At the IISPV we continue to attract international professional talent.

The Pere Virgili Health Research Institute (IISPV), the Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBGI) and the Lleida Biomedical Research Institute (IRBLleida) continue to collaborate so that the research and studies we lead have a projection beyond our territory and can receive funding from international organizations.

That the research led in the field of biomedicine has an international projection is key so that the projects and studies led in this field can improve the health of many more people and can receive funding from entities outside our country. With a view to enhancing this aspect, in 2017, IISPV, IDIBGI and IRBLleida signed a collaboration agreement, which crystallized in the GoHero project (responds to the Health European Research Offices acronym) . This initiative was made possible thanks to the funding received within the framework of the Strategic Plan for Research and Innovation in Health (PERIS), granted by the Department of Health of the Generalitat de Catalunya and whose aim was to encourage our research to reach a projection international.

Despite having finished this project, we have decided to continue working together (within the framework of another initiative, which we have named Beyond GoHero), so that our research continues to cross borders and, in addition, to do it all by enhancing the innovation and to make them more inclusive.

In this sense, BeyondGoHero aims not only to give an impetus to the internationalization of the biomedical research of these 3 institutes, but also to do so by incorporating both the gender dimension and the patient’s perspective into its projects and studies. To implement this last perspective, we design our research in the working framework of what is known as Citizen Science, which at the same time guarantees open access to the results obtained.

Tarragona, November 13, 2023. A study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry (the most prestigious in the field of psychiatry) and which included the participation of IISPV researcher Jordi Julvez, has confirmed that the first diagnosis of Attention Deficit hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is as reliable as it is later in life. This work refutes the belief that has recently prevailed in the scientific community about the diagnosis of this disorder in preschool ages (from 3 to 6 years) may not be reliable since the behaviors inherent to these young children  (the central nervous system is still developing and it is not enough mature) can be confused with the symptomatology of the ADHD.

The research has collected the results of 41 cohorts or studies carried out in 15 different countries, with a total sample of 4,708 children with ADHD. It is the largest longitudinal study carried out to date in this field: these children have been followed for a minimum of 4 years and, in some cases, they have been evaluated over a period of 33 years. Jordi Julvez, the IISPV researcher who participated (leads the Clinical and Epidemiological Neuroscience Research Group, also known by its acronym: NeuroÈpia) points out that “the study conclusions show us not to be afraid of making mistakes in the diagnosis of ADHD if we assess them at an early age; in addition, we must take into account that detecting the ADHD early in life will allow the child to start psychotherapy treatment earlier; the younger the boy or girl, the more plastic his/her brain is”.

The scientific literature that exists around this topic indicates that the most appropriate ages for the diagnosis of ADHD are from 7 to 8 years old, so this contribution represents a paradigm shift in the approach to the disorder and in the perception of its early symptoms.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 4% and 6% of the world’s population is diagnosed with ADHD disorder.

This study has been led by the researchers Samuele Cortese, from the Centre for Innovation in Mental Health (Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences of the University of Southampton) and Corentin J. Gosling (Université Paris Nanterre). Moreover, researchers Jordi Sunyer and Monica Guxens (from ISGlobal) also have participated in it.

Bibliografic reference: Synergy for the Influence of the Month of Birth in ADHD (SIMBA) study group. Association between relative age at school and persistence of ADHD in prospective studies: an individual participant data meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry. 2023 Oct 25:S2215-0366(23)00272-9. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(23)00272-9. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37898142.

For 3 days, researchers from the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute (IISPV) have shared the projects they are leading and the challenges they have met

Group photo, with some of the participants.

This week we held our retreat in Arnes! The researchers of the Pere Vrigili Health Research Institute (IISPV) have shared for 3 days the projects and studies they lead and the challenges achieved in the different fields of research in which we excel: that of metabolic diseases and nutrition; that of infection, immunity and environment; that of oncology and that of neurosciences and mental health.

