RESPONDING TO THE CORONAVIRUS

RESPONDING TO THE CORONAVIRUS

The health crisis caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has highlighted the crucial but often undervalued role of research. In a globalized world, health is a shared matter for the entire planet: humans, animals and the environment. What's happening is, in a way, a reminder of our place in the world.

At IrsiCaixa, our place is one where we can immediately respond to the pandemic. In collaboration with other institutions, we have launched a vaccine research project and a clinical trial to investigate ways to prevent disease transmission. Activity in our laboratory these days is hectic, with people from our different research groups working together in a race against time and with one sole goal: to beat the coronavirus.

Once again, science is the answer and, bolstering the work of frontline health staff, are researchers like the IrsiCaixa staff members listed below, battling to halt the pandemic.

Carmen Aguilar

Post-doc researcher

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She’s part of a researcher chain where each link is crucial. Yesterday one team prepared sample dishes for her, today her team will extract the RNA from the virus, and tomorrow another team will run PCR analyses. “In research, teamwork is everything, but we are now seeing, more than ever, just how crucial teamwork is.”

Carlos Ávila

Pre-doc researcher

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He works in the Biosafety Level 3 laboratory, preparing samples for another team to extract genetic material from. “That the situation develops in the middle of a doctorate is certainly inconvenient, but it also makes me appreciate more having chosen a scientific career. I'm delighted to be able to help with coronavirus research.”

Rafi Ayén

Laboratory technician

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Employed to process blood samples from patients in the HIV unit for the last 20 years, the current situation has led her to adapt in record time to new protocols and schedules. “We are giving our all because we want to do our very best to fight the pandemic,” she says.

Roger Badia

Associate researcher

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He is currently participating in the recently launched Catalan clinical trial to tackle coronavirus transmission. One of his tasks is to run diagnostic PCR testing for the coronavirus in people who have been in contact with infected individuals. “Everyone is doing their bit to help however they can,” he says.

Ester Ballana

Principal investigator

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She is currently working on standardizing a methodology for the SARS-CoV-2 sample analysis platform and is also involved in protocol optimization tasks, daily security protocol updates and the management of different teams.

Ana Barajas

Pre-doc researcher

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SARS-CoV-2 has not only altered her own daily routines but also her work routines. She is now part of the chain of people working to prepare and process the samples of patients recruited to the clinical trial aimed at preventing transmission using drugs.

Ángel Bayón

Pre-doc researcher

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SARS-CoV-2 has completely changed his usual work of investigating the HIV reservoir. He now processes samples obtained from people with COVID-19 and their contacts. “You have to be very focused, both because the samples are infectious and to make sure there is no traceability error. Being able to contribute to the fight against the virus is an enriching experience.”

Julià Blanco

Principal investigator

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IrsiCaixa is leading, with the BSC and IRTA-CReSA, a joint project to develop a coronavirus vaccine. “The vaccines we develop now will serve in the future. The more options we explore, the more prepared we will be against another potential leap of a coronavirus to humans.”

Ceci Cabrera

Principal investigator

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She leads the IrsiCaixa Tissue Virology group but is currently focusing on COVID-19 research as part of the team that evaluates the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in halting virus transmission. In the future she will also analyse whether certain drugs can reduce the viral load in infected people.

Jorge Carrillo

Associate researcher

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Currently working on drugs, antibodies and a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 and other possible future coronavirus outbreaks, he has a lengthy track record in the development of therapeutic antibodies and a vaccine against HIV, a virus with a much higher mutation rate than the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Bonaventura Clotet

Director

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Having dedicated 30 years to the fight against HIV, for this virus that is severely testing the health system, he is running a race against time. “Everything we have learned about the immune system has equipped us with our capacity to react to SARS-CoV-2. That’s why, now and always, we must invest in research.”

Francesc Cunyat

Post-doc researcher

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This AlbaJuna Therapeutics researcher is now working on recently launched clinical trial aimed at preventing virus transmission. He performs diagnostic tests to determine whether hydroxychloroquine can prevent contagion of the contacts of people affected by the coronavirus.

Aleix Elizalde

Doctor and Post-doc researcher

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Until the coronavirus crisis developed, Aleix was researching microbiome effects on people with HIV and other pathologies. He has now joined Oriol Mitjà’s team as a doctor. “In view of how things were unfolding, there was no doubt about it, I had to make myself available for whatever was needed." He is taking part in a clinical trial to stop the transmission of the virus by studying the contacts associated with positive cases.

Itziar Erkizia

Laboratory technician

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She is involved in the antibody, drug and coronavirus vaccine research project launched by IrsiCaixa in conjunction with the BSC and IRTA-CReSA, working specifically on searching for and testing new drugs for SARS-CoV-2. "We analyse new small molecules that might be effective against the virus and that may give rise to shorter term solutions than a vaccine."

Susana Esteban

Laboratory assistant

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Part of the IrsiCaixa Scientific and Technical Services team, she provides support in material supplies and laboratory tasks. “Security is paramount in research, and even more so now that we’re working with an unknown virus. We need to protect ourselves and so protect others.”

