Zaida Álvarez wins the Rafael Hervada prize

At the press conference held this morning at the San Rafael Hospital, the Rafael Hervada prize was announced. Zaida Álvarez, current researcher at IBEC, has been awarded for her pioneering research on regeneration of spinal cord injuries using nanotechnology at the Northwestern University, Chicago, USA.

The prizewinner of the XXVII edition of the Rafael Hervada Prize for Biomedical Research was announced today, awarded to Zaida Álvarez for the work carried out at Sam Stupp’s team at Northwestern University, Chicago, USA: “Bioactive scaffolds with enhanced supramolecular motion promote recovery from spinal cord injury“, published in the journal Science. Álvarez is currently researcher at the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC). 

In an original and very complex work in advanced biotechnology conducted by an international team of scientists with Álvarez as a first author, researchers reported a potential new therapy that uses “dancing molecules” to reverse paralysis and repair tissue after severe spinal cord injury. 

The San Rafael Hospital hosted the presentation of the XXVII edition of the Rafael Hervada Prize for Biomedical Research this morning, attended by the president of the San Rafael Foundation, Benigna Peña, as well as Dr. Eloy Fernández Corral, the Court Clerk; Dr. Gonzalo Peña, Cardiology specialist at the San Rafael Hospital, Dr. Ángel Concha, Pathological Anatomy specialist at the San Rafael Hospital, Dr. Angel Carracedo, Director of the Galician Foundation of Genomic Medicine, Dr. Francisco Blanco, Director of the San Rafael Foundation-UDC, Dr. César Bonome, Medical Director of the San Rafael Hospital and Javier Peña, Manager of the San Rafael Hospital and Secretary of the San Rafael Foundation. The award was announced during the press conference, and the theme of the award-winning work was introduced. The theme for the next edition was also presented. 

The president of the San Rafael Hospital highlighted the quality of the works presented and emphasised once again that the objective of the creation of this award has been fulfilled yet again, pointing out the value of innovation and scientific and medical research as some of the fundamental values ​​of both the San Rafael Hospital and Foundation, along with its care and training functions.

The project design and experimental tests in animal models were conducted in various departments and laboratories of Northwestern University in Chicago (USA), a world-renowned institution in studies of nervous system regeneration. Researchers create cells using synthetic molecules that mimic proteins, a method that has been shown to be effective in tissue regeneration.  

“Dancing molecules” and nanotechnology for regeneration

This publication specifically investigates biomaterials called supramolecular polymers that contain two different cellular signals. The method was tested in a mouse model with severe spinal cord injury. Remarkable differences were obtained in vascular growth, axonal regeneration, myelination, motor neuron survival, reduction of gliosis, and functional recovery. The authors showed that cell signalling using this set of molecules can be optimised by adjusting their internal movements. They conclude that bioactive support structures with intense supramolecular motion can improve recovery from spinal cord injuries.  

This is a promising field of research whose advances in nerve cell regeneration aim to recover mobility in patients affected by spinal cord injuries. 

Together with the Stupp Lab, Álvarez Pinto has designed biomaterials that control the presentation of bioactive support structures to signal the patient’s own cells at the site of injury and to be able to repair the damaged spinal cord.  

Zaida Álvarez Pinto presented his doctoral thesis on repair systems of the central nervous system at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) and obtained a scholarship to work on this area of ​​research at the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology, Northwestern University, Chicago (USA), a global centre of reference in neurological regeneration studies. Zaida Álvarez Pinto currently works at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC). Her research focuses on the development of clinical therapies for central nervous system injuries, including spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. 

More information about the research can be found here: Recovering mobility in mice with severe spinal cord injuries through an injection of nanofibers