The three grants of €50,000 each will promote the study of the HIV reservoir, the improved characterisation of persistent COVID, and the assessment of the inflammatory response triggered by COVID-19
The biotech company Gilead, as part of its 8th call for grants, has awarded a total of €150,000 to three scientific projects in which IrsiCaixa participates. Thanks to this funding, three female researchers from the Institute will begin their studies in the field of HIV and COVID-19. The pharmaceutical company will invest one million euros in national scientific projects in different areas of health, including the field of infectious diseases.
Immunological characterisation of people with Long Covid
Between 10 and 20% of all people who have undergone COVID-19 end up suffering from Long Covid, that is, symptoms that are prolonged for at least two months after diagnosis. It is a syndrome for which the causes and mechanisms by which it develops, as well as the existence of an effective treatment, are unknown. With the aim of characterising Long Covid in depth from an immunological point of view, as well as deciphering the origin of the symptoms and defining biomarkers to aid diagnosis, IrsiCaixa, together with the Fight Infections Foundation and the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital, created one of the first Long Covid Units in Spain. Now, with the Gilead grant that the group leader at IrsiCaixa and co-coordinator of this Unit Marta Massanella has received, she and her team will begin a study aimed at deciphering the causes of this new little-known disease and identifying immunological markers to design effective therapies. To do so, they will analyse blood samples from people who are suffering from Long Covid in the last six months and compare them with those of people who have already recovered, as well as with samples from uninfected people.
The way HIV infects cells influences the growth and activation of the viral reservoir
Promoting early diagnosis of HIV has always been a priority objective to reduce the number of people who have acquired the infection but are unaware of it. However, although more and more people are being diagnosed early in Spain, 42% of new HIV infections are still diagnosed late. Although the timing of treatment initiation does not affect its ability to reduce viral load to undetectable, the scientific community has found that the viral reservoir –the cells where the virus hides– is different between people who start treatment early and those who start treatment late. The difference lies in what is known as viral tropism, that is, the affinity of viruses for cells. In the case of people diagnosed late, because the infection is more advanced, the tropism of the virus also evolves and becomes more affinity for a different cell receptor than in people diagnosed early. Thanks to the Gilead grant, the IrsiCaixa associate researcher Mª Carmen Puertas will promote a project to study the potential implications of these differences when designing HIV cure strategies.
SARS-CoV-2-triggered inflammation as a biomarker of COVID-19 severity and progression
The key molecule through which SARS-CoV-2 is able to infect the cells of our body is the ACE2 receptor. Based on this Gilead grant, the IGTP researcher and group leader at IrsiCaixa Ester Ballana, together with physician and IMIM researcher Clara Barrios, will start a project in which they will describe the contribution of the inflammatory processes regulated by ACE2 in the different phases of the SARS-CoV-2 infection process. To this end, they will study ACE2 as a factor of susceptibility to infection, and the role of this receptor in the development of inflammation during the acute phase, as well as in cases of Long Covid. Thus, the research team will characterise and validate ACE2 as a biomarker for both acute and Long Covid.
Thanks to Gilead's financial support, IrsiCaixa will be able to carry out these three research projects focused on Long Covid, the HIV reservoir and inflammation triggered by SARS-CoV-2.