At the retreat, which took place at the Vilar Rural d’Arnes hotel from November 7 to 9, researchers from more than 40 research groups that are part of the IISPV presented their projects and have participated in different activities with the aim of creating synergies and exploring future interdisciplinary collaborations. And it is that working together with different professional profiles and from different fields of study is essential for research in the field of health. In order to find new therapeutic routes for the prevention and treatment of diseases, the involvement of researchers from different fields, the implementation of very varied technologies and the use of methodologies from various disciplines are essential. For this reason, initiatives such as this retreat are essential to bring together ideas, projects and very different ways of approaching science in the area of ​​health.

One of the outstanding activities of this retreat is the team building held on Wednesday afternoon: it was a unique opportunity to discover personal skills and characteristics, and thus be able to work in a team more consciously and effectively. The photo below illustrates this.

Thanks to all researchers and investigators for making this possible and until next time!

The findings of the Infection and Immunity Research Group (INIM) of the Pere Virgili
Health Research Institute (IISPV) and the Joan XXIII Hospital, in Tarragona, will
contribute to a greater understanding of future pandemics caused by similar viruses

The researchers Sílvia Chafino and Alba Sánchez who participated in the study.

Tarragona, October 18, 2023. A study carried out by the Infection and Immunity
Research Group (INIM) and led by Dra. Anna Rull and Dr. Joaquim Peraire, from the
Pere Virgili Health Research Institute (IISPV) and the Joan XXIII Hospital, in Tarragona,
has made it possible to learn about the changes that occur at a molecular level when a
person contracts the COVID-19 virus and develops severe symptoms. Some of the
complications that this type of patient presents and that end up harming their quality of life are the result of alterations in mechanisms that are key to the proper functioning of our body, such as that which regulates blood coagulation or those related with general metabolism or lipid production. An imbalance in these last two processes, for example, can end up significantly weakening the person’s immune system since these cells stop performing their protective function and defense against infections.
The discovery of the molecular patterns underlying the alteration of these mechanisms
will allow us to treat these patients in a more effective and personalized way: “Knowing
exactly where the imbalance is and knowing the molecular patterns that occur will help
us find the most appropriate treatment for each patient”, explains Dra. Sílvia Chafino,
one of the participating researchers.

This study has been carried out from a multi-omic approach, which has made it possible to delve deeper into the causes of the disease and to learn about its behavior at a molecular level. Two groups of patients have been compared: one with mild symptoms and another with severe complications, in order to understand the changes that are experienced at the molecular level (and the patterns that follow) when a patient with COVID worsens to the point of being severe. This discovery – comments Dra. Alba Sánchez, one of the other participating researchers, will contribute to a greater understanding of pandemics caused by similar viruses that may occur in the future.” On the other hand, it will also help to better understand the causes behind what is known as Long COVID19, a syndrome recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) that certain people suffer from after having passed the COVID and who have symptoms such as chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal problems or difficulties related to the neuromotor system. The INIM research group is part of the Catalan Research Centers network (CERCA) and the Infectious Disease Network Biomedical Research Center (CIBERINFEC).

Bibliografic reference:
Sánchez A, García-Pardo G, Gómez-Bertomeu F, López-Dupla M, Foguet-Romero E,
Buzón MJ, Almirante B, Olona M, Fernández-Veledo S, Vidal F, Chafino S, Rull A,
Peraire J; COVIDOMICS Study Group. Mitochondrial dysfunction, lipids metabolism, and
amino acid biosynthesis are key pathways for COVID-19 recovery. iScience. 2023 Sep
19;26(10):107948. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2023.107948. PMID: 37810253; PMCID:

Members of Disease Biomarkers and Molecular Mechanisms Research Group (DIBIOMEC) of IISPV and Hospital Joan XXIII de Tarragona.

