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Four PRODUCTE (AGAUR) projects for the valorization of research results

Our ICMAB reserachers have been granted with 4 PRODUCTE projects to advance in the treatment of corneal pathologies, ice-making industry, analysis of water contaminants and cancer therapy.

Anna May
11 November 2022
Pipettes | ICMAB, CSIC
Pipettes | ICMAB, CSIC

The "Knowledge Industry Grants, Modality B: PRODUCTE" projects are intended for obtaining prototypes and for the valorization and transfer of research results generated by research teams in Catalonia. They are awarded by the Department of Research and Universities (Generalitat de Catalunya) - Agency for Management of University and Research Grants (AGAUR).

The PRODUCTE projects are for 18 months of research and granted with 100,000 €. The idea is to increase the TRL of the research performed by the Institute in the fields of energy, electronics and health. Three of the awarded projects are in collaboration with a hospital research institute (Vall d'Hebron), another research center (IMB-CNM, CSIC), and with an ophtalmology center (Barraquer). 

The 4 PRODUCTE projects awarded to ICMAB researchers are: 

  • Natural polymer reservoirs for the treatment of corneal pathologies (HEALTHY CORNEA)
    by Anna Roig, from the Nanoparticles and Nanocomposites (NN) group (ICMAB, CSIC) and Justin Christopher D'Antin from the Opthalmology Center Barraquer
  • Application of new materials designed for energy saving in the ice-making industry
    by Albert Verdaguer, from the Physical Surfaces and Interfaces group (ICMAB, CSIC) 
  • Compact ready-to-use electrochemical sensor devices for cost-effective on-site analysis of water contaminants (CONTASENS)
    by Martí Gich, from the Nanoparticles and Nanocomposites (NN) group (ICMAB, CSIC) and César Fernández from the IMB-CNM, CSIC.
  • RNA-based nanomedicine for cancer therapy (SMARTY 2.0)
    by Nora Ventosa, from the Nanomol-Bio group (ICMAB, CSIC) and Miquel F. Segura from the Vall d'Hebron Institut de Recerca (VHIR).

Natural polymers for the treatment of corneal pathologies (HEALTHY CORNEA)

Anna Roig, from the Nanoparticles and Nanocomposites (NN) group (ICMAB, CSIC) and Justin Christopher D'Antin from the Opthalmology Center Barraquer
"The main objective of HEALTHY CORNEA is the use of bacterial cellulose to treat eye pathologies. The main challenge is to reach a human study within the project timeframe", explains Anna Roig. The HEALTHY CORNEA team is participated by ICMAB researchers (Thomas Meslier, Anna Laromaine and Anna Roig) and the Opthalmology Center Barraquer (Justin Christopher D'Antin, Victor Charoenrook, Gemma Julio and Professor Rafael I Barraquer) reserachers and clinitians that will work hand in hand. Pau Turon, Vice-President of R&D of the B.Braun Group will act as the industrial mentor. The proposal has also been given the support of an association related to ophtalmologic diseases.
IreneAnton Expoquimia AwardsMacroscopic (A) and micro/nano (B) structure of bacterial cellulose. | Anna Roig, ICMAB, CSIC

Application of new materials designed for energy saving in the ice-making industry (MatICE)

Albert Verdaguer, from the Physical Surfaces and Interfaces group (ICMAB, CSIC)

The demand for industrial ice making systems is growing rapidly in seafood and meat food processing industries to keep raw ingredients and final products frozen and fresh. Global warming will certainly increase the demand of ice production in the coming years due to increase on temperatures and the difficulty to keep fresh seafood, meat or even vegetables at high temperatures during transportation and storage. Ice makers are all based in approximately the same technology, a standard refrigeration system cools down a surface, usually of stainless steel and when water enters in contact with the cooled surface it freezes, making the ice cubes, flakes or nuggets. Depending on the application and the ratio of ice formation desired the temperature needed for the freezing to take place is between -15 to -30 oC. Obtaining the highest ratio of ice formation with the lower cool down (the closest temperature to 0 oC is the key to minimize power consumption.
"Solid impurities in contact helps water to initiate the freezing process, this is called heterogeneous nucleation. Not all materials induce heterogeneous nucleation at the same temperature. Some activated minerals are very efficient on that purpose. We have probed that some of those minerals prepared and activated using methods developed at ICMAB, increase noticeably the temperature of heterogeneous nucleation of ice, up to -2 oC" explains Verdaguer.
"The main goal of the project is to investigate the use of surfaces of the materials designed at ICMAB (we call them MatICE) to increase the efficiency of ice production and to introduce them in a commercially available ice machine to establish the energy saving obtained through its use. We expect as a final outcome of the project a simple prototype of an ice-making machine that includes some of MatICE developed group to make it work properly at temperatures higher than the standard operation temperatures of the commercially available machines, saving energy" he adds.
In addition to that, many of these machines cannot work properly if the temperatures of the environment or the water supply are too high because the system cannot reach a temperature low enough to induce nucleation. With the use of these materials, the team expects to overcome these problems. "As a final outcome of the project we will test the use of our technology to water freezing concentration, a technology under study for pig slurry treatment. Our technology could make this clean technology available at a reasonable cost" Verdaguer affirms. 

ice making

Scheme of the MatICE project | Albert Verdaguer. Credit: 

Compact ready-to-use electrochemical sensor devices for cost-effective on-site analysis of water contaminants (CONTASENS)

Martí Gich, from the Nanoparticles and Nanocomposites (NN) group (ICMAB, CSIC) and César Fernández from the IMB-CNM, CSIC

"We want to bring to the market new product that will make water monitoring cheaper, faster and simpler: a read-to-use low-cost sensor for the in-situ determination of Chemical Oxygen Demad. The aim of CONTASENS is accelerating the transfer of our patented technology by increasing its TRL from 4-5 (we already validated it in the lab and in the field) to about TRL 7 (System prototype demonstration in operational environment)" says Martí Gich. "One of the challenges to progress in the commercialization pathway is assessing the robustness of the product regarding its scalability and reproducibility. The project will allow us to do this."

