”la Caixa” Foundation allots 1,742,000 euros to basic research into neurodegenerative diseases and cancer
Barcelona, 13 October 2003
”la Caixa” Foundation has signed 20 agreements with Spanish research teams within the framework of its competitions for research grants in the fields of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer for 2003. Twelve scientific teams will be awarded grants to investigate the causes of neurodegenerative diseases and to develop therapies for treating them. Six of these teams are from Madrid, three from Barcelona, two from Alicante and one from Granada. A further eight teams, four of which are from Madrid, three from Barcelona and one from Valencia, will receive funding for research into the origin of cancer and improved treatment methods.
The competitions for grants for research into neurodegenerative diseases and cancer were created in 1997 and 2002, respectively, with the aim of promoting basic and clinical research into these diseases in Spain. The grants are aimed then at reinforcing the material and human infrastructure of the country’s scientific teams and at fostering the dissemination of the knowledge generated for the benefit of those affected by these diseases.
Up to the present, a total of 81 research projects have been selected in the seven editions of the competition held on neurodegenerative diseases and in the two editions of the more recent competition on oncology. This means the awarding of over 7.2 million euros in all. 5.6 million has been distributed among research teams in the field of neurodegeneration and a further 1.6 million among teams specialising in cancer research.
Although the profile of the projects selected in these competitions is quite varied, for the most part it reinforces basic research into the causes of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer, as well as the development of drugs to combat both. The spectrum is also very broad with regard to the diseases which have received the attention of the researchers. Those specialising in neurodegeneration have tackled Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, ataxias, autism and others. The oncology competition, on the other hand, has put a major focus on the molecular causes of cancer, but has also included research into common tumours such as leukaemia, oesophagogastric cancer and lung cancer.
GRANTS FOR RESEARCH INTO NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASES
The teams selected in the 7th Competition for Grant for Research into Neurodegenerative Diseases are headed by Dr Mario Delgado Mora of the López Neyra Institute of Parasitology and Biomedicine (CSIC), Granada; Drs Minerva Giménez-Ribotta and Javier Sáez Valero of the Neurosciences Institute, Miguel Hernández University, Alicante; Drs Joan Guinovart Cirera and José Antonio del Río Fernández of University of Barcelona; Dr Ramón Trullás Oliva of the Institute for Biomedical Research, Barcelona; Dr Jorge Manzanares Roble of Hospital Doce de Octubre, Madrid; Dr Antonio García García of the Autonomous University of Madrid; Dr Francisco Wandosell Jurado of the Severo Ochoa Centre for Molecular Biology (CSIC), Madrid; Dr Rosario Moratalla Villalba of the Ramón y Cajal Institute (CSIC), Madrid; and Drs Santiago Rodríguez de Córdoba and Carlos Vicario Abejón of the Biological Research Centre (CSIC), Madrid.
The lines of research to be carried out by these teams will embrace a large number of neurodegenerative diseases: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Friedrich’s ataxia and Lafora’s disease. The proposed focal points are also wide-ranging, although they can be grouped into three main fields: neuron transplants; therapy design and diagnosis methods for these diseases; and basic research into the molecular mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases.
Transplanting mother cells
Four research teams will update transplant techniques of mother cells obtained from adult organisms as a possible therapy for relieving the effects of neurodegenerative diseases.
– The team headed by Dr Minerva Giménez-Ribotta at Miguel Hernández University in Alicante will study the transplanting of mother cells from biopsies in order to regenerate motor neurons. The ultimate aim is to help recover the mobility lost as a result of a medullary lesion or a neurodegenerative disease such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
– The team of Dr José Antonio del Río Fernández, at University of Barcelona, will test the transplanting of modified mother cells in order to segregate acetylcholine in Alzheimer’s disease models.
– Two coordinated teams, headed by Dr Rosario Moratalla Villalba at the Ramón y Cajal Institute (CSIC) in Madrid, and Dr Carlos Vicario Abejón at the Biological Research Centre (CSIC), also in Madrid, will test self-transplants of mother cells from the olfactory bulb as therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
New therapeutic and diagnostic strategies
Four more research teams are addressing the practical problems related to the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, the evaluation of the drugs used to treat them, and the design of gene therapy for hereditary degenerative diseases.
– Dr Mario Delgado Mora and his team at the López Neyra Institute of Parasitology and Biomedicine (CSIC) in Granada will study the use of the vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) on a multiple sclerosis model, with the aim of using it in therapy for this disease.
– The team headed by Dr Antonio García García at the Autonomous University of Madrid will analyse the interaction of two drugs to fight Alzheimer’s disease, galantamine and memantine, to see if they produce synergistic effects when combined.
– The team of Dr Francisco Wandosell Jurado at the Severo Ochoa Centre for Molecular Biology (CSIC) in Madrid will attempt to prove that it is possible to use type HSV-1 virus in gene therapy for Friedrich’s ataxia.
– The scientific team headed by Dr Javier Sáez Valero at Miguel Hernández University in Alicante will research expression differences in the acetylcholinesterase enzyme, with the aim of improving the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Molecular mechanisms of neuronal degeneration
The four remaining teams are carrying out three basic research projects, and are closely studying the molecular bases of certain neurodegenerative diseases.
– The scientific teams headed by Dr Santiago Rodríguez de Córdoba, at the Biological Research Centre (CSIC) in Madrid, and by Dr Joan Guinovart Cirera, at University of Barcelona, will conduct a coordinated study on the molecular bases of Lafora’s disease, a progressive epilepsy caused by the accumulation of glycogen deposits in neurons.
