NeuroÈpia Research Group of the IISPV.

Eating walnuts on a regular basis could benefit the cognitive development of adolescents and contribute to their psychological maturation. These are some of the conclusions reached by a study  led by the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV), in which ISGlobal (a centre promoted by “la Caixa” Foundation) and the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) have collaborated. This is unprecedented research; while there have been previous studies on the effect of nuts on our health, the impact of their consumption at such a critical stage for cognitive development as adolescence has never been examined.

Walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic fatty acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 that plays a fundamental role in brain development, especially at this life stage. In the words of Jordi Julvez, principal investigator and coordinator of the NeuroÈpia Research Group of the IISPV, “adolescence is a time of great biological changes: Hormonal transformation occurs, which in turn is responsible for stimulating the synaptic growth of the frontal lobe. This part of our brain is what enables neuropsychological maturation, i.e., more complex emotional and cognitive functions. Neurons that are well nourished with this type of fatty acids will be able to grow and form new, stronger synapses.”

In the study, which has been published in the journal eClinicalMedicine (belonging to the prestigious scientific publishing house The Lancet Discovery Science), 700 secondary school students between 11 and 16 years of age from 12 differents high schools in Barcelona participated voluntarily. They were randomly divided into two groups: the control group, which received no intervention of any kind, and the experimental group, which received sachets containing 30 grams of walnut kernels, indicating to the young people who participated that they could consume them daily for a period of 6 months. The research team found that adolescents who ate walnuts for at least 100 days (not necessarily continuosly every day) increased their attention functions, and those who had some symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) improved their behavior significantly (in class, they paid more attention to the teacher and were less hyperactive). On the other hand, there was also an increase in functions related to fluid intelligence, which, in the words of Jordi Julvez, “it is less influenced by learning; it is inherent to the person biology staus. We assessed it with increasingly complex tests, such as having adolescents figure out what pattern a row of letters followed, for example.”

“Overall, no significant differences were found in the intervention group in relation to the control group,” he adds, “but if the adherence factor is considered, then positive results are observed, since participants who most closely followed the guidelines – in terms of the recommended dose of walnuts and the number of days of consumption – did show improvements in the neuropsychological functions evaluated.”

Thus, this study demonstrates that following a healthy diet is as important as maintaining these habits over time and not abandoning them for adolescents to develop correctly on a cognitive and psychological level: “If boys and girls would heed these recommendations and actually eat a handful of walnuts a day, or at least three times a week, they would notice many substantial improvements in cognitive abilities, and it would help them face the challenges of adolescence and entering adulthood. Adolescence is a period of great brain development and complex behaviors that requires a significant amount of energy and nutrients,” concludes Ariadna Pinar, first author of the article.

This study was funded by the Instituto de Salud Carlos III through projects CP14/00108, PI16/00261 and PI21/00266 (co-funded by the European Union through the “A way to make Europe” program). The California Walnut Commission (CWC) has supported the project by providing the walnuts needed for the intervention. None of the funding entities participated in the design or discussion of the results of the study.

Soon, the research team itself will conduct a study (this time it will be observational and will also be supported by the CWC) to determine whether the consumption of walnuts and nuts in general during pregnancy influences cognitive development and psychological maturation in infants. Thus, this second research goes a step further in relation to the work presented in this press release as it aims to demonstrate that these aspects of growth can be enhanced even in the mother’s womb and from early childhood by following good dietary habits.

Bibliographical reference: Pinar-Martí A, Gignac F, Fernández-Barrés S, Romaguera D, Sala-Vila A, Lázaro I, Ranzani OT, Persavento C, Delgado A, Carol A, Torrent J, Gonzalez J, Roso E, Barrera-Gómez J, López-Vicente M, Boucher O, Nieuwenhuijsen M, Turner MC, Burgaleta M, Canals J, Arija V, Basagaña X, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, Sunyer J, Julvez J. Effect of Walnut Consumption on Neuropsychological Development in Healthy Adolescents: A Multi-school Randomized Controlled Trial eclinicalmedicine. April 06, 2023. doi: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2023.101954.

Equip investigador RetinaReadRisk
From left to right: Domènec Puig, researcher of the ITAKA group of the Department of Computer Engineering and Mathematics of the URV and co-founder of UP2Smart; Joan Vendrell, director of the IISPV; Josep Lluís Falcó, CEO of Genesis Biomed; Pau Puig, administrator of UP2Smart; and Pere Romero, researcher in charge of the Research Group in Ophthalmology of the IISPV.
Sistema mòbil per detectar la retinopatia diabètica
Mobile system to detect diabetic retinopathy that will be marketed by the spin-off RetinaReadRisk and will integrate 2 software based on artificial intelligence

The more than 10 years of work by researchers from the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute (IISPV) and the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) in the field of diabetic retinopathy (a very common eye condition in people with diabetes of type 2) has recently crystallized in the constitution of the spin-off RetinaReadRisk, in which different partners take part. The spin-off company will market software and a mobile system based on artificial intelligence to detect and treat this pathology in the early stages. 

In Catalonia, the test to detect diabetic retinopathy (consists of examining the fundus of the eye with a non-mydriatic camera) is carried out in certain primary care centers (CAP), mostly located in cities. Precisely, one of the objectives of the spin-off is to integrate this mobile system and the computer programs developed with the help of artificial intelligence to the entire Catalan public health system, so that people can be explored by their doctor without the need for commute. 

