A moment of the visit of Pedro Duque, Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation, and Raquel Yotti, ISCIII Director, with Maria Blasco, CNIO Director, and researchers Felipe Cortés and Sagrario Ortega. /CNIO
The two centres are developing several projects related to COVID-19
The Minister of Science and Innovation, Pedro Duque, visited this Monday the facilities of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) and the Spanish National Centre for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC), both affiliated to the Institute of Health Carlos III (ISCIII). Researchers from these two centres are developing several projects to study COVID-19 from many different angles.
The directors of both centres, Maria Blasco of the CNIO and Valentín Fuster of the CNIC, outlined the progress of these projects to the minister and, in addition, they informed him about how they continued working during these weeks.
As the minister pointed out afterwards, both centres promoted teleworking and did everything possible to guarantee the continuity of the work in the laboratories. “This is in line with the measures approved by the Ministry, which wants the research activity to be maintained as much as possible, but leaves it to the directors of the centres themselves to decide on the continuity of each of the activities in function of the health recommendations,” he noted.
Accompanied by Raquel Yotti, director of the ISCIII, and Maria Blasco, scientific director of the CNIO, Duque learned in detail about the coronavirus-related projects on which the CNIO is working. Two of these projects have already been selected to receive funding from the COVID-19 Fund: a strategy to detect the virus quickly using a simple technique that makes use of the phage Phi29 to more rapidly amplify SARS-CoV-2 sequences, and another project for generating preclinical mouse models that will express the human protein ACE2, to improve the study of the disease and further the testing of therapeutic strategies.
CNIO researchers are also working on other projects related to very different aspects of the coronavirus, from the study of the pulmonary sequelae that this virus can produce when infecting lung cells to the search for therapies that block virus replication and the identification of genetic variants that explain the different evolution of patients.
Since the state of alarm was decreed, the CNIO has encouraged teleworking and, to ensure the continuity of research projects that require hands-on activity in the laboratories, has authorised the presence of up to two people per research group. Thus, the presence of 110 CNIO employees belonging to groups or units has been authorised during the confinement period, which is one-fifth of the total.
Likewise, the Biotechnology Core Units (Animal Facility, Molecular Imaging, Genomics, Histopathology, Proteomics, Mouse Genome Editing, and Cytometry) remained operative to ensure the maintenance and care of animal colonies necessary for research, provided remote support to their users and established minimum services in some areas to allow the continuation of activities that are critical for the progress of ongoing research projects.
Duque talked from the CNIC with its general director by videoconference. Fuster is also director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Physician-in-Chief at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
The minister visited several laboratories of the CNIC and learned from the principal investigators about the projects related to COVID-19 in which this centre is involved.
Specifically, researcher Jesús Vázquez leads an investigation into the interactions between SARS-CoV-2 and the host at the proteomic level; Borja Ibáñez directs the ‘MADRID-COVID Clinical Trial’ project; David Sancho, the ‘COVID-19 Vaccination Booster’ project; and Miguel Torres, the development of assays for the detection of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in serum.
The CNIC has also been validated to carry out PCR tests to support the diagnosis of COVID-19; these analyses will be carried out by the Genomics Unit, headed by Ana Dopazo.