Catalonia, and in particular Barcelona Metropolitan Area, is becoming a scientific hub. Leading infrastructure and innovative projects are turning Greater Barcelona into a research cluster. The Alba Synchrotron is the jewel infrastructure, which is joined by numerous research and scientific parks and centres.
Through its FET-Flagship programme, the European Commission is allocating €1 billion to each of the two main research projects in Europe. The first one is a project to explore the properties of graphene, a new material deriving from graphite that might revolutionise industry as silicon did a few decades ago. The second one will simulate a human brain in order to understand how it exactly works. The Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology is one of the nine leading institutes coordinating the graphene project, in which 623 research groups from 32 different countries will participate. Furthermore, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center will take care of the calculations at a molecular level in the Human Brain Project.
According to experiments tested on mice, Catalan scientists have affirmed that the stem cells located in the human umbilical chord, which are multipotential and therefore can become different types of cells, can be used to regenerate the tissue affected by a heart attack or a stroke. Until now the only way to recover the damaged tissue was through pharmacological treatment or a heart transplant.
A research group led by Catalan doctor Joaquim Bellmunt at the Hospital del Mar has shown in a study how important the time between two chemotherapy treatments is in increasing the curing rates of bladder cancer. The study was published by the journal ‘European Urology’ and has encouraged the researchers to develop new drugs for treating this type of tumour.
An international study with the participation of the Hospital Clínic IDIBAPS, which is a leading research centre at a world level on AIDS/HIV and other common diseases, has proved that an anti-retroviral treatment carried out just after the infection delays the damage to the patient’s immune system and reduces the risk of transmission. The results of clinical tests on 366 infected individuals confirmed that the sooner and longer an initial anti-retroviral treatment is applied, the later the life-long treatments have to start. However, despite the results, researchers insist that is still too soon to change the current AIDS/HIV treatment protocols.
The IDIBAPS has opened a new research centre of more than 5,000 m2, where more than 200 researchers split into 23 different research groups will be working. It will focus its work on oncology, neurosciences and cell therapies along with infectious, respiratory, cardiovascular and renal diseases. The new centre has been possible thanks to a donation by the private foundation CELLEX, sponsored by Pere Mir. The new centre is located within the University of Barcelona’s Faculty of Medicine, which is integrated into the prestigious Hospital Clínic. The centre consolidates Catalonia, and in particular Barcelona, as one of Europe’s main biomedical poles.
The scientists working at the HIVACAT project for the development of an effective cure against the HIV virus are hopeful of finding a vaccine in the near future that would stop patients having to be treated for their whole life, actually eradicating the disease. The researchers have tested a first vaccine that has proved effective in reducing the viral load by up to 95%. However, the vaccine effects are only temporary, so researchers will continue the investigation in order to achieve a permanent effect.
A study undertaken by the Catalan Association of Public Universities shows that 64% of all funds for research came from public or private competition processes. This shows the Catalan university system’s capacity to attract this type of funds, which leads the study to conclude that the system is “solid”, “at the forefront” in Spain and “comparable” to the university systems of the most advanced EU countries. In 2012, the total budget for research in Catalonia’s public universities was €346 million, which represented 20% of their total budget.
The Barcelona-based Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) has identified two proteins that block the metastasis of rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that represents 8% of this sort of illness in children. These two proteins are related to cellular proliferation and growth as well as having the capacity to migrate to other organs. The study opens the door to the development of new treatments targeting these two proteins. The study was funded by the foundation of the Catalan Public TV Broadcaster and it has been published in the British Journal of Cancer (BJC).
Scientists from the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory at the Barcelona Institute of Biomedical Research (IRB) have discovered the essential process that allows colon cancer cells to metastasise. They have concluded that tumour cells need to form alliances with healthy cells in order to be able to colonise other organs. Tumour cells can survive in the transition period during the metastasis process thanks to a protein (interleukin-11), which is produced by healthy cells that are exposed to another protein (TGF-beta) present in the tumour’s microenvironment. This discovery may lead to new treatments and diagnostic proceedings for colon cancer patients. A test to predict relapse cases and target treatments is likely to be ready in 5 years. The study has been published by the prestigious journal Cancer Cell.
For the first time in the world, Barcelona’s Vall d’Hebron Hospital removes two tumours through the body’s natural holes without the support of laparoscopy. This technique allows the patient to recover much quicker, since there are no external wounds to cicatrise. They have successfully removed a colon tumour and a stomach one, from two different patients who had recovered without complications.
A study developed by researchers from Barcelona’s Center of Regenerative Medicine and California’s Gene Expression Laboratory of the Salk Institute identified a mutation in the nucleus of human neural stem cells that is linked to Parkinson’s, which may help to diagnose the disease and open a new field for targeted treatments. The prestigious journal ‘Nature’ published the study, which could also help to explain why the Parkinson’s disease is often associated with clinical depression and anxiety. The Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona is directed by Juan Carlos Izpisúa, who participated in the study; it is located in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, next to the Hospital del Mar.
A team of researchers led by a researcher from the Barcelona Centre for International Health Research (CRESIB) examined incidences of malaria in analyses involving 1,975 children between 0 and 14 years old in Papua New Guinea. The study found that children with a specific genetic defect had increased protection against Plasmodium vivax malaria. The results challenge the theory that only the most deadly malarial parasite had an affect on the evolution of the human genome.