Regeneration after spinal cord injury, a project financed by CaixaResearch Health Research 2023 Contest

November 28, 2023

Alar Ainla from INL and Nuno Silva from the Institute of Research in Life and Health Sciences (ICVS) at the School of Medicine (EMed) won the CaixaResearch Health Research 2023 award, an initiative promoted by the “la Caixa” Foundation. The awardees were granted a prize of around one million euros for a project on spinal cord injuries that is based on the creation of a new device and treatment in order to regenerate nervous tissue leading to functional gains.

ICVS leads this unique project and will allow a close collaboration between both institutes that will enable the interaction between experts in biology and technology in an area where it will be possible to boost innovation and the development of advanced solutions for the regeneration of spinal cord injuries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, annually, there are between 40 and 80 cases of spinal cord injuries per one million inhabitants. Although the survival rate of these people has increased significantly in recent decades, this type of injury continues to cause neurological disorders with enormous repercussions on the lives of affected individuals. Although some treatments allow partial recovery of neuronal functions, taking advantage of an intrinsic property of the central nervous system called neuroplasticity, none of those treatments are able to fully repair the damaged areas.

In Alar’s words: “It’s a really important and wonderful milestone. The first seed for this project was planted already in 2018, during INL-ICVS Hackathon, or team won an award that kick-started our collaboration and allowed us to develop some first preliminary devices, but even more importantly establish our partnership, which eventually evolved into the concept proposed for the “La Caixa” Foundation. Winning CaixaResearch Health prize will surely allow us to take this project to an entirely different level. And while the device and its development are going to be really interesting, the building block we will create and knowledge we will obtain, can be also very useful for other health technologies and projects.”

The ”la Caixa” Foundation is now in the 7th edition of the Caixa Research Competition for research projects in biomedicine and health. The objective of the competition is to identify and promote initiatives of scientific excellence with potential and impact on society, whether in basic, clinical or translational research, and these must fall within the thematic areas of neurosciences, oncology, cardiovascular diseases and associated metabolic diseases, infectious diseases, as well as facilitating technologies in the four previous thematic areas.

33 projects were selected in the CaixaResearch Health Research 2023 call that will be carried out in research centres, hospitals, and universities in Spain and Portugal. The call aimed to promote excellent biomedical research with a significant social impact in basic, clinical, and translational research and is especially focused on addressing the main health challenges. The awarded projects, selected from 493 proposals, will receive up to 500,000 euros for projects submitted by a single research organization and up to one million euros for projects presented by consortia comprising two to five research organizations. The research will focus on different areas: 8 will investigate infectious diseases, 7 in neuroscience, 7 in cardiovascular and related metabolic diseases, and 6 in oncology. Additionally, 5 other awarded initiatives will develop enabling technologies in one of these fields

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