ONCE visits IBEC to learn about the research in bioengineering for health

On February 15th, representatives of the National Organization of the Spanish Blind (ONCE) visited the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) to learn, first-hand and among others, about the innovative research work of Professor Pau Gorostiza’s Group in regenerative therapies of vision.

Vision plays a central role in the autonomy and development of any person and, especially, during the childhood period. The different pathologies and eye disorders, such as those caused by diabetes, glaucoma, macular degeneration, or retinitis pigmentosa, can reduce to different degrees the input of this essential visual information for daily performance and well-being of people. According to WHO data, more than 2,200 million people have some type of visual impairment or blindness, worldwide, of which 1,000 million could have been avoided, or have not yet been treated. In Spain, there are nearly one million people with visual disabilities, low vision and/or blindness, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE). 

Since its creation eight decades ago, ONCE, the National Organization of the Spanish Blind has made great strides in its work for the social inclusion of blind people and people with other disabilities, offering them the opportunity to obtain decent work and economic independence. On the other hand, the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) has been developing various lines of research for more than a decade that seek, precisely, solutions to vision problems. 

Visit IBEC to learn about the Bioengineering research on eye health 

On February 15th, representatives of ONCE visited the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) to see, first-hand, our research work in regenerative therapies in vision. The ONCE representatives Irene Ginebra, pedagogical technical director, and M. Teresa Corbella, coordinator of TIC service, were received by the directors of IBEC, Josep Samitier and David Badía, as well as by the members of the Strategic Initiatives Unit, Teresa Sanchís and Pilar Jiménez, head of the Unit and Coordinator of Scientific Education, respectively. After a brief introduction to the activities of our center, the ONCE representatives could visit the laboratory of ICREA Research Professor Pau Gorostiza, to learn more about the research carried out in his group 

Professor Gorostiza’s Group at IBEC “Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches” has been working for years on potential drugs that may be useful for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa, one of the most common causes of blindness in the Spanish population. In this pathology, the photosensitive cells of the retina are lost, but the neurons are preserved. A light-regulated drug could replace the function of lost cells and directly stimulate neurons so that the light signal reaches the optic nerve.

Among other achievements, Pau Gorostiza won the ‘FUNDALUCE 2016’ research grant, consisting of developing prosthetic molecular switches that could replace degenerated photoreceptors in the retina, with the aim of restoring vision. That same year, Gorostiza and his team published a study in the journal Nature Communications describing the development of molecules that can be used as light-regulated molecular prosthetics to help restore vision in cases of blindness due to retinal degeneration. Subsequently, Gorostiza and his team managed to get blind fish to recover their vision by adding a light-sensitive molecule to the water, which showed a pharmacological effect on their retina. Although according to the researchers, they are still far from offering a treatment to patients, and the collaboration between ONCE and IBEC institutions could help speed up the arrival of solutions for the millions of people who need them.