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During 2021, the Projects Unit has provided a service to the research community in the preparation and application of a total of 611 grants, of which 495 through national calls, and 116 with international calls.

The total amount granted through competitive projects was 17,98 million euros, being the second best year in the history of the VHIR.

The Projects Unit is made up of teams of qualified managers specialized in the formulation (preaward) and justification (postaward) of both national and international projects.

Activity and connectivity drive neuronal vulnerability and disease progression in Parkinson's disease

The study will provide deeper knowledge of the causes and mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease and investigate possible new therapies that could be applied at early stages of the disease. “We want to analyse how the progressive accumulation of neuromelanin impairs neuronal function in the different brain circuits affected in Parkinson’s disease,” explains Dr. Miquel Vila, head of the Neurodegenerative Diseases research group and ICREA Professor, who is the Coordinating Lead PI of this international project.

In therapeutic terms, the project will determine whether reducing neuromelanin levels or modulating brain circuit activity can restore the dysfunction that occurs in the affected brain. “Some of the potential therapeutic strategies we aim to investigate are non-invasive and safe for humans and could thus be directly transferred to patients if they prove effective in experimental animals,” says Dr. Vila.

The Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative has awarded $11 million (approximately €9.5 million) to the project. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is ASAP’s implementation partner and issued the grant.

BEACON BIO (genomic and biomarker studies for relapsed neuroblastoma)

The BEACON BIO project is focused on characterising genomic features and developing biomarkers for treatment response in cancer patients with relapsed neuroblastoma, one of the most common and deadly childhood tumours. It will analyse samples from the BEACON clinical trial, the largest randomised trial to date, to test different chemotherapy options for neuroblastoma.

Dr. Lucas Moreno, head of both the Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders research group and the Paediatric Haematology and Oncology Department at Vall d’Hebron, will lead this European study with researchers from Paris, Lyon, Leeds, Southampton and London.

“This project will mark a major advance for research into relapsed neuroblastoma, allowing patients to benefit from targeted therapies and immunotherapy, and will help identify new drugs or improve patient selection for each treatment regimen”, Dr. Moreno notes.

The project has been awarded €500,000 from the Fight Kids Cancer Initiative 2020, the union of three European cancer associations: Imagine for Margo, Kick Cancer and Kriibskrank Kanner Foundation.

TARTAGLIA (Federated Network to Accelerate the Application of Artificial Intelligence in the Spanish Health System)

The Tartaglia Project, a public-private partnership involving 16 national and international organisations led by the technology multinational GMV, with the participation of the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) is now under way, with the aim of creating a federated network to accelerate the application of artificial intelligence to healthcare systems in Spain.

Through the federated network, the project will facilitate the training of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms between different hospitals and health centres in the country, without transferring data outside health institutions, thereby ensuring conditions of maximum regulatory and administrative security and privacy.

Several clinical areas in Tartaglia will benefit from the development and training of AI algorithms, such as prostate cancer, diabetes and cardiology.

For VHIR, Dra. Anna Santamaria and Dr. Joan Morote, heads of the Biomedical Research in Urology, and Dr. Jose F. Rodriguez Palomares, from the Cardiovascualr Imaging Unit, will be leading two different work packages.

Tartaglia is framed within the R&D Missions in Artificial Intelligence programme of the Spanish Digital 2025 Agenda and the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, and will be funded with nearly €7.5 million from Next Generation funds. The VHIR will receive almost €1 million of this budget.

ERA-NET Quantitative and storage-stable point-of-care diagnostic device (QUPID)

The QUPID international project aims to provide low-cost but high-performance technology for point-of-care (POC) testing for malaria, which could be implemented efficiently in both poor and rich countries. The team led by Eva Baldrich, head of the Diagnostic Nanotools research group, is developing a cost-effective analytical system that, by exploiting synthetic receptors and tags, will ensure long-term storage stability and fast, reliable, quantitative malaria diagnosis with minimal user intervention, facilitating remote interpretation.

The system will provide a fast quantitative diagnosis from whole blood, including elements for automated operation with minimal user handling, which is not provided by any of the current malaria diagnostic tools. Furthermore, although initially oriented to diagnosing malaria, a similar technology could be employed in the future in other medical fields.

The project has been subsidised by the European Union through the 12th Joint Transnational Call for Proposals for “European Innovative Research & Technological Development Projects in Nanomedicine” (EC/EURONANOMED-JTC/2021).  The budget is €814,002 for the whole consortium and €214,000 for VHIR.

ERA-NET Development of a personalised non-invasive diagnosis of endometrial cancer using proteomic markers in cervical fluids and clinical data (CytoMARK)

An accurate, objective, personalised and non-invasive endometrial cancer diagnosis is urgently needed since it is the fourth most common cancer in women, its incidence is increasing and early detection is crucial.  Currently, diagnosis relies on invasive procedures performed to women with symptoms, being an abnormal vaginal bleeding the main symptom to initiate an EC diagnosis.

This project, CytoMARK, aims to develop an in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) tool to achieve an improved diagnosis for those women.  CytoMARK is led by Dr. Eva Colás, principal investigator, of the Biomedical Research Group in Gynecology, together with Dr. Antonio Gil and Dr. Silvia Cabrera, from the Gynecology Service in Vall Hebron Hospital.

The CytoMARK project is built as a consortium of 5 partners to validate protein biomarkers in a retrospective clinical study coordinated by VHIR (Spain) and with the top-edge technology on targeted proteomics, led by the LIH partner (Luxembourg). Molecular markers will be combined with clinical data by the USC partner (Spain) and the most promising biomarkers will be transferred to an antibody technology by ICOSAGEN (Estonian SME partner) and SolarBiotec (Turkey SME partner). Through all the project, the HU partner (Turkey) and VHIR will ensure the clinical validation of the developed non-invasive tool and the valorization of the asset to meet stakeholder’s requirements.

The developed IVD will not only detect the presence of cancer, but also determine the clinical, pathological and molecular features for each endometrial cancer patient. This information is crucial for tailoring surgical treatment, which is the most effect cure. The resulting tool is a change in the paradigm on how endometrial cancer patients are managed and will benefit patients, doctors and the health system.

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VHIR Annual Report 2021