Tarragona, September 8, 2023. A study led by the Disease Biomarkers and Molecular Mechanisms Research Group (DIBIOMEC) of the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV) and in collaboration with the Rheumatology Service of the Hospital Universitari de Tarragona Joan XXIII has identified new biomarkers in blood that will allow early detection of rheumatoid arthritis. This is a chronic autoimmune disease that involves joint inflammation and bone destruction, and can have devastating consequences for the health of people who suffer from it, because if it is not treated in time it can completely disable them, annulling their mobility and autonomy.

The biomarkers discovered thanks to this study cannot be analyzed with the techniques used in hospitals today; it is necessary to do so using more advanced tools such as metabolomics, which belongs to the so-called omics sciences and allows a more precise, sensitive and complete analysis of the metabolites involved in the onset and development of diseases.

For the time being, this technology is only applied in the field of research and it is hoped that in the future it will be introduced as routine in hospitals. “This study shows how metabolomics would allow early and careful detection of rheumatoid arthritis and would help more people suspected of suffering from it to be diagnosed in time,” explains Dr. Matilde Chacón, the researcher in charge of the DIBIOMEC research group at the IISPV, which carried out the study. It is estimated that with the analysis of classic routine indicators such as ACPA (one of the most valuable nowadays for early detection of the disease) there would still be patients left undiagnosed. “This occurs, among other reasons, because this indicator is not exclusive to rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, with these new biomarkers we would improve the diagnosis of ACPA by almost 3%,” stresses Dr. Matilde Chacón.

Personalized treatment

Specifically, the study has identified a panel of molecules composed of glyceric acid, lactic acid and 3-hydroxyisovaleric acid as biomarkers for the early detection of the disease: “when all three are altered, it indicates that the person is at an early stage of the disease,” explains the researcher. Moreover, this information could be of great help in developing more effective drugs. The next step to implement this finding is to validate its results with a larger sample of patients with diversified profiles.

Bibliographic Reference: Rodríguez-Muguruza S, Altuna-Coy A, Arreaza-Gil V, Mendieta-Homs M, Castro-Oreiro S, Poveda-Elices MJ, del Castillo-Piñol N, Fontova-Garrofé R and Chacón MR (2023) A serum metabolic biomarker panel for early rheumatoid arthritis. Front. Immunol. 14:1253913.

D’esquerra a dreta: Part de l’equip d’investigadors i investigadores del Grup de Recerca DIAMET de l’IISPV que ha participat en l’estudi: Lídia Cedó Giné, Teresa Villanueva Carmona, Sonia Fernández-Veledo i Joan Vendrell.
From left to right: Part of the team of researchers from the DIAMET Research Group of the IISPV that has participated in the study: Lídia Cedó Giné, Teresa Villanueva Carmona, Sonia Fernández-Veledo and Joan Vendrell.

A study published in the prestigious Cell Metabolism journal and led by the Diabetes and
Associated Metabolic Diseases (DIAMET) research group of the Pere Virgili Health Research
Institute (IIPSV) and linked to the Joan XXIII University Hospital of Tarragona, has made it
possible to discover the mechanism through which adipocytes (the cells that primarily compose
adipose tissue) produce leptin, one of the main hormones that regulates appetite. It has also
been identified that this new mechanism regulates the biological clock of fat cells. In fact, today
it is known that adipocytes have their own internal clock (independent of external factors such
as light), which is essential for adipose tissue to perform its functions correctly.

The historical discovery of leptin as a hormone secreted by adipocytes in the 1990s led to a
paradigm shift, as it showed that the body fat must be considered an active endocrine organ
that regulates satiety and body weight. From that moment, even though numerous scientific
papers have studied how leptin acts in the central nervous system (it inhibits the intake by
producing the feeling of satiety) and why in obese people this mechanism does not work
correctly, no significant advances had been made regarding the production process of this
hormone in adipose tissue.

This research, which has received more than one million euros from the Fundación “la Caixa”
and from the Agencia Estatal de Investigación (Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación), represents a very significant milestone not only from the physiological point of view (since it helps to improve
understanding of the biological processes that control body weight), but also for addressing
metabolic diseases such as obesity.