– Dr Jorge Manzanares Robles and his team at Hospital Doce de Octubre in Madrid will focus their attention on the cannabinoid CB1 receptor, which could act as a molecular target for drugs designed to combat Parkinson’s disease.
– The team headed by Ramón Trullás Oliva at the Institute for Biomedical Research in Barcelona will study the role of protein NP1 in programmed neuronal death, with the aim of reaching a better understanding of the overall development of neurodegenerative processes.
The projects presented at this competition were evaluated by the National Agency for Evaluation and Prospective (ANEP), and later selected by the Scientific Assessment Committee of ”la Caixa” Foundation. The Committee members were Joan Rodés, Director General of the Clinical and Provincial Hospital of Barcelona; Josep M. Antó i Boqué, Vice-Rector of Science Policy of Pompeu Fabra University and Chief of the Respiratory and Environmental Research Unit of Barcelona’s Municipal Institute of Medical Research (IMIM); Javier García Conde-Bru, Director of the Haematology and Medical Oncology Service of the University Clinical Hospital of Valencia; Margarita Salas, Professor at the Severo Ochoa Centre for Molecular Biology, and Diego Gracia Guillén, Head of the Department of Public Health and History of Science of the Faculty of Medicine of the Complutense University of Madrid.
GRANTS FOR RESEARCH INTO CANCER
In the Competition for Grants for Research into Cancer, held this year for the second time, the teams selected were headed by Dr Joaquín Dopazo Blázquez, of the National Centre for Oncological Research, Madrid; Dr Ana María Aranda Iriarte, of the Institute for Biomedical Research, Madrid; Lisardo Boscá Gomar, of the Institute for Biochemistry (CSIC), Madrid; María Luisa Toribio García, of the Severo Ochoa Centre for Molecular Biology (CSIC), Madrid; José Ángel Martínez Climent, of the University Clinical Hospital, Valencia; Raúl Méndez de la Iglesia, of the Genomic Regulation Centre, Barcelona; Marta Cascante Serratosa, of the Faculty of Chemistry of University of Barcelona, and Xavier Gomis Rüth, of the Institute for Biology Molecular (CSIC), Barcelona.
The lines of research of the eight selected projects are distinguished by basic approaches and, in certain cases, embrace a broad diversity of cancers. Three of them focus on the study of leukaemias and lymphomas; two more centre their attention on linked basic mechanisms of neuronal proliferation; and the remaining three focus on research into the origin of cancer and the design of new drugs with bioinformatic techniques.
New drugs to fight leukaemia and lymphomas
Three research teams will devote their attention to developing drugs for leukaemia and lymphomas.
– Dr José Ángel Martínez Climent and his team at the University Clinical Hospital in Valencia will study the genetic expression of the MALT1 protein, involved in certain types of lymphomas, and will endeavour to determine its use as a therapeutic target by means of RNA interference techniques.
– The team headed by Dr Raúl Méndez de la Iglesia at the Genomic Regulation Centre in Barcelona will study the deactivation of p53 proteins and cyclin B1 as the cause for the resistance of acute myelogenous leukaemia to radiation treatment.
– Dr María Luisa Toribio García and her team at the Severo Ochoa Centre for Molecular Biology (CSIC) in Madrid will analyse the mechanisms that regulate the survival and proliferation of T lymphocytes, with the aim of associating the origin of leukaemias with the deregulation of molecular processes.
Understanding the mechanisms of cellular proliferation
Two additional teams are approaching the study of the basic mechanisms of cellular proliferation in tumours, based on the study of the role played by the Ras protein.
– The team of Dr Ana María Aranda Iriarte at the Institute for Biomedical Research in Madrid will study the antagonistic effects of thyroid hormones and the Ras protein in the origin of certain cancers.
– Dr Lisardo Boscá Gomar and his scientific team at the Institute for Biochemistry (CSIC) in Madrid will examine the role of protein 15d-PGJ2 in the surge in cancers where the Ras protein intervenes.
Bioinformatic techniques for combating cancer
The three remaining research teams share an interest in the new bioinformatic techniques, which enable them to set up broad strategies for combating different types of cancer.
– The team headed by Dr Joaquín Dopazo Blázquez at the National Centre for Oncological Research in Madrid will develop bioinformatic tools to locate the genes involved in tumour processes.
– Dr Marta Cascante Serratosa and her team at the Faculty of Chemistry of University of Barcelona will employ bioinformatic programs to design enzyme inhibitors involved in the formation of nucleic acids as a generic strategy to fight cancer.
– The team of Dr Xavier Gomis Rüth at the Institute for Molecular Biology (CSIC) in Barcelona aims to design drugs capable of inhibiting MCD9, a protein involved in the development of human carcinomas.
As occurred in the competition for grants for research into neurodegenerative diseases, the projects presented at this competition were evaluated by the National Agency for Evaluation and Prospective (ANEP), and later selected by the Scientific Assessment Committee of ”la Caixa” Foundation. In this case, the Scientific Committee members were Joan Rodés, Director of Research of the Clinical Hospital, Barcelona; José María Mato, Head of the Department of Hepatology and Gene Therapy at the University of Navarre; Jesús Ávila, Professor of Chemistry at the Autonomous University of Madrid and Director of the Severo Ochoa Centre for Molecular Biology, Madrid; José Ángel Berciano, Director of the Neurology Service at Hospital Marqués de Valdecillas, Santander, and Roderic Guigó, Head of the Genomic Informatics Laboratory, Municipal Institute of Medical Research (IMIM), Barcelona.
More Information: Berta Jardí. Phone: 93 404 61 31