Doing real translational research: from patient to molecule

The Myogenesis, Inflammation and Muscle Function group from IMIM-Hospital del Mar Research Institute, coordinated by Joaquim Gea, is one of the few groups where a real translational research is already taking place. Formed 15 years ago by a group of clinical doctors specialized in respiratory diseases and a group of more basic biologists, its aim is to find direct links between specific symptoms and cellular and molecular mechanisms. For this, they do a clinical evaluation of the patient (or the animal model), obtain biological samples and do physiological studies. This part is done at the human physiology laboratory at the Hospital del Mar (or at the PRBB animal facility if it is an animal model). Then, at the respiratory biology lab at IMIM, the cellular and molecular analysis of the samples takes place.

Research at the unit is aimed at the diagnostic and treatment of respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, the cause of 20% of all cancer deaths. They also study chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease caused by smoking which is more and more frequent (9% of the adult population, or 14% in men only). Sepsis (an extended blood infection), the most frequent cause of death at intensive care units, which causes exaggerated inflammatory mechanisms all through the body, is another of the diseases studied here. The group has also small projects in other non-respiratory disease, such as adolescent scoliosis (an anomalous rotation of the spinal cord) and fibromialgy, a disease which causes strong pains and tiredness and which affects 2-5% of the adult population, especially women.

The group is internationally-recognized and the most outstanding Spanish laboratory in the respiratory muscles field. It is divided into three research lines which cover different pathological mechanisms of their diseases of interest: local inflammation as a signal mechanism, a line directed by Joaquim Gea; structural and immunological alteration of the muscles and the respiratory tracks, directed by Mauricio Orozco-Levi; and local and systemic oxidative stress, directed by Esther Barreiro, the only one who is exclusively involved with research and is, for the moment, not doing any clinical activity. The three of them combine research with teaching at the UPF.

According to Gea, the biggest challenge in this field is to find drugs for the specific targets that are being identified. Interestingly, the mechanisms of loss of muscular function are very similar for the different diseases, so some of the common symptoms could have similar therapeutic approaches.

Apart from their own studies, the unit also acts as a reference laboratory, designing studies for other groups and analyzing samples from different regions in Spain, the UK, The Netherlands and Canada. The unit also collaborates with other groups at the PRBB, such as that of Pura Muñoz (CEXS-UPF) and that of Josep M. Antó (CREALIMIM).

This article was published in the El·lipse publication of the PRBB.

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