, Esteban Ballestar is leading research focused on immunodeficient systems.
Against cancer and cardiac pathologies
Once again this year, cancer, with eight projects, is another of the areas with the highest research density on the CaixaResearch roster. Andrés Aguilera is leading the team at the Andalusian Center for Molecular Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Seville, which is analyzing one of the fundamental mechanisms in the appearance of tumors: alterations in the transmission of genetic information from one cell to another during cell reproduction. At the University of Lisbon, Helena Florindo’s group is working on the development of a nanoimmunotherapy to combat brain metastases from breast cancer.
Cardiovascular diseases continue to be the main cause of mortality in Spain and the rest of the world. Five projects recognized in this latest CaixaResearch call are dedicated to the heart and related metabolic pathologies. A group from the University of the Algarve, the University of Valladolid, and the Carlos III-CNIC National Center for Cardiovascular Research is testing a method for rapid diagnosis of coronary heart disease, more effective than magnetic resonance imaging and less invasive than coronary angiography, to prevent early mortality. Another consortium between the Carlos III Center, the Josep Carreras Foundation, the Center for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, and the Aachen University Hospital in Germany is going to the root of the problem, the poor regenerative capacity of heart tissue, and is exploring therapies to help improve it.
Today’s research, tomorrow’s therapies
The neurosciences area has nine projects. A group of researchers from Barcelona (Vall’ d’Hebron Institute and UAB) and Valencia (Príncipe Felipe Research Center) are testing a revolutionary way to introduce a therapy of proven efficacy into the nervous system for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease thanks to an innovative nanomedicine technology.
The fight against Covid is also the focus of several research projects. One of them, led at ICREA in Barcelona by Christian Brander, explores the concomitances of persistent Covid with the epigenetic alterations caused by HIV. Also directed against Covid and other respiratory viruses is a new air purification technology using oxidative stress that CSIC is developing in collaboration with the Severo Ochoa and La Paz hospitals in Madrid.
Through the call for research in health or projects such as the future CaixaResearch Institute, “la Caixa” Foundation seeks to have a positive impact on the health of citizens because today’s research is tomorrow’s medical advances. With the 2022 edition resolved, the 2023 call is now open. The deadline for submission is November 15th.
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