In the words of Sonia Fernández-Veledo, researcher at the IIPSV and head of DIAMET: “If
everything works correctly, when we eat, the levels of leptin in the blood increase. This hormone
is responsible for sending the satiety signal to our brain. Obese people produce more leptin than
thin people, but in turn, a phenomenon known as leptin resistance develops, which means that
the body does not respond to this hormone. Therefore, people with obesity have the mechanism
of satiety altered. Our study not only demonstrates the mechanism by which adipocytes produce
leptin, but also why obese people’s fat does so excessively.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one billion people worldwide are
obese, data that continues an upward trend. WHO also warns that obesity is directly associated
with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and those related to mental health, hypertension,
stroke and various forms of cancer.

Succinate, key in this process

Succinate, an energetic metabolite that can also act as a hormone through its SUCNR1 receptor,
plays a very important role in all these processes. The DIAMET group is an international
benchmark in the study of this metabolite in the context of inflammatory and metabolic diseases
(such as obesity and diabetes). For many years, a mainly inflammatory role has been attributed
to this metabolite, in addition to being identified as a biomarker of metabolic dysfunction in
diseases such as obesity and diabetes (in this type of patients its levels are chronically elevated).
However, in recent years, the DIAMET group has shown that this is a complex system, since
succinate levels also increase (although transiently) in some physiological situations, such as
when we eat food.

In the words of Sonia Fernández-Veledo: “It is in this context where we believe that succinate –
through its receptor SUCNR1- naturally regulates energy homeostasis, that is, the internal
functions of our organism that control the balance between energy intake and its expenditure.
In this study we demonstrated that one of the mechanisms is through the production of leptin
and, therefore, through the feeling of satiety, but we anticipate that it will have other
physiological functions acting on other tissues. In addition, we demonstrate that succinate
would determine leptin oscillations throughout the day by controlling the biological clock of adipocytes. In obese people, this mechanism is hyperactivated, which would partly explain the
elevated leptin levels.”

This scientific advance represents a turning point in the treatment of obesity and opens the
doors to future studies aimed at investigating not only other metabolic functions of succinate,
but also at exploring therapies that allow restoring this mechanism, thus achieving that its levels,
as well like those of the hormone leptin, can be stabilized and it can recover its role in regulating
the feeling of satiety.

The study has received funding from the CaixaResearch Health Research Call (Fundación ”la
Caixa”) and from the Agencia Estatal de Investigación (Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación). It has
been possible thanks to the joint effort and commitment of several institutions: the Centro de
Investigación Biomédica en Red – Diabetes y Enfermedades Metabólicas (CIBERDEM), the CIBER
de Fisiopatología de la Obesidad y Nutrición (CIBEROBN), the Centres de Recerca de Catalunya
(CERCA), the Rovira i Virgili University, Joan XXIII University Hospital of Tarragona, the Instituto
de Investigaciones Biomédicas Alberto Sols, the Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge
(IDIBELL), the Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques (IBI) Sant Pau, the Universitat Autònoma de
Barcelona (UAB), the Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Girona (IDIBGI), the Universitat de
Girona and the Universitat de Barcelona.

Bibliographic reference: SUCNR1 signaling in adipocytes controls energy metabolism by
modulating circadian clock and leptin expression. Villanueva-Carmona T, Cedó l, Madeira A,
Ceperuelo-Mallafré V, Rodríguez-Peña M-M, Núñez-Roa C, Maymó-Masip E, Repollés-De-
Dalmau E, Badia J, Keiran N, Mirasierra M, Pimenta-Lopes C, Sabadell-Basallote J, Bosch R,
Caubet L , Carles Escolà-Gil J, Fernandez-Real JM, Vilarrasa N, Ventura F, Vallejo M, Vendrell J,
Fernández-Veledo S. 2023, Cell Metabolism 35, 1–19 April 4, 2023.

Nature Reviews Endocrinology has published a “Research Highlight” on this article:

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.

