The 2020 edition of the TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio ‘La Marató’, dedicated to COVID-19, has raised 13,864,073€, which will be distributed among the 36 scientific research projects of excellence that have been selected by a group of 95 international scientists, specialists in this field, based on their quality, methodology and relevance. The management of the evaluation was carried out by the Agency for Quality and Health Evaluation of Catalonia, of the Department of Health. Of these 36 projects, there are five from the Vall d’Hebron Institut de Recerca (VHIR), the center that has the most, and coordinated by Dr. María José Buzón, Dr. Meritxell Genescà, Dr. María José Soler, Dr. Matilde Lleonart and Dr. Antonio Soriano; and one from the Vall d'Hebron Oncology Institute (VHIO), led by Paolo Nuciforo.
The health emergency caused by the pandemic and the urgent need for more resources for SARS-CoV-2 research meant that, exceptionally, the Foundation's call for aid was made between December and January. It has also caused the whole process of allocating the funds raised to be advanced and accelerated. A total of 229 projects were submitted.
This research, driven by the solidarity of all citizens, will imminently contribute to a deeper understanding of the new coronavirus, to finding prevention and diagnostic tools, and to designing new treatments to address COVID-19.
This information has been made public in a special edition of the program "Al Cotxe", broadcast tonight on TV3. One of the most emotional moments of the program has come with the appearance of the 36 researchers who will lead the winning works, who have thanked the trust placed in them, once again, by the citizens.
María José Buzón - Redirection of innate immunity in the lung to control COVID-19 (REDINCOV)
To date, several studies have focused on protective adaptive T and B cell immune responses in blood primed after infection or vaccination. However, less is understood about deregulated innate immune responses that might actively participate in initiate acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and contribute to uncontrolled inflammation, immune exhaustion and fuel chronic infection. The REDINCOV project aims to depict the mechanisms of viral sensing and pathogenic alterations operating in innate cells and leading to dysregulated antiviral effector functions and increased cell susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. They will also study how innate pathways could be manipulated to potentiate therapeutic options.
"With this project we hope to advance the understanding of deregulated innate networks orchestrating effector immunity, SARS-CoV-2 replication and efficacy of drugs in the lung, which will potentially identify new therapeutic tools to more efficiently treat severe COVID-19”, says Dr. María José Buzón, project coordinator and head of the HIV Translational Research line in the VHIR Infectious Diseases research group.
Meritxell Genescà - Identification of the cellular factors essential for the entry of SARS-CoV-2 from different human tissues
Knowing the extent to which SARS-CoV-2 can enter different cellular types from different tissues will be critical to understand pathogenesis and more effectively treat patients. Therefore, the overall goal objective of the project is to identify and characterize human cells from different relevant tissues susceptible to viral entry and to define the entry molecules involved.
"Our results will be of groundbreaking nature, providing a comprehensive picture of individual characteristics defining target cells susceptible to viral entry within a particular cellular phenotype and common features across permissive cells from different tissues", says Dr. Meritxell Genescà, project coordinator and principal investigator of the VHIR Infectious Diseases research group.
Dr. Joaquín Burgos Cibrián, assistant doctor of the Infectious Diseases Service of the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and principal investigator of the Infectious Diseases group of the VHIR, also participates in this project.
Antoni Soriano - SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses in childhood: different approaches to define predictive models for their diagnosis and epidemiological evolution
Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms but some can develop an inflammatory multisystemic syndrome. However, their clinical characteristics are nonspecific to SARS-CoV-2 and observed in other respiratory viral infections (RVI). Additionally, we do not know how will be over next years the epidemiological interaction of SARS-CoV-2 with other RVI. Therefore, our objectives are to determine the new epidemiological patterns of COVID-19 and other RVI to understand their dynamics by providing predictive models for their monitoring and management; and to build up a clinical, virological, immunological, and severity profile of children with COVID-19 to differentiate it from other RVI.
"Epidemiological and clinical predictive models will be useful tools for the managing of future epidemics, hospital capacity and Public Health perspectives", said Dr. Antoni Soriano, project coordinator, member of the Infectious Diseases and Paediatrics Immunodeficiencies Unit of the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and principal investigator of the research group on Infection in Immunocompromised Pediatric Patients of the VHIR.
Matilde Lleonart - New therapeutic approaches against COVID-19
Mutations in the structural proteins of SARS-CoV-2 are the major impediment for prevention and control of COVID-19 disease. Currently, we focus on evolution of the envelope (E) protein, one of the most enigmatic and less studied protein among the four structural proteins of the virus. The E protein is an integral membrane protein involved in several aspects of the virus' life cycle, such as assembly, budding, envelope formation, and pathogenesis.
This project aims to block the interaction of E protein with syntenin, a multi-functional protein present in some human cells which is used by COVID-19 to provoke a remarkable inflammatory response.
"As E protein binds to syntenin at the PDZ domain, we aim to discover drugs that block the PDZ domain of syntenin to avoid the uncontrolled inflammatory response of infected patients", explains Dr. Matilde Lleonart, project coordinator and head of the Biomedical Research in Cancer Stem Cells group.
María José Soler - The interaction between the ACE2 and AXL systems to predict the severity and outcomes of COVID-19
The identification of subjects at risk for developing severe forms of SARS-CoV-2 infection disease and discovery of novel therapeutic targets against the virus remains a clinical priority. Recent advances suggest that, in addition to ACE2, other receptors such as AXL may be involved in susceptibility to viral infection and the subsequent inflammatory cascade. ACE2AXL-COVID19 is a groundbreaking project designed to explore the crosstalk between these two systems with a multidisciplinary and translational approach.
"We hope to decipher the importance of AXL and ACE2 (SARS-CoV-2 receptors) in viral cell entry and immune response", says Dr. María José Soler, project coordinator, nephrologist of the Nephrology Service of the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and principal investigator in the Nephrology research group of the VHIR.
The VHIO and other professionals from Vall d'Hebron
We want to highlight as well the project granted to Dr. Paolo Nuciforo, head of the VHIO Molecular Oncology group: Composition of the microbiota as a predictor of risks in cancer patients infected with coronavirus 2 of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2).
Also, the participation of professionals from Vall d’Hebron in projects coordinated by other research centers such as:
• Manuel López Paredes and Susana Gómez Ollés, who participate in the project 'Functional Immunological Monitoring of the Specific T and B Cell Response to the SARS-CoV-2 Virus Vaccine in Solid Organ Transplanted Patients (MoniTor)', coordinated by the Biomedical Research Institute of Bellvitge University Hospital (IDIBELL). Dr. Susana Gómez Ollés is a member of the Pulmonology Service at Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and principal investigator of the Neumology research group at the VHIR. Dr. Manuel López Paredes is the head of the Paediatric Surgery Service at Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and the CIBBIM-Nanomedicine. Bioengineering, Cell Therapy and Surgery in Congenital Malformations research group of the VHIR.
• Melchor Carbonell Socias, who participates in the project 'Male reproductive function in COVID-19 patients', coordinated by the Clínic Foundation for Biomedical Research at the Hospital Clínic and Provincial of Barcelona (FCRB). Dr. Melchor Carbonell Socias is coordinator of the Fertility Preservation Unit in patients with endometriosis at Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and a member of the VHIR Maternal and Fetal Medicine research group.