Image of the IISPV laboratories at the Joan XXIII Health Park, Tarragona.

The Instituto de Salud Carlos III (Ministry of Science and Innovation) has granted us nearly 1 million euros to carry out different research and innovation projects, through the aid of the Acción Estratégica en Salud 2024 call (AES), which includes the R&D+i Projects in Health and the Technological Development Projects in Health (DTS).

These grants will allow us to continue to advance in the research of diseases related to some of our 4 major research areas (metabolism and nutrition; oncology and mental health and neurosciences) and innovate and transfer the advances made to society.

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!

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.

A new study funded by the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Research Grant Program will attempt to answer this question

Christopher Papandreou (PhD), investigador principal del proyecto
Christopher Papandreou (PhD), principal investigator of the project.

“How the Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced cognitive decline and lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease?” This is the research question that a new international project funded by the Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant Program AARG-NTF-23-1027318 will try to answer.

“Substantial evidence supports that the Mediterranean diet (MD) is related to slower rates of cognitive decline and lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, the mechanisms explaining the aforementioned associations are still unknown.”, states Christopher Papandreou (PhD), the Principal Investigator of the project and member of the Nutrition and Metabolic Health Research Group (NuMeH) group of the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV).

This research hypothesis is that metabolite profiles reflecting adherence to the MD and capturing the metabolic response to this dietary pattern are consistent with a generally beneficial profile for cognition. The aim of this project is to identify groups of blood small molecules (metabolites) related to MD and examine their associations with cognitive change and AD.

This study, in collaboration with the Cognitive Disorders Clinic of Aeginition Hospital of the National and Kapodistrian University Athens (Greece), and the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the University of Ioannina (Greece), represents a great opportunity to contribute to increase the knowledge on the MD-related metabolic processes that influence cognitive function, neurodegeneration and AD development.

With this study, the researchers from the NuMeH group (led by Prof. Mònica Bulló) and Grup de Neurociència Clínica i Epidemiològica (NeuroÈpia) (led by Dr. Jordi Julvez) will provide all their experience acquired over years of research in nutrition, metabolism and epidemiology/advanced statistics, to advance the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on cognition through metabolomics and strengthen the existing observational evidence, providing further support for public health recommendations on the dietary prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

With this study, the researchers from the NuMeH group (led by Prof. Mònica Bulló) and Grup de Neurociència Clínica i Epidemiològica (NeuroÈpia) (led by Dr. Jordi Julvez) will provide all their experience acquired over years of research in nutrition, metabolism and epidemiology/advanced statistics, to advance the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on cognition through metabolomics and strengthen the existing observational evidence, providing further support for public health recommendations on the dietary prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

With this study, the researchers from the NuMeH group (led by Prof. Mònica Bulló) and Grup de Neurociència Clínica i Epidemiològica (NeuroÈpia) (led by Dr. Jordi Julvez) will provide all their experience acquired over years of research in nutrition, metabolism and epidemiology/advanced statistics, to advance the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on cognition through metabolomics and strengthen the existing observational evidence, providing further support for public health recommendations on the dietary prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

• The project will make it possible to classify the types of breast cancer and predict the probability of metastasis thanks to the joint analysis of radiological and microscopic images
• It will be led by researcher Domènec Puig from the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV) and Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV: ITAKA research group)

 Photo caption: On the left, researcher Domènec Puig.
On the left, researcher Domènec Puig.

Researcher Domènec Puig from the IISPV and the URV will coordinate an international project that must play a key role in the detection and prevention of breast cancer. This is the BosomShield project, aimed at the development of a software platform that analyzes images to classify the different types of breast cancer and to predict their dangerousness and the probability of relapse due to metastasis.

The project is led by the Robotics and Intelligent Vision laboratory of the URV, headed by researcher Domènec Puig, of the IISPV and part of the ITAKA research group of the Department of Computer Engineering and Mathematics (DEIM) of the university. It has the collaboration of universities, hospitals, biomedical research groups and European, Asian and North American technology centers. It is financed by the Marie-Sklodowska Curie Actions (Horizon MSCA), the reference program of the European Union for doctoral and postdoctoral training. It will last until 2026.

“The main novelty of the project is that for the first time are put together the analysis of radiological images, that is to say, mammograms, magnetic resonances…, and the analysis of histopathological images, the microscopic images of the cells. These two types of images have until now been analyzed separately, and the fact of working together allows a much more accurate prediction, to advance to the maximum, to specify their characteristics, benignity or malignancy, and the possibilities of metastasis, expansion beyond the chest, recurrence…”, explains Domènec Puig.

The project is divided into ten subprojects, each developed by one of the partners and dealing with the different phases of the process: the analysis of the radiological images, the analysis of the histopathological images, the prediction of the possibility of relapse combining the two types of images and the design of the platform. Those responsible for each subproject are PhD candidates chosen by each institution. “According to European mobility rules, candidates must have resided in the country of which each institution is a part for a maximum of one year out of the last three, which encourages a very interesting international exchange”, points out Puig.

