Four avant-garde technology projects, including neuronal microchips from stem cells, launched by BU

“Novel ideas for radically new technologies”, reports The University of Barcelona.  This is the motto of the Horizon 2020 FET Open program of research and innovation actions (FET Open RIA). The last call awarded four projects with participation of the research staff of the University of Barcelona. This is StretchBio, a project to develop nanotechnology for the customized treatment of solid tumors; Neu-ChiP, on neuronal microchips; OrganVision, a real-time image system for organoids, and ECaBox, a system to keep eyes from donors. These projects, which will launch over the upcoming months, account for a total of more than 14 million euros – of which the University of Barcelona will manage about 2.8 million euros.

The FET Open RIA call, one of the most competitive calls, received more than 3.000 projects since 2014, and its gatekeepers are a radical vision, a breakthrough technological target and an ambitious interdisciplinary research. “Only excellent proposals have a chance to get funding”, stated Timo Hallantie, head of the FET Open Unit, in an article. The four mentioned projects represent about 25% of those submitted by the University of Barcelona in this call.

StretchBio: nanotecnology for customized treatment of solid tumors

The StretchBio project will treat the design, production and application of a nanosystem that allows the monitoring and quantification of mechanic tensions in solid tumor biopsies. Led by lecturer Albert Romano, from the Department of Electronic and Biomedical Engineering and member of the Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology of the UB (IN2UB), the project counts on the participation of Florenci Serras, from the Department of Genetics, Microbiology and Statistics and member of the Institute of Biomedicine (IBUB), and Jordi Alcaraz, from the Department of Biomedicine.

StretchBio opens a new approach pathway to precision medicine on solid tumors and its customized treatment, thanks to the ability of individualizing the use of anti-cancer drugs for different tumors and patients. The created nanosystem, based on silicon pillars of nanometric dimensions, will detect changes in these tissues during the treatment with anti-cancer drugs, which eases the identification of appropriate drugs for the treatment of each tumor.

This project, funded with 3,822.695 euros, counts on the participation of the Technical University of Denmark, the University of Freiburg, the company ReadyCell SL and the technological centre Leitat.

Neu-ChiP: neuronal microchips from stem cells

The Neu-Chip project aims to build biological neuronal circuit microchips using human induced stem cells. At the UB, it is led by researchers Jordi Soriano, member of the Institute of Complex Systems (UBICS) and Daniel Tornero, from the Institute of Neurosciences (UBNeuro) and member of IDIBAPS./p>

In this chip, neurons will be connected to each other following special designs that will enable them to carry out artificial intelligence and deep learning tasks –currently conducted in electronic circuits– at a low-cost energy and using natural neuronal computing which works in the human brain. These neurochips have unique advantages, such as great flexibility regarding changing information, as well as adaption and self-repair skills. The researchers’ aim is to explore the benefits of biological neuronal computing and make it accessible to develop new technologies for society.

The project, coordinated by Aston University (United Kingdom) and funded with 3.5 million euros, counts on the participation of researchers from Loughborough University (United Kingdom), the National French Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and the company 3Brain Ag (Switzerland).

OrganVision: real-time organoid imaging

Organoids are cell aggregates grown in three-dimensional arrays that are similar to miniature simplified organs and that have some of their physiological functions. OrganVision is a proposal on technology to visualize organoids in real time. The main researcher of the UB in this project is the lecturer Martí Duocastella, from the Department of Applied Physics and member of IN2UB.

OrganVision wants to shift current disease and drug screening models to an observable tissue in real time at subcell and intracell scale in a biomicroscopic environment. This would enable the exploitation of key physiological processes in humans. To carry out this technology, the research team is built up by experts from fields such as microscopy, biotechnology, artificial intelligence and life science, from different types of institutions: universities and research centres, hospitals and companies.

The project, funded with 3.7 million euros, is led by the University of Tromsø (Norway), and counts with the participation of researchers from the University Hospital of North Norway (UNN) and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), and the companies JenLab (Germany) and 3rdPlace (Italy) and the IFOM Cancer Research Institute (Italy).

ECaBox: a device to keep eyes from donors

The ECaBox project (eyes in a Care Box) consists on developing a device, in a transparent box shape, that will copy the conditions of the living human eye in order to resuscitate the eyes of dead donors. The project, led by the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), counts on the participation of researcher Ricardo Casaroli, professor of Ophthalmology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the UB.

Current technology only allows eyes to be kept at 4ºC for a period of 48 hours. After this time, its degradation is irreversible. ECaBox will keep the temperature of the eye and pH levels, it will avoid blood clots and will remove metabolic waste and toxins. Therefore, it will keep the eyes healthy for at least a month, which can help scientific teams to evaluate the efficiency and safety of new regenerative therapies and drug testing.

With a 3.5 million euros funding, ECaBox is led by the CRG and has the participation of an IBEC team. It counts on the participation of the King’s College of London (United Kingdom), the Association for the Advancement of Tissue Engineering and Cell Based Technologies & Therapies (A4TEC, Portugal), AFERETICA (Italy) and the Bar-Ilan University (BIU, Israel).

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