”La Caixa” Foundation Grants Euros 900,000 to Eight Spanish Scientific Teams for Research on Neurodegenerative Diseases
Barcelona, 15 October 2002
The eight teams subsidised in the 2002 Call for Aid will study the genetic and molecular causes of Alzheimer’s disease, the regeneration of brain tissue via transplants, the diagnosis and treatment of demyelinating diseases and the origin of a broad spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases.
Starting at 9:30 a.m., the auditorium at CaixaForum will today be hosting a scientific symposium in conjunction with the 6th Call for Aid for Research on Neurodegenerative Diseases. During the course of the session, the provisional results will be presented from the projects selected by ”la Caixa” Foundation in the 2000 and 2001 Calls for Aid, and the eight scientific teams chosen to receive research assistance this year (2002) will be awarded their grants-in-aid.
In the main, the research carried out within the framework of this year’s Call for Aid will focus on studying the molecular causes of Alzheimer’s disease, the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases via transplants of mother cells and the genetic and pharmacological research into demyelinating diseases. Attention will also be placed on less frequent neurodegenerative pathologies and the study of apoptosis (or cellular suicide) as a cause of neurodegeneration.
*Alzheimer’s disease, a scientific challenge
In this sixth edition of the aid programme sponsored by ”la Caixa” Foundation, two research projects specifically focused on the study of Alzheimer’s disease have been selected. These projects will place emphasis on the genetic and molecular causes of the disease as a starting point in its diagnosis and treatment.
– The team led by Dr. Rafael Franco Fernández, of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Barcelona, will perform a genetic study on Alzheimer’s disease, in an attempt to prove the hypothesis that this disease is bound up with receptor defects in glutamate and adenosine neurotransmitters. Should this supposition be borne out, these receptors could become the targets of new pharmacological treatments of the disease.
– Dr. Laura Torroja Fungairiño and her team from the Faculty of Science at the Autonomous University of Madrid will study the function of APP, a molecule implicated in some hereditary forms of Alzheimer’s disease, and its relation with synapse formation (connections between neurons). Their research, which will use laboratory animals to study the process of synapse formation and its relation with the presence of APP, will enable us to gain a better understanding of the origins of this disease.
*Research into demyelinating diseases
Two research teams have taken on the study of demyelinating diseases: Chacot-Marie-Tooth syndrome and multiple sclerosis, either by conducting research on their genetic origin or testing new drugs to fight their effects.
– The team headed by Dr. Francesc Palau Martínez, from the Institute of Biomedicine of Valencia (CSIC), will study the relationship between this disease and anomalies in the GDAP1 gene. Based on this information, a transgenic rat will be devised that may serve as an animal model for the disease in future research.
– The joint project directed by Dr. Juan Antonio García Merino, of the Puerta del Hierro Clinic (INSALUD), and Dr. Bernardo Herradón García, of the Organic Chemistry Institute (CSIC), will do research on the role played by calpain enzymes in neurodegenerative processes associated with multiple sclerosis. Their goal is to design substances capable of stopping the action of these molecules and to study their effectiveness in hindering the disease’s progress.
*Mother cell transplants to fight against neurodegeneration
The third area of research subsidised by Fundació ”la Caixa” is experimental research on mother cells aimed at studying their capacity to generate what can serve as the raw material for brain tissue transplants in patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
– Dr. Salvador Martínez Pérez and his team from the Institute of Neuroscience at Miguel Hernández University (Alicante) will study the effectiveness of transplants using three types of mother cells, obtained from the central nervous system, the blood of the umbilical cord and bone marrow, respectively. Transplants will be tested on animal models of four neurodegenerative diseases: multiple sclerosis, cerebellar ataxias (produced by the degeneration of Purkinje cells in the cerebellum), Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The three remaining research projects focus on three different fields of study: studying the genetic causes of megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts; researching the manner in which prions produce neurodegeneration in diseases such as Creutzfeld-Jakob syndrome; and revealing the mechanisms of apoptosis (programmed cellular death), which comes into play in a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases.
– Dr. Manuel Palacín Prieto and his team from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Barcelona will conduct research on the mechanisms that produce megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts, a disease associated with alterations in the MLC1 gene. The results of this research may also help to understand the causes of catatonic schizophrenia, a type of schizophrenia whose origin also seems to be linked with mutations of this gene.
– A team directed by Dr. Jesús Rodríguez Requena, from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Santiago de Compostela, will study the relationship between the accumulation of prions and neurodegeneration. If their hypothesis that neuronal damage is caused by oxidative stress is confirmed, testing with anti-oxidant drugs could be performed in order to treat these diseases.
– The research project led by Dr. Joan Comella Carnicé, from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Lleida, seeks to develop a generic approach to combating neurodegenerative diseases based on the hypothesis that neurodegeneration is mediated by proteins known as “death receptors”. Thus, an attempt will be made to study the action of two proteinsFAIM and LFGthat may serve to impede processes of apoptosis (cellular suicide) brought about by neurodegenerative diseases.
”la Caixa” Foundation and neurodegenerative diseases
Since 1997, ”la Caixa” Foundation has sponsored six editions of its programme to aid research on neurodegenerative diseases, as a result of which the 55 research projects that have been selected have received aid amounting to a total of Euros 4.7 million.
The research areas of the projects financed by Fundació ”la Caixa” have been extremely diverse, both insofar as the diseases studied and the approaches used are concerned. Thus, aid has been granted for epidemiological, clinical, pharmacological, biochemical and genetic research, maintaining a careful balance between basic and applied research. Regarding the diseases studied, studies have been conducted on Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, ataxias and even autism. Nevertheless, the pathology that has received the most attention has been Alzheimer’s, a disease with an extremely high occurrence rate: it is calculated that it affects up to 15% of the Spanish population over 65 years of age.
The Call for Aid for Research on Neurodegenerative Diseases forms part of the programme sponsored by Fundació ”la Caixa” that is dedicated to Alzheimer’s. The objective of this programme is to provide information about the scope of this disease and, inasmuch as possible, enhance the lives of those persons suffering from it. Activities are carried out in four different areas: caring for the patients, providing support and information to family members, increasing the awareness of young people about the disease and research.
In the first of these areas, attending to the patients, ”la Caixa” Foundation has entered into collaborative agreements with numerous public and private entities that are striving to improve the lives of those people with Alzheimer’s. These initiatives are rounded out with informational sessions and workshops for the family members that take care of the affected person, and they verse on such aspects as relaxation techniques, nutrition, passive physical therapy and how to care for persons in the advanced stages of the disease.
”la Caixa” Foundaion also organises a wide array of informational activities dealing with different facets of the disease and practical issues that caretakers may be faced with at any time, as well as seminars and symposiums targeted at professionals in sociosanitary fields.
In order to increase the awareness of young people who must cope with the difficulties of the disease on a personal level, ”la Caixa” Foundation also offers a series of materials such as stories, games and comics designed to help them gain a better grasp of the situation.