To make it possible, this project will be submitted to a call by the Department of Health of the Generalitat de Catalunya that selects the most innovative technological solutions to integrate them into the public network of primary care centers. On the other side, the fact that the spin-off RetinaReadRisk has been created within the framework of an EIT Health program (which is part of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology -EIT-, a body of the European Union that co-finances the homonymous project, RetinaReadRisk) expands its business opportunities to other territories and countries. 

GENESIS Biomed has acted as a Venture Building platform, has invested in the spin-off through its investment vehicle (GENESIS Tech Transfer Boost) and is currently assuming the duties of interim CEO of the company. In the words of Josep Lluís Falcó, CEO of GENESIS Biomed: “We are facing a huge opportunity that can change the paradigm of diabetic patient management, anticipating their potential evolution towards diabetic retinopathy. We offer a powerful tool that will end up leading to significant savings for the national health system.”

Artificial intelligence in health 

“The research carried out in recent years by the IISPV and the URV in the fields of diabetic retinopathy and artificial intelligence led to the development of two software: Mira, which allows a reading to be carried out automatic of the images of the fundus of the patient’s eye and which, therefore, will identify whether or not diabetic retinopathy exists; and a second software, the Retiprogram, which, based on a series of clinical and personal data, determines the risk of a person with type 2 diabetes of suffering from diabetic retinopathy, in addition to calculating when the next control must be carried out”, explains Pere Romero, researcher in charge of the Ophthalmology Research Group of the IISPV. 

The basis of the Mira program is Deep Learning: thousands of images are taken of the fundus of the patient’s eye, and these are labeled according to the degree of evolution of diabetic retinopathy. In this way, the software developed by the URV team analyzes these thousands of images with the help of artificial intelligence, learns to distinguish the various degrees of retinopathy and classifies them based on the patterns it identifies “so that, once new images of patients have been analyzed, a reliable diagnosis can be made based on this previous training”, points out Domènec Puig, researcher in the ITAKA group of the Department of Computer Engineering and Mathematics of the URV and co-founder of UP2Smart, the spin-off of the university which is also one of the member societies of RetinaReadRisk. “Within the framework of the project financed by EIT Health, work is being done on the integration of these two software in a compact and easy-to-use mobile system”, he adds. 

Entrepreneurial initiatives like those of RetinaReadRisk are key to addressing diseases with a high incidence in our society in a more efficient and personalized way. Diabetic retinopathy is a very common condition of the retina in people who suffer from type 2 diabetes (25% of the population in Spain has this type of diabetes). Failure to detect and treat it in the early stages can have significant health consequences, such as a deterioration of night vision that prevents driving or such as blindness (in the case of developing countries). 

About the RetinaReadRisk spin-off and the founding partners 


The partners who founded this spin-off are: IISPV, GENESIS Biomed, UP2Smart (URV) and Grupo TRC (Telefónica). The new spin-off RetinaReadRisk hopes to attract private and public funding in the next 2-3 years for an approximate amount of 5 million euros to be able to finalize the development of the product and commercialize it. 


GENESIS Biomed is a consultancy firm that operates in the biomedical sector and is specialized in the provision of services to newly formed companies mainly from universities, research centers, hospitals and technology centers. GENESIS Biomed is headquartered in Barcelona and it also has offices in Madrid. 


The Pere Virgili Health Research Institute is an institution of international prestige that brings together biomedical research led from Camp de Tarragona and the Terres de l’Ebre. It includes the University Hospital of Tarragona Joan XXIII; the Hospital of Tortosa Verge de la Cinta; the Sant Joan University Hospital, in Reus; and the Pere Mata Group. Rovira i Virgili University is also linked to it. 


UP2Smart is an spin-off company from the URV. It is dedicated, among others, to offering automatic and embedded systems based on computer vision and artificial intelligence; and to provide technological products and services for industrial and business sectors. For illustrative purposes, but not limiting, UP2Smart is also dedicated to offering consulting services, technological advice, software and app development, user support and web solutions. 

Grupo TRC 

Grupo TRC has its TRC Health division backed by more than 25 years of work in hospital networks. The uniqueness of the solutions developed, as well as the high level of demand and criticality of the systems and software used, make it possible to complete a broad technological portfolio based on experience and innovation. The objective of this division is the development of systems that improve hospital processes, with high levels of security and reliability, guaranteeing profitability, and agility and ease of management. 

EIT Health  

EIT Health is a network of best-in-class health innovators with approximately 130 partners and is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union. It collaborates across borders to deliver new solutions that can enable European citizens to live longer, healthier lives. It connects all relevant healthcare players across European borders – making sure to include all sides of the “knowledge triangle”, so that innovation can happen at the intersection of research, education and business for the benefit of citizens.

Researchers who have participated in the first BiomarKid project presence meeting.

The IISPV office in Tarragona hosted the first face-to-face meeting of the BiomarKid project, which will identify key biomarkers for a better approach to childhood obesity. This meeting has been also attended by scientific experts in different areas such as metabolomics, diet and physical activity and innovation, as well as a representative of the IISPV spin-off Biosfer Telsab. The project will last 3 years.

The study will analyze the result of the interaction of aspects such as diet, environment or genetics and their effects on each person through metabolites, markers present in blood and urine.

The data from the more than 3,000 children of different ages and countries who have participated in the study will be collected in a web application so that, thanks to artificial intelligence, researchers and professionals in clinical practice can interpret them and thus make better decisions when treating patients with obesity.