An IBEC project on COVID-19 receives funding from “Fundación BBVA”

Nuria Montserrat and her research team at IBEC, receive funding from “Fundación BBVA” to lead a research project on COVID-19.

Montserat’s project is one of the 20 projects selected from among almost 1,000 proposals submitted to the call, which will receive a total of 2.7 million euros.

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The twenty projects selected to stop the coronavirus outbreak involve more than 400 researchers, who will approach the mechanisms of infection, diagnosis and treatment of this disease from different angles. The psychosocial and economic impact derived from the pandemic will also be studied.

To address the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is necessary to study its various facets with a multidisciplinary approach. To this end, the “Pluripotency for organ regeneration” group led by ICREA Research Professor Nuria Montserrat, will contribute its expertise in the generation of human mini organs using bioengineering techniques to understand how the coronavirus infection is carried out.

Thanks to a grant of 250,000 euros from “Fundación BBVA”, Nuria Montserrat’s group, together with Josef Penninger from the Austrian Institute of Molecular Biotechnology and Ali Mirazimi from the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, will study how SARS-CoV-2 infects the cells, for this, they will use ‘mini kidneys’ generated from human stem cells. In these organoids, by using the CRISPR gene editing technique, it will be possible to “open and close” at will the proteins that the virus uses as a gateway to enter the cells -ACE2, among others-, and thus study the infection mechanism that it uses. In addition, the researchers will also study the molecular pathways that are activated once the virus infects the cell. The use of these organoids, which reflect the complexity of the real organ, makes it possible to accelerate a type of research that would otherwise take years.

Last April, the researcher, together with other international research centers, already demonstrated that kidney organoids contained groups of cells that expressed ACE2 in a similar way to that observed in native tissue, and then proceeded to infect it with SARS-CoV-2. Once they got these mini-kidneys infected, they applied different drugs to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infections and reduce their viral load.

More about the “Fundación BBVA” funding calls

All the selected projects have a common goal: to face the current pandemic caused by Covid-19. For this reason, after evaluating the almost 1,000 projects presented, five expert commissions have agreed to award four grants in Biomedicine (250,000 euros per project); four in Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (150,000 euros per project); four in Ecology and Veterinary Medicine (100,000 euros per project); four in Economics and Social Sciences (100,000 euros per project); and four in Humanities (75,000 euros per project).

The project “Identifying SARS-CoV-2- host cell interactions exploiting CRISPR/Cas9 engineered human organoids: through the development of specific therapies against COVID19” will receive funding from “AYUDAS FUNDACIÓN BBVA A EQUIPOS DE INVESTIGACIÓN” program for SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH TEAMS.

More information here.