The study will analyze the result of the interaction of aspects such as diet, environment or genetics, and its effects on children through metabolites, markers in blood and urine

Data from more than 3,000 children of different ages and countries (in Spain these are patients of both the Hospital Universitari de Tarragona Joan XXIII and the Hospital Universitari Sant Joan de Reus) participating in this project will be collected on a web app. Thanks to its Artificial Intelligence based system, researchers and professionals in clinical practice will be able to interpret this information and make better decisions to improve patients’ treatments

A European study carried out by researchers from Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV)-CERCA and Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) will reveal what happens inside our body when interacting key health-related aspects such as eating and sleeping habits, exercise, environment conditionings or genetics. All these aspects play a key role in the high incidence rates that obesity and its related diseases have currently in our societies (especially among the child population).

“The result of the interaction of diet, environment, schedules, genetics or exercise can be studied by analysing markers in blood and urine such as metabolites. Therefore, metabolites are molecules resulting from what it’s been used by our organism: from what we eat, consume… from what it’s eventually happening at the present moment inside us. By studying this we will be able to know how health-related habits, how everyone’s characteristics… interact with each other and, as a result, how they impact on us in a different way leading each person to either health or to illness”, explains Verònica Luque, a researcher in the Paediatric, Nutrition and Human Development Research Unit, which is part of the research group responsible for this study.

One of the most significant developments of this project in comparison to others that have been conducted in the same field is that it allows to collect a huge amount of data from children and adolescents from different ages and countries (3,300 people aging 0 to 18 participate in this study). In Spain these are patients of both the Hospital Universitari de Tarragona Joan XXIII and the Hospital Universitari Sant Joan de Reus.

Thanks to the application of Artificial Intelligence and bioinformatics (one of the centres which participates in this study has expertise in these fields), it will be possible to manage all these data in a way that allows and facilitates a more global understanding of the key aspects of growth and infant feeding.

The main biomarkers identified in this study will be collected in one web app with a view to applying them in the field of research and clinical practice, so that professionals can make better decisions to improve people’s health. “Once we have studied these metabolites in relation with diet and other health habits and we have obtained the results, we will design a web application with the help of bioinformatics. It could have potential applications in the clinic. For instance, at hospital, when monitoring obese patients, after analysing a specific metabolite in blood or in urine, we would introduce the values to this application and, in this way researchers or clinicians could obtain information on the patient’s diet, his or her metabolic state… In a research project we accumulate a huge amount of data; Artificial Intelligence helps us interpret them. We need tools that allow to transfer this knowledge to the reality of healthcare practice”, explains Verònica Luque. For all these reasons, this research group has been conceived from a multidisciplinary approach: dieticians, pediatricians, laboratory analysts and bioinformatics work together on a regular basis.

This study, entitled “Biomarker signatures of diet, physical activity and sleep in children and youth” has received funding from the Instituto de Salud Carlos III and the Next Generation EU, which supports the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (ref. AC21_2/00010) as well as from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under the ERA-NET Cofund action Nº 727565 (JPI HDHL).

The project has been preselected by the prestigious European research network The Joint Programming Initiative ‘A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life’ (JPI HDHL), within the call for STAMIFY 2021 grants.

• The research group Nutrition and Metabolic Health-IIPSV-CERCA-URV is leading a study aiming to identify people at risk of developing this disease

• The results may allow to design targeted therapeutic strategies and to identify alterations produced across the progression of the disease

Members of the of the research group "Nutrition and Metabolic Health" of the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV) – Centres de Recerca de Catalunya (CERCA) - Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV).
Members of the of the research group “Nutrition and Metabolic Health” of the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV) – Centres de Recerca de Catalunya (CERCA) – Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV).

“Studies have found that 20 or 30 years before a diagnosis from Alzheimer’s disease (AD), metabolic alterations have already been identified in these patients”, states Mònica Bulló ( PhD), the principal investigator of the project and member of the research group of Nutrition and Metabolic Health of the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV) – Centres de Recerca de Catalunya (CERCA) – Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV).