Lucía Gómez

Laboratory technician

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A member of IrsiCaixa’s Scientific and Technical Services team, she now spends her working day in the Biosecurity Level 2 laboratory, processing samples from patients with COVID-19 as necessary for the development of clinical trials and studies.

Eulàlia Grau

Head of the Sample Processing and Storage Service

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She is coordinating the launch of new studies using samples obtained from patients with COVID-19, hospitalized in Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital, and from people exposed to the virus.

Nuria Izquierdo

Principal investigator

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As well as contributing to the IrsiCaixa/BSC/IRTA-CReSA research project aimed at experimentally analysing the in vitro efficacy of new treatments against SARS-CoV-2, she is also working on molecular detection of the coronavirus using quantitative PCR for clinical trial purposes and on setting up new coronavirus research projects.

Ana Jordán

Post-doc researcher

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Her day now begins and ends in the Biosafety Level 3 laboratory, where she processes samples from participants in clinical trials on drugs. Locate the samples, order them, transfer tube contents to dishes ... mundane work, but crucial that it’s done methodically, to ensure robust data.

Silvia Marfil

Laboratory technician

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Her days are spent in the Biosafety Level 3 laboratory extracting RNA from the virus. After 25 years of working with HIV at IrsiCaixa, she has seen how already tight security protocols have been strengthened even more.

Beatriz Mothe

Doctor and associate researcher

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Before the crisis, she worked in the HIV Unit at Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital and worked as a HIV researcher. She is currently on the infectious diseases team and does tours of duty on the COVID-19 wards while also keeping up with her work in HIV vaccine clinical trials. She describes these days as being “very intense”, with “ICU, pneumology, infectious disease, internal medicine, nursing, auxiliary staff and many others working together as a team.”

Marc Noguera

Associate researcher

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His experience in bioinformatics and genomics is being used in new coronavirus research projects launched in IrsiCaixa. He recently participated in sequencing the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus for a patient with COVID-19 and is now working on optimizing the process for application in research. "We are developing a protocol to study the virus genome so as to better understand the epidemiology and how the virus changes."

Raquel Ortiz

Pre-doc researcher

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She volunteered to work on coronavirus projects with the enthusiasm that characterizes everything she does. “Not only is this a potentially enriching experience that I can learn a lot from, I also feel useful at a time when we all feel powerless against the progress of the virus.”

Roger Paredes

Doctor and principal investigator

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As well as coordinating medical care for the infectious disease wards opened in Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital to treat patients with COVID-19, he leads the NIH/NIAID COVID-19 treatment trial in Spain. He misses his usual routines in the microbiome research projects he leads: “I miss being with my team but I feel reassured, as I know I can rely on them 100%, they are excellent people.”

Mariona Parera

Laboratory technician

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The day before the declaration of the state of emergency, she left the laboratory saying: “If you need me, call me. My work can’t be done from home, and I want to help as much as I can.” She now spends his working day in the Biosafety Level 3 laboratory, preparing hundreds of SARS-CoV-2 samples for analysis.

Cristina Ramírez

Laboratory technician

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Normally employed in the IrsiCaixa Sequencing Service, working with samples obtained from patients with HIV, she is now working in the Biosafety Level 2 laboratory analysing and processing samples obtained from coronavirus-infected patients and their contacts.

Eva Riveira

Post-doc researcher

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A member of the Virus-Host Interactions group, the current situation has led her to participate in more collaborative research than ever before. She is now working on sample analysis in a medium- to large-scale SARS-CoV-2 platform designed to respond to the great demand for analysis generated by the coronavirus.

Marisa Rodríguez

Post-doc researcher

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Her daily routine before entering the laboratory is to dress in 2 gowns, boots, 2 layers of gloves, 2 masks, goggles and a protective face screen. In the laboratory she extracts genetic material from samples for the team who will do PCR testing. “The work is sometimes routine but it’s comforting to know that it is work that will help fight this pandemic.”

Lidia Ruiz

Lab Manager and Coordinator of Scientific and Technical Services

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“Overnight, lab life underwent a 180-degree about-turn," she says. Working with an unknown virus involves establishing new protocols, organizing staff, tasks and workflows and, above all, ensuring the safety of everyone in the laboratory.

Jordi Senserrich

Post-doc researcher

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In the context of a clinical trial to prevent virus transmission using drugs, he performs PCR testing to determine if hydroxychloroquine can stop people exposed to the virus from becoming infected. He will later evaluate whether drugs can reduce the viral load in people affected by the virus.

Ferran Tarrés

Pre-doc researcher

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He is about to present a doctoral dissertation on virus-like particles (VLPs) used as a HIV vaccine. Soon, however, he will be participating in a research project to develop coronavirus vaccines using VLPs due to be launched shortly. In the meantime, he is helping with the processing of SARS-CoV-2 samples.

Benjamin Trinité

Post-doc researcher

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He is part of the priority coronavirus vaccine research team, like many of his co-researchers in the Cell Virology and Immunology group. "We are developing a platform that can produce and test candidate vaccines to fight the coronavirus. Ideally the resulting vaccine will be tested for this particular coronavirus and will protect us from future outbreaks.”

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