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24 Nov 2023

IMB-CNM researcher Consuelo Guardiola leads a new project of the ”la Caixa” Foundation for the development of sensors for FLASH radiotherapy

César Fernández-Sánchez, researcher at the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona (IMB-CNM, CSIC), participates in another project focused on the development of a tool for the mass diagnosis of malaria, led by the Vall d'Hebron Research Institute. The ”la Caixa” Foundation promotes research in biomedicine and health in Spain and Portugal through a call funded with 25.3 million euros.

Consuelo Guardiola in one of the IMB-CNM labs


Two projects from the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona (IMB-CNM, CSIC), one led by researcher Consuelo Guardiola and the other with the participation of César Fernández-Sánchez, receive support in the sixth edition of projects from the CaixaResearch call for Health Research, promoted by the ”la Caixa” Foundation. The call, endowed with 25.3 million euros, announced yesterday at the CosmoCaixa in Barcelona the 33 selected initiatives.

Development of sensors to control the doses applied during FLASH radiotherapy

Consuelo Guardiola, researcher in the IMB-CNM Radiation Detectors Group, leads the project in consortium with Faustino Gómez, from the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela; Sophie Heinrich, from the Institut Curie (France) and Carmen Jiménez, from Centro Nacional de Aceleradores. The DOSIFLASH project has received a subsidy of 971,936 euros.

Cancer is one of the most important public health problems in the world. It is estimated that 20% of the population will develop a tumor during their lifetime. About 50% of patients receive radiotherapy at least once during their treatment, which contributes to 40% of cures. Precise radiotherapy involves targeting the tumor with doses high enough to destroy it while avoiding damage to surrounding healthy organs. This represents a challenge in the area of medical physics, since excessively high doses cannot be given, which could produce side effects in the healthy tissues adjacent to the tumor.

In recent years, an innovative therapy called FLASH has opened up the possibility of overcoming this obstacle: with this new treatment modality, much higher doses can be administered at an ultra-fast speed. This allows the amount of radiation received by the tumor to be increased, while reducing toxicity to healthy tissues. However, the clinical implementation of this innovative technique requires sensors capable of quantifying doses under these extreme radiation conditions. For this reason, in this project an instrument capable of monitoring the doses applied in FLASH therapy will be developed, which will make it possible to optimize its impact on patients.

At the IMB-CNM, dosimeters based on silicon carbide, highly resistant to radiation damage, have been designed and manufactured for a proof-of-concept project. The devices were characterized at the German National Metrology Institute (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, PTB) in an electron beam at ultra-high dose rates and the results obtained "demonstrated, for the first time, the suitability of silicon carbide diodes to perform relative dosimetry in FLASH conditions," explains Consuelo Guardiola.

"We will design and manufacture new silicon carbide sensor arrays to create a two-dimensional dose monitor that will cover a 20x20 centimeter system in the IMB-CNM Clean Room," she adds. The associated electronics will be developed at the University of Santiago de Compostela and the experimental tests with electrons and protons, under FLASH conditions, will be carried out at the Institut Curie in Paris and at the CNA in Seville. "We hope to create the first dose monitor for FLASH radiotherapy that will serve as a quality control tool in this new treatment modality," concludes the researcher.

The IMB-CNM Micro and Nanofabrication Clean Room is one of the nodes of the distributed network of Unique Scientific and Technical Infrastructures (ICTS, of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities) MICRONANOFABS, which groups clean rooms dedicated to micro- and nano-manufacturing.

Portable device for mass malaria diagnosis

CATMAL, Portable device for mass malaria diagnosis, is led by Eva Baldrich, from Vall d’Hebron Instituto de Investigación (VHIR), in a consortium with César Fernández-Sánchez, from the Chemical Transducers Group of the IMB-CNM, together with Xavier Fernàndez Busquets, from the Instituto de Bioingeniería de Cataluña (IBEC) and Instituto de Salud Global de Barcelona (ISGlobal). It is endowed with a subsidy of 989,940.75 euros.

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium, transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. It causes more than 200 million new infections each year and the deaths of half a million people worldwide, 70% of whom are children under five years of age. It is one of the diseases associated with poverty and most cases occur in low-income countries.

The World Health Organization has launched an ambitious plan to eradicate malaria that involves carrying out mass screening tests on the population of the regions where it is endemic to apply early and effective treatment. And to do this, rapid, quantitative and reliable diagnostic tools are needed that are capable of detecting asymptomatic patients or those with few parasites in the blood (low parasite load), while allowing the precise identification of which species of Plasmodium are causing the infection, something crucial to administer adequate treatment and prevent the parasite from generating drug resistance.

Current diagnostic methods are based on techniques that are long and laborious, which must be carried out in specialized laboratories and which in some cases are unable to identify patients with a low parasite load. In this context, this project focuses on the development of a compact, economical and easy-to-use device that allows mass malaria detection tests to be carried out in developing regions. This device could be decisive in diagnosing the infection in its first phase, which would allow appropriate early treatment to be applied to each patient and thus contribute significantly to the eradication of malaria.

"The diagnostic tool is based on a technological platform previously developed at the IMB-CNM that includes an array of electrochemical cells and a fluidic component on paper, successfully applied to the multiplexed detection of biomarkers of lung diseases," indicates César Fernández.

In this project "we will adapt the existing technology by manufacturing gold electrode arrays with particular geometries that can improve the analytical performance of the device in the IMB-CNM Clean Room, while we will redesign the fluidic part to produce a tool that is easy to use by untrained personnel and that can be taken to the field for the decentralized diagnosis of this disease," he adds.

Research in biomedicine and health in Spain and Portugal through a call endowed with 25.3 million euros

The ”la Caixa” Foundation is the promoter of the sixth CaixaResearch call for Health Research, which announced yesterday the 33 new research projects that receive aid of up to 500,000 euros or up to one million euros.

The call supports basic, clinical or translational research projects of scientific excellence and social impact in the areas of study of cardiovascular and infectious diseases, oncology and neurosciences, as well as projects that develop facilitating technologies in these areas.

Among those selected are projects aimed at fighting antibiotic resistance in superbugs; to identify new biomarkers to predict the risk of relapses in acute lymphoblastic leukemia; to generate red blood cells for the treatment of patients with sickle cell anemia; to create a low-cost and easy-to-use device that allows mass malaria detection tests to be carried out in developing regions, or to design a digital tool to prevent suicide among people at risk, among others.

The CaixaResearch call for Health Research of the ”la Caixa” Foundation is carried out in collaboration with the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education of Portugal, which in this edition subsidizes 5 of the 11 Portuguese projects selected. In addition, the Luzón Foundation collaborates with the call by co-subsidizing a project on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).