'La Caixa' Foundation held the award ceremony for the 2023 CaixaResearch Health grants in Barcelona this afternoon. 33 research projects in biomedicine and health were granted to be carried out in hospitals, universities, and research centers in Spain and Portugal. One of the awarded projects is led by Dr. Estela Area, principal researcher at the Margarita Salas Center for Biological Research (CIB-CSIC).
Dr. Area's project focuses on deciphering the role of alterations in cellular metabolism in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and is funded by 'la Caixa' Foundation in collaboration with the Luzón Foundation. “These two foundations have an agreement whereby, within the neuroscience projects that ‘la Caixa’ funds, at least one must be about ALS,” explains Dr. Area.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects motor neurons and every year about 1.5 and 2 new cases are diagnosed per 100,000 inhabitants worldwide. Previous findings linked certain metabolic defects with the appearance of the pathology, including deregulation of blood lipid levels and insulin resistance. Nevertheless, the cause of the disease is still unknown, as well as how these metabolic alterations contribute to the failure of motor function.
Previous research carried out by Dr. Area's team showed that the metabolic alterations characteristic of the disease –from the presymptomatic stages to the appearance of the first symptoms– are due to defects in motor neurons. These occur in the cytoplasm of the cell, particularly, in some specific structures called mitochondria-associated endoplasmic reticulum membranes (MAM), which are involved in regulating fat metabolism.
In the new project, MAM dysfunctions will be analyzed and monitored in animal models as well as human cells and blood samples from patients with ALS. “We propose that MAM dysfunction and altered ER-mitochondrial connectivity play an early role in ALS pathogenesis”, says Dr. Area. “Moreover, these MAM-driven changes in lipid composition could be used as biomarkers for the diagnoses and progression of this complex disorder”, she adds. Furthermore, this research has the potential to have a future impact on ALS therapy through the identification of new targets.
The project grant amounts to 500,000 euros and will be carried out in a consortium with other researchers: Dr. Manuel Portero-Otin, from the Institut de Recerca Biomèdica de Lleida (IRBLleida-UdL); Dr. Carmen Paradas, from the Institute of Biomedicine of Seville - Virgen del Rocío University Hospital; and Dr. Aurora Gómez Durán, from the Singular Centre for Research in Molecular Medicine and Chronic Diseases (CiMUS) - University of Santiago de Compostela.
The 'CaixaResearch Health Call 2023' supports basic, clinical, or translational research projects of scientific excellence and great social impact. The granted projects, 22 of which are led by Spanish centers, address different areas ranging from neurosciences and infectious diseases to oncology and cardiovascular diseases. The call is endowed with 25.3 million euros. It is carried out in collaboration with the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Superior Education of Portugal.
‘la Caixa’ Foundation press release (in Spanish): link.
CSIC press release (in Spanish): link.