Brain diseases are one of the greatest challenges of medicine in the 21st century due to their growing incidence and complexity, and the enormous human and public-health costs involved. In the Neuroscience Program, we research two highly prevalent incapacitating neurodegenerative diseases: Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, as well as others that affect a smaller number of people, such as Huntington's disease. No effective treatments are currently available to stop the degenerative process.
To meet this challenge, our scientists study the molecular and cellular bases of the synaptic dysfunction and neuron death, and look at why the neural circuits do not function correctly. The objective is to identify the primary factors that cause the disease and cause it to spread from vulnerable groups of nerves to wider regions of the nervous system. Using this knowledge, they design and test new experimental strategies to detect and treat the disease from its early stages.
Our achievements include finding a cell mechanism that causes the destruction of nerve connections, the blocking of which slows down degeneration in animal models of Huntington's disease1. Experiments currently in progress test the efficacy of new gene-therapy vectors to block this mechanism. The work of the Alzheimer group has identified new pharmacological targets for restoring cognitive deterioration and validated the therapeutic efficacy of drugs that modulate these targets2. In cooperation with the Molecular Therapy group, the group has developed more potent analogues and is analyzing their potential for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Another one of our recent studies has revealed a synaptic target, the modulation of which inactivates the onset of epileptic fits3.
Our multidisciplinary team includes researchers with wide experience in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, pharmacology, behavioral studies, electrophysiology, and the development of new computational and imaging methods. We also have clinical researchers at CIMA and Clínica Universidad de Navarra who facilitate the translation of our findings to the patient.
The program receives funding from local, national and international agencies, and from fundraising initiatives such as the Josefina Garre scholarship. International projects include those awarded by the European Commission (7th Framework Program), the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Brain and Behavior Fund, the Hereditary Disease Foundation, and the European Research Council. The program laboratories are members of the Center for Networked Biomedical Research on Neurodegenerative Diseases (CiberNed), the Spanish Ion Channel Network (CONSOLIDER Program), and the Red de Excelencia de Sinapsis. They cooperate widely with national and international groups that promote the exchange of resources and technology, and enrich the education of students and postdoctoral researchers.
1Marco et al., Nature Medicine 2013; Wesseling and Pérez-Otaño, JAMA Neurology 2015.
2Ricobaraza, Hippocampus 2012, Pascual-Lucas, EMBO Molecular Medicine 2014.
3García Pérez et al., Epilepsia 2015.