This research hypothesis is that alterations in the metabolism of the insulin appear before the AD has been diagnosed. This an important information considering that insulin resistance is frequent in people who are obese and in patients with type II diabetes. “As a matter of fact, both diabetes and obesity increase the risk of AD”, explains Bulló. This is the starting point for the international study that the Professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology at the URV leads and promotes jointly with the researchers of the same group Christopher Papandreou and Jaume Folch. The aim of this project is to identify biomarkers for the diagnosis of AD in the early stages.

The study is carried out in collaboration with researchers of Alzheimer Center Barcelona and the Functional Neuroscience group of the Universitat Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla).

Previous metabolic alterations

Although Alzheimer was identified more than 100 years ago, an effective treatment has not yet been found. The finding of blood-based biomarkers for identifying people who are at risk of developing the disease would represent a very significant advance over the years: “In addition to better understanding the alterations that occur during the progression of the disease, targeted therapeutic strategies could be designed”, explains Bulló.

In addition to helping to prevent the disease in people at risk of developing it (with special attention to patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity), this approach would allow them to personalize their treatments and, therefore, advance in the field of personalized medicine, in which scientific debates are focusing their attention over the last years.

“So far, research into biomarkers has been at the level of cerebrospinal fluid. To get this type of samples implies some kind of risk and is not applicable as a screening tool”, explains Mònica Bulló. Thanks to Ace Alzheimer Center and the Universitat Pablo de Olavide will be possible to identify blood markers and relate them to brain markers as well as functional neuroimaging. “This gives us a tool more applicable to the population”, explains Bulló.

This project has been awarded with the Alzheimer’s Association Research Grant AARG-NTF-22-924702. It has started this month and will be running until 2025. Today, 800,000 people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease in Spain. It has been reported that the treatments for patients over 65 (in which the disease prevalence is highest) cost 10,000 million euros per year, which represents 1.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Nine French and Spanish EIT Health NGO, medical and industrial partners have joined forces with patients to develop a more affordable mobile screening solution for Diabetic Retinopathy, an ophthalmological pathology linked to diabetes.  

“Retina-Read-Risk” Innovation project supported by EIT Health officially kicked off its activities in February 2022. The consortium is composed by  the Fundació Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV) which leads the project, the Institut Català de la Salut (ICS), Telefonica, Grupo TRC, GENESIS Biomed, E-senior association, and the Fondation de l’Avenir.

Some data on diabetic retinopathy – a rather unknown disease linked to diabetes

Diabetes is a little-known, yet leading cause of blindness in Europe.It was estimated that  64 million people have diabetes in the European Region[i] in 2016 or representing around 7% of the Regional population. It is estimated that a little less than a million have vision impairment or blindness because of diabetic retinopathy in the World Health Organisation (WHO) European Region[ii]. In Spain according to a study  the incidence of diabetic retinopathy is growing[iii]  

Indeed, diabetes can lead to an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease affecting the capillaries, the small blood vessels in the retina. The disease begins with the destruction of the cells supporting these capillaries, particularly the pericytes, and thickening up to three times the normal size of the membrane separating the tissues, the so-called basement membrane. This aggression leads to the permeabilization of the capillaries, which in turn leads to the formation of retinal oedemas responsible for reduced vision.

These anomalies will then favour the occurrence of capillary rupture, the starting point for the establishment of new abnormal capillary networks. If left untreated, this will lead to haemorrhages in the vitreous (the transparent gel that fills the space between the lens and the retina), the appearance of veils, retinal detachment, and even blindness if no treatment is carried out.

Thus, the treatment of diabetes requires the collaboration of several health professionals: diabetologists, general practitioners, and ophthalmologists. The ophthalmologist can, for example, measure the degree of permeabilization of the capillaries with a fluorescent dye, during the examination of the back of the eye.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

The limitations of current screening for diabetic retinopathy

The real difficulty with this disease is the late detection, which only occurs when the first symptoms perceptible to the patient appear at a very advanced stage of the disease. In addition to heavy management, this late detection may result in functional losses for the patient.