The URV team is in charge of the first sub-project, which aims to “determine the molecular subtype of breast cancer using multimodal radiological images”, as explained by Hatem Rashwan, researcher at the Robotics and Intelligent Vision laboratory and DEIM visiting professor: “It is not a simple task, but thanks to deep learning and artificial intelligence we can find the tumor markers through these radiological images.” Rashwan emphasizes the fact of determining the molecular subtypes of cancer, since “it allows us to know if it is dangerous or if there may be a relapse after a few years, in this case in collaboration with the Swedish partners”. In this sense, Domènec Puig explains that the sub-projects are designed to be interrelated, with meetings and common posts and a lot of mobility, with stays of those responsible for each project in the other institutions.

The role of the IISPV

The Oncological Pathology and Bioinformatics Research Group of the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV) participates in this project focusing on the analysis of the role of the immune response of the axillary lymph nodes with the risk of relapse due to distant metastasis. In this regard, Carlos López (who together with Marylene Lejeune are responsible for the group) emphasizes that it is essential to study a patient’s risk factors for developing this type of metastasis since when this occurs it is very likely that it will not survive. The Hospital Universitari Sant Joan (Reus) and the Hospital Verge de la Cinta (Tortosa, where this research group is located), are also involved in the project.

“Our body’s immune response is the defenses that protect us from both viruses and bacteria, but which have also been seen to play an important role in the evolution of tumors. In breast cancer, the immune response to the primary breast tumor has been investigated, but there are very few studies focused on its study in the axillary lymph node, which is usually the first place where breast cancer it metastasizes regionally. Our role in the project is to provide the clinical, pathological and radiological digital images and also at the histological level of the patients’ biopsies to be able to integrate all the information to identify those patients with a greater risk of distant metastasis. The most innovative part of the project apart from the application of artificial intelligence is the integration of information from the immune response of the lymph nodes”, explains Carlos López.

“In the end, together, we will create a platform within the scope of clinical practice, which will be in hospitals, which will allow the specialist doctor to receive a warning from the system, for example if there is any suspicion in a particular patient, and that it helps you make better, more grounded and efficient decisions”, says Domènec Puig, whose team has been working on projects to help diagnose breast cancer for some time. In fact, the idea of ​​the project arises from the URV, side by side with the IISPV, giving it shape until finding the most refined proposal and contacting the rest of the institutions until forming the consortium that will take it forward. “This is our big project, the one that encompasses everything we’ve done so far and the one that will lead to having a universal, functional and adequate system”, concludes Puig.

L’investigador de l’IISPV i catedràtic de la URV Jordi Salas-Salvadó presideix aquesta conferència científica en què es discutiran les recerques presents i les tendències futures en la investigació nutricional

Amb els objectius de compartir les evidències actuals relacionades amb els beneficis del consum de fruita seca i definir mancances, necessitats i oportunitats en la recerca en aquest camp, els principals investigadors a nivell mundial sobre salut i fruita seca es reuneixen els dies 20 i 21 d’octubre a la seu de l’International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC), a Reus. Presidit pel catedràtic i investigador ICREA Acadèmia Jordi Salas-Salvadó, director de la Unitat de Nutrició Humana de la URV-IISPV i investigador del Centre d’Investigació Biomèdica en Xarxa d’Obesitat i Nutrició (CIBEROBN), el NUTS 2022 compta amb la participació de les ments més brillants en l’àmbit de la investigació nutricional.

Els temes clau que es tractaran a l’edició d’enguany fan referència al pes corporal, a la diabetis i la resistència a la insulina, a les malalties cardiovasculars, al sistema gastrointestinal i a l’envelliment cognitiu, entre d’altres. A mesura que la recerca sobre els beneficis del consum de fruita seca creix, aquesta trobada ofereix l’oportunitat de compartir i examinar detalladament allò conegut i establert i aquelles àrees de coneixement que necessiten ser estudiades. El professor Jordi Salas-Salvadó, un dels investigadors en nutrició més influents del món, remarca la importància d’aquest esdeveniment: “Tenim dades més que suficients per demostrar i ensenyar els efectes beneficiosos del consum de fruits secs sobre diferents malalties cardiometabòliques. Ara és el moment de resumir totes aquestes evidències per generar sinergies i intentar impulsar o modificar les al·legacions de salut que existeixen en relació al consum de fruita seca i els seus beneficis sobre la salut”.

El NUTS 2022 reuneix de forma excepcional a 27 ponents i moderadors de 13 països d’arreu del món, entre els quals hi ha investigadors de gran rellevància com Frank Hu, director del Departament de Salut Pública de la Universitat de Harvard, Joan Sabate, professor de Nutrició i Epidemiologia a la Universitat Loma Linda, David Jenkins del Departament de Ciències de la Nutrició de la Universitat de Toronto, David J. Baer del Departament d’Agricultura dels EUA, Linda Tapsell, professora emèrita de la Universitat de Wollongong d’Austràlia i Penny Kris-Etherton del Departament de Ciències de la Nutrició de la Universitat de l’Estat de Pennsylvania, entre d’altres. S’espera que com a resultat d’aquesta conferència organitzada des de la Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV-IISPV) i des del CIBEROBN, es publiquin les conclusions en una revista científica internacional.

