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Two IRB Barcelona projects funded by the 2021 CaixaResearch call for Health Research




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"la Caixa" Foundation backs 30 projects of excellence in health research with a total of €22.1M

Cutting-edge and transformative research and innovation is possible only when supported by solid funding. In this context, ”la Caixa” Foundation has announced the 30 projects selected in the 2021 CaixaResearch call for Health Research, two of which are led by IRB Barcelona researchers.

The project headed by Dr. Antonio Zorzano, leader of the Complex Metabolic Diseases and Mitochondria lab, focuses on the importance of metabolism to unravel non-alcoholic fatty liver. Dr. Toni Gabaldón, ICREA researcher and head of the Comparative Genomics lab, leads a project aimed at finding new drugs to treat candidiasis.

Conducted in research centres and universities in Spain and Portugal, the 30 biomedical and research projects of excellence 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.

Through these grants, ”la Caixa” Foundation seeks to promote research projects undertaken in centres in Spain and Portugal in collaboration with other international institutions, with the final goal of translating their results into benefits for social health and well-being.

Understanding obesity to combat non-alcoholic fatty liver

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 the development of new diagnostic tools and therapeutic targets for one of the most serious forms of fatty liver, namely non-alcoholic steatohepatitis," says Dr. Zorzano, Supported by around €1M of funding, this project will be developed in a consortium involving the Pere Virgili Institute for Health Research (IISPV) and the University of Barcelona.

In search of new drugs against candidiasis

Candidiasis is a growing public health problem. For example, 80% 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, it 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 Dr. Gabaldón. The project has received around €500,000.


An ambitious call to promote the most promising initiatives

The CaixaResearch call is conducted in partnership with the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), under the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, which contributes €2.6 M to subsidise 5 of the 12 Portuguese projects selected. This partnership is achieved through the creation of grants and has supported a total of 14 projects led by organisations in Portugal, thereby promoting collaboration between research centres and universities in Spain and Portugal. The call is also supported by the Luzón Foundation, which co-finances a project on ALS, together with ”la Caixa” Foundation.

The call seeks to identify and support initiatives with the most promise, the greatest level of scientific excellence, and the greatest potential value and social impact, both in basic and clinical, translational and innovation research. To this end, a team of more than 540 international experts remotely evaluated the 644 proposals presented this year. In the second evaluation phase, five expert committees interviewed the main researchers of the 70 shortlisted proposals and chose the top 30, highlighting the high quality and relevance of these projects in their respective fields of research.

All the selected projects focus on tackling some of the diseases that have the greatest impact on health worldwide. This year, the CaixaResearch call for Health Research is supporting projects of excellence in the fields of oncology (9 projects), neuroscience (9 projects), cardiovascular disease and related metabolic diseases (6 projects) and infectious diseases (6 projects). Several of the winning proposals will develop biomedical technologies addressing some of these health challenges.


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About IRB Barcelona

The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) pursues a society free of disease. To this end, it conducts multidisciplinary research of excellence to cure cancer and other diseases linked to ageing. It establishes technology transfer agreements with the pharmaceutical industry and major hospitals to bring research results closer to society, and organises a range of science outreach activities to engage the public in an open dialogue. IRB Barcelona is an international centre that hosts 400 researchers and more than 30 nationalities. Recognised as a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence since 2011, IRB Barcelona is a CERCA centre and member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).