This is why, in France, first-line screening is systematically organized for the diabetic population from the age of 10. The NHS (UK) recommend first-line screening from the age of 12. In Spain[i] the screening is organized by region, for exemple Anlousia that have the higher rate of diabetic people recommend  the same kind of first-line screening but for younger patient the protocole is chosen at local level.[ii]

The project, its launch, its ambition

The number of diabetics is on the increase, due to modern diets and an aging population, among other factors[iii].Moreover, they face numerous difficulties, among them, a decreasing offering of generalist and specialist care[iv], especially in remote areas.

The solution proposed by Retina-Read-Risk consists of building a telemedicine platform for the early detection of the disease. Thanks to solutions combining artificial intelligence and 5G technology, the device would be deployable in both rural and urban areas, through a mobile application.

Retina-Read-Risk project was officially launched the 11th  February 2022. It wil be running for a 3-year period of time with the goal of establishing a safer screening process for patients and less time consumering for the medical staff. The consortium includes a great variety of players of the innovation ecosystem: research laboratories, hospitals, a patient association, a telecom provider, a solution integrator, a specialist in the launch of health start-ups and a Foundation recognized as being of public interest for the support of applied medical research. They all have the same objective: improve and personalize the control of diabetic patients through E-health systems.

About Fundació Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV)

The IISPV is a biomedical research institute placed in the province of Tarragona (Catalonia, Spain) that combines clinical and basic research in order to accelerate the translation of knowledge to the benefit of patients. Founded in 2005, the institute integrates the Hospital Universitari de Tarragona Joan XIII, the Hospital de Tortosa Verge de la Cinta, the Hospital Universitari Sant Joan de Reus, the Hospital Universitari Institut Pere Mata and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in order to bring together and manage biomedical research and innovation in the territory. The IISPV aims to be a national and international reference centre in biomedical research and translation, at the service of the population, linking the health centres to the community.

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About the Institut Català de la Salut (ICS)

The Catalan Institute of Health (ICS) is the largest public health services company of Catalonia with a staff of over 51,700 professionals, that provides health care to nearly six million people across the country. As a reference entity of the public health system, the aim of ICS is to improve people’s health and quality of live, through the provision of innovative and excellent health services, regarding both the promotion of health and the treatment of diseases, from the most prevalent to the most complex ones. ICS structure includes 949 primary care centers and local consultancy, 8 Hospitals and 7 research institutes, including IISPV as a one of them. Our organization mission states to be a model that, through its structure and participants, responds to projects of strategic relevance to the ICS, guaranteeing the capacity and sufficient knowledge to execute them in short terms and obtaining fast returns in the form of results and value for the organization. ICS’ vision would become a reference and reliable model for all management structures, corporate and territorial, and ICS professionals to promote innovative projects, advise on their approach and relate, if necessary, external agents that collaborate in its deployment and / or provide resources. Since mid-2021 Mr Francesc Iglesias , currently Deputy Director of ICS, is the chairman of the Governing Board of EIT Health Spain.

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About Telefonica

Telefónica is one of the world leaders integrated operator in the telecommunication sector, providing communication, information and entertainment solutions, with operations in 12 countries in Europe and Latin American. As of the end of 2020, Telefónica’s total number of customers amounted more than 345 million and 113,000 professionals. Telefónica spends more 4,600 million euros each year on technological innovation, including more than 950 million euros on R&D of new products, services and management systems and improvement of existing ones. In the health sector, Telefonica is working in several areas like Telemedicine, geo-localised transport of living tissue between hospitals, assisted surgery operations with 5G and VR, etc.

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About the Grupo TRC

Grupo TRC has over 30 years of experience working hand in hand with groups of hospitals, developing applications to optimize and integrate all activities and processes of a health center in a unified platform.

The experience in the integration of advanced telecommunications systems, in the deployment of voice operator and connectivity services and in the development of customized software, both public and private sectors, national and international, are the guarantee of the commitment to the quality of our deployments, solutions and services.