L’INC, principal sponsor de NUTS2022, és un paraigües internacional per a la indústria de la fruita seca amb més de 880 membres d’empreses del sector de més de 80 països, que representen més del 85% del valor comercial mundial de la fruita seca. Goretti Guasch, directora executiva de l’INC, considera que “la investigació en nutrició és un pilar important de les activitats de l’INC” i reconeix que estan emocionats de tenir la oportunitat d’acollir investigadors d’arreu del món. La missió de l’INC és la d’estimular i facilitar el creixement sostenible de la indústria de la fruita seca i és l’organització líder en termes de salut, nutrició, seguretat alimentaria i regulacions internacionals sobre fruita seca”.

Omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids are known to be critical for proper brain development and function.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is associated with a greater capacity for selective and sustained attention in adolescents, while alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is associated with lower impulsivity, according to a study co-led by ISGlobal, a center supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation and the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV). The results confirm the importance of having a diet that provides sufficient amounts of these polyunsaturated fatty acids for a healthy brain development. 

During adolescence, important structural and functional changes occur in the brain, especially in the prefrontal area, which plays a major role in controling attention. On the other hand, omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids are known to be critical for proper brain development and function. The most abundant fatty acid in the brain, particularly in the prefrontal area, is DHA, which is mostly supplied by eating fatty fish.

“Despite the established importance of DHA in brain development, few studies have evaluated whether it plays a role in the attention performance of healthy adolescents,” says Jordi Júlvez, IISPV researcher, ISGlobal research associate and coordinator of the study. “In addition, the possible role of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), another omega-3 but of plant origin, has not been as extensively studied,” he adds. This is relevant, given the low fish consumption in Western societies.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether a higher intake of DHA and ALA was associated with an increased attention performance in a group of 332 adolescents from different schools in Barcelona. The participants underwent computerized tests that measure reaction times in order to determine selective and sustained attention capacity, inhibition capacity in the face of distracting stimuli, and impulsivity. The adolescents also answered a series of questions on dietary habits and gave blood samples to measure red blood cell levels of DHA and ALA – an objective and valid indication of long-term dietary intake of these fats.

The results show that higher levels of DHA are associated with greater selective and sustained attention and inhibitory attention. In contrast, ALA was not associated with attention performance, but was associated with lower impulsivity. “The role of ALA in attention control is still unclear, but this finding may be clinically relevant, as impulsivity is a feature of several psychiatric conditions, such as ADHD,” explains Ariadna Pinar-Martí, first author of the study.

“Our study indicates that dietary DHA most likely plays a role in attention-requiring tasks, but further studies are needed to confirm a cause-effect, as well as to understand the role of ALA,” concludes Júlvez. In any case, the findings add to the already existing evidence on the benefit of consuming fatty fish (the main source of DHA) at a time when the brain is developing in its highest sophistication before reaching adulthood. 

Bibliografic reference: Pinar-Marti A, Fernández-Barrés S, Gignac F et al.  Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acids and attention scores in healthy adolescents. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2022 Aug 12. doi: 10.1007/s00787-022-02064-w.

Image of researchers participating in the PARC
project meeting held in Tarragona.

Experts from all over Europe in research in the fields of toxicology and the environment have gathered in Tarragona to work together within the framework of the European Partnership for the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals (PARC) project, which aims to study the impact that the chemicals present in our environment have on people’s health and to urge governments to improve their regulation.

The TecnATox research group, reference in toxicology and in the environment field

Chemistry is present in our everyday life (in food, packaging, electronics, clothes…) and also in the air we breathe. It is essential, but so is ensuring that these products are safe for our health and the environment. The TecnATox research group of the Institut d’Investigació Sanitària Pere Virgili (IISPV-CERCA) and the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) has been conducting research in the field of toxicology and the environment for more than 3 decades and it is a reference in Spain.

The European Partnership for the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals (PARC) project is coordinated by the Agence Nationale de Sécurité Sanitaire (ANSES) and nearly 200 key institutions work together in the field of research throughout Europe. In Spain, the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute, which participates in the study as an affiliated entity of the Instituto de Salud Carlos III (ISCIII), is the one that has received the most funds from the European Commission (organization responsible for financing).

PARC is part of the Horizon Europe program, which aims to achieve a scientific, technological, economic and social impact of the European Union’s investments in the field of R&D.

Interview with Vikas Kumar, senior researcher of the project, on Tarragona Ràdio

Related news:

El grup de recerca TecnATox: treball en equip a Europa per investigar els efectes dels productes químics en la nostra salut (web IISPV)

TecnATox Research group

Vicenç Pascual, Albert Fabregat and Ismael Ávila, founders of aCUP-E, hope to bring a solution for brain monitoring of newborns to the market in just over a year.

For more information: https://www.diaridetarragona.com/economia/Electrodos-para-neonatos-20220207-0001.html