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Nuria Montserrat and her research group (Photo: IBEC).

An IBEC project on COVID-19 receives funding from “Fundación BBVA”

Nuria Montserrat and her research group at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) in the Barcelona Science Park receive funding from BBVA Foundation to lead a project to study how the SARS-CoV-2 infects the cells by using ‘mini kidneys’ generated from human stem cells. The project is one of 20 selected from among almost 1,000 proposals that were submitted to this special call, endowed with 2.7 million euros, with a common objective: to face the current pandemic COVID-19.

The project “Identifying SARS-CoV-2- host cell interactions exploiting CRISPR/Cas9 engineered human organoids: through the development of specific therapies against COVID19” will receive funding from the Extraordinary BBVA Foundation grant call for SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research proposals.

Thanks to a grant of 250,000 euros from “Fundación BBVA”, Nuria Montserrat’s group, together with Josef Penninger from the Austrian Institute of Molecular Biotechnology and Ali Mirazimi from the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, will study how SARS-CoV-2 infects the cells, for this, they will use ‘mini kidneys’ generated from human stem cells.

In these organoids, by using the CRISPR gene editing technique, it will be possible to “open and close” at will the proteins that the virus uses as a gateway to enter the cells -ACE2, among others-, and thus study the infection mechanism that it uses. In addition, the researchers will also study the molecular pathways that are activated once the virus infects the cell. The use of these organoids, which reflect the complexity of the real organ, makes it possible to accelerate a type of research that would otherwise take years.

Last April, the researcher, together with other international research centers, already demonstrated that kidney organoids contained groups of cells that expressed ACE2 in a similar way to that observed in native tissue, and then proceeded to infect it with SARS-CoV-2. Once they got these mini-kidneys infected, they applied different drugs to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infections and reduce their viral load.

► For futher information: IBEC website [+]