”la Caixa” and Cellex foundations to support research into fetal medicine in Catalonia

A prenatal diseases part, “Imatge fetal robòtica”, stems from the support that the ”la Caixa” Banking Foundation has given the Fetal i+D centre since 2010 to search for new clinical biomarkers to identify the neurological and cardiovascular impact that fetal diseases have on adulthood, and the evaluation of therapies in experimental models to reduce this impact.

The projects – comprising four sub-projects, one of which, Robotics and Electronic Biosensors, is to be coordinated at IBEC – will develop a system of sealing and fixing membranes through the use of new materials; an optical biosensor system; a robotic assistance system; and a surgical planning and navigation system for fetal surgery.

“IBEC’s Nanobioengineering group will contribute by developing biosensors specifically designed to be applied in the field of fetal medicine, and will seek to develop and apply them in cases where possible infectious diseases in the fetus, tissue ischemia during interventions, or metabolic activity need to be evaluated,” says IBEC Director and head of the Nanobioengineering group Josep Samitier. “The challenge is to fit the technology to the dimensions and requirements of fetal endoscopic surgery, and on the development of specific sensors for the detection for certain infecting pathogens and the variations in metabolic activity found in the fetus.”

“Our part will be to develop a guidance system support for prenatal surgery,” adds Alícia Casals, head of the Robotics group at the UPC and associate researcher at IBEC. “This robotic assistant will help the surgeon guiding the endoscope and other surgical instruments in a specific anatomical area, allowing him or her to perform high precision operations which are not possible today, such as those requiring access to fetal vessels.”

IBEC’s involvement is a forward step in fulfilling its mission to forge links with clinicians and bring its health-related research results closer to patients. With more than €6million at their disposal, the projects – which as well as IBEC will involve three other institutions of excellence in Barcelona, the UPF, ICFO and IQS – together represent a revolution in fetal surgery and the improvement of diseases that start at the prenatal stage but have repercussions throughout life. In this way, the Cellex Foundation and the ”la Caixa” Banking Foundation become the main promoters of Catalan research in fetal medicine.

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