Water pollution is an increasing global concern with strong implications in human health, aquatic ecosystems, and economic growth. Water monitoring with the frequency required to timely monitor and control contamination outbreaks is seldom carried out because current analytical methods require bulky costly instrumentation implemented in centralized laboratories and manipulated by highly qualified personnel. Thus, sampling collection, stabilization and transport is required, making the cost-per-analysis hardly affordable, especially in low-income countries. New analytical tools have been assessed using cost-effective electrochemical methods that require compact low-power instrumentation to detect water pollutants in a faster and more user-friendly manner. Although many different approaches have been reported in the scientific literature, most of them cannot be made into a commercial product. This is because the performance requires several manual steps, which makes in-field testing less convenient.

"In a recently patented development, our team has made a step-forward to provide portable ready-to-use electrochemical sensors that can be deployed and used by non-experts to analyze water pollutants just requiring a simple addition of the sample. Successful analysis of Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), used as an indicator of water organic load, with a sensor prototype in an operational environment like a wastewater treatment plant have shown the potential of our technology. Not only can our sensor technology be applied to detect COD but it can be adapted for the analysis of other compounds such as organohalides or heavy metal ions, identified as pollutants of priority concern" explains Gich. 

The outcomes of this project will contribute to at least two of the UN Sustainable Goals: SG6– Clean Water and Sanitation and SG12 – Responsible Production and Consumption, as well as to tackle several of the environmental objectives of the EU Green Deal strategy, pursuing technological innovations with high potential economic and ecologic impacts. A clear focus of this project is on aiding in the sustainable management of water and sanitation for all and efficient use of natural resources. The deployment of analytical tools for the early-warning of contamination events and efficient monitoring of pollutant remediation in water treatment processes and potential water recycling would be fundamental to keep our aquatic ecosystems healthy and in turn ensure water access for all.

gich fernandez

Our novel screen-printed electrode design that incorporates, (A) a paper disk loaded with a chemical for sample pretreatment (filtering and pH adjustment) fixed with a holed plastic layer on top of the functional electrodes; (B) a miniaturized potentiostat controlled by a smart phone, (C) allowing a rapid and user-friendly on-site analysis of water quality. | Martí Gich, ICMAB, CSIC

RNA-based nanomedicine for cancer therapy (SMARTY 2.0)

Nora Ventosa, from the Nanomol-Bio group (ICMAB, CSIC) and Miquel F. Segura from Vall d'Hebron Institut de Recerca (VHIR).

In the recent years, it has become evident that nanomedicine, through the conjugation of RNA biomolecules to nanostructured materials, enables the conversion of this biomolecules into drugs with high efficacy. Although a wide range of nanocarriers are in development phases, there is still not a standard formulation for the clinical administration of RNA-based therapies. Quatsomes (QS) are pH-sensitive non-liposomal lipid nanovesicles, with an excellent long-term colloidal stability and batch-to-batch homogeneity. Moreover, recent results obtained by the groups involved in this project were the first ones to show that QS can be loaded with small RNAs (Boloix A et al. Small 2021 and Patent application nº WO2020229469), which demonstrated the feasibility of QS to administer RNA-based therapies for cancer treatment and potentially to treat any other human disease.

The aim of this project is to move forward the pharmaceutical development of this nanomedicine until the doors of the preclinical regulatory phases. Hence, QS offer the opportunity to maximize the performance of the already available RNA-based therapeutics, not appropriately formulated or in a development stage embedded in a company pipeline assuring the benefit of the end-users: i) researchers, by improving market opportunities to test the RNA-based therapies in in vivo models; ii) patients, by providing a new RNA-based nanotherapy against cancer.

"The goal is to complete the non-regulatory pharmaceutical development of  therapeutic active miRNA nanoformulated in Smarty nanovesicles for pediatric cancer treatments. And bring the product until the doors of the preclinical regulatory phases" explains Nora Ventosa. "Smarty nanovesicles have an excellent long-term colloidal stability at room temperature, which is a feature highly desired for RNA nanocarriers and difficult to achieve. The main challenge is to demonstrate the in vivo efficacy of the new RNA-based nanomedicine when intravenoulsy delivered". 

On 2021 Nanomol Technologies SL signed a license agrement to exploit this nanoformulation platform. The company can exploit Smarty Nanovesicles as a delivery system for all human diseases, except pediatric cancers. VHIR and ICMAB  teams decided to exclude this market niche to hold the possibility to create a spin-off with the aim of developing nanomedicines for the treatment of pediatric tumors. ICMAB researchers Nora Ventosa and Mariana Köber are involved in the project, together with Miquel F. Segura and Ariadna Boloix from VHIR. 


Smarty Nanovesicles administration form | Nora Ventosa, ICMAB, CSIC

Resolució de concessió dels ajuts d'Indústria del Coneixement per a l'any 2021 (Llavor i Producte). Modalitat B. Ajuts Producte destinats a l'obtenció de prototipus i a la valorització i transferència dels resultats d'investigació generada per equips de recerca de Catalunya.

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