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About GENESIS Biomed

GENESIS Biomed is a consultancy firm in the biomedical healthcare sector specialized in providing consulting services in the genesis and first phases of lifecycle of biomedical spin-off and start-up companies, entrepreneurs, and research centers.

Based in its expertise GENESIS Biomed helps entrepreneurs and researchers to shape their business plan and we support them in the private fundraising process. GENESIS Biomed has raised >66,5 M€ in the last years in 18 rounds.

GENESIS Biomed expertise domains are biopharmaceutical, biotechnological, medical devices, in vitro diagnostic, nutraceutical and cosmetic. With more than 20 years of expertise in the healthcare sector, GENESIS Biomed is born in May 2017, and it is located in the Barcelona Science Park and Madrid center.

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About E-senior

E-Seniors is a french non-profit association, founded in 2004 by Monique EPSTEIN. E-Seniors aims at fighting against e-exclusion by providing access to and training in ICT to seniors and/or disabled people. Its main objectives are bridging and shrinking the digital gap between generations, caring for elders by fighting against senior isolation, and opening new horizons for efficient use of free time. Besides teaching “basic computer skills”, E-Seniors has opened more thematically oriented workshops for “advanced” students, dealing with, for example, digital images and sounds, interactive messaging and chat, “writing memories”, and meetings dealing with the fight against e-exclusion. Through its work for elderly people and with them, the association tries as well to enhance awareness of the importance of ICT solutions in everyday life.

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About Fondation de l’Avenir

The Fondation de l’Avenir aims to support and promote applied medical research for the benefit of patients. Created in 1987 by the Mutualité, it has been recognized as a public utility since 1988. Today, the Foundation is the link between the mutualist movement and public health actors. The Fondation de l’Avenir can count on more than 50,000 donors and 40 partners from the social and solidarity economy, all of whom are mobilized to advance medical progress. The Foundation has financed more than 1,200 projects since its creation, including many world firsts. It is managed by an Executive Board, chaired by Marion LELOUVIER, under the control of a Supervisory Board, chaired by Daniel HAVIS.

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About EIT Health

EIT Health is a network of best-in-class health innovators with approximately 150 partners and is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union. We collaborate across borders to deliver new solutions that can enable European citizens to live longer, healthier lives.

As Europeans tackle the challenge of increasing chronic diseases and multi-morbidity, and seek to realise the opportunities that technology offers to move beyond conventional approaches to treatment, prevention and healthy lifestyles, we need thought leaders, innovators and efficient ways to bring innovative healthcare solutions to market. EIT Health addresses these needs. We connect 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.

EIT Health: Together for healthy lives in Europe.

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[i] Borja Corcóstegui, Santiago Durán, María Olga González-Albarrán, Cristina Hernández, José María Ruiz-Moreno, Javier Salvador, Patricia Udaondo, Rafael Simó, “Update on Diagnosis and Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy: A Consensus Guideline of the Working Group of Ocular Health (Spanish Society of Diabetes and Spanish Vitreous and Retina Society)”, Journal of Ophthalmology, vol. 2017, Article ID 8234186, 10 pages, 2017.

[ii] Martínez Brocca MA C. Diabetes mellitus: Proceso asistencial integrado [Diabetes mellitus: integrated health care process. 3rd edition. Seville: Consejería de Salud-Junta de Andalucía, 2018.

[iii]Assurance maladie,, Causes et facteurs favorisants du diabète, 08 décembre 2021

[iv]Difficultés et adaptation des médecins généralistes face à l’offre de soins locale

H. Chaput, M. Monziols (DREES), B. Ventelou , A. Zaytseva (AMSE), G. Chevillard, J. Mousquès (Irdes), L. Fressard, P. Verger (ORS Paca), M-C. Bournot, J-F. Buyck, A. Jolivet (ORS Pays de la Loire), F. Zemour (URPS-ML Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), T. Hérault (URML)