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04 Sep | 2020

Marc Suárez-Calvet is awarded an ERC Starting Grant to identify age-related blood factors as a therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s disease

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded an ERC Starting Grant to Dr. Marc Suárez-Calvet, neurologist and researcher at the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC), to lead the HEBE project. The grant is endowed with 1,498,915 euros for the next five years.

Ageing is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. However, the main mechanisms behind this association are still unknown. The HEBE project, named in honor of the Greek goddess of eternal youth, will help broaden knowledge of these mechanisms by analyzing whether factors circulating in the blood can have a rejuvenating effect on the brain.

"If we discover proteins and metabolites that circulate in human blood capable of rejuvenating the brain, we will open the door to future treatments to prevent neurodegenerative diseases associated with ageing, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's", says Dr. Suárez-Calvet. This study is based on other research in animal models, in which blood factors with effects of aging and brain rejuvenation have been detected.

In order to discover these factors in humans, the team led by Dr. Suárez-Calvet will determine the biological age of people without cognitive impairment, from the Alfa + Study (400 participants) and the European study EPAD (1,600 participants). Unlike chronological age, which is marked by date of birth, biological age is calculated using different biomarkers and may or may not coincide with the first one. In this project, researchers will calculate biological age by analyzing neuroimaging tests and the length of telomeres, which are highly repetitive sequences of DNA located at the end of chromosomes and are shortened with ageing.

Afterwards, researchers will determine if there are blood factors that differ among participants with extreme biological ages, that is, between those who have a biological age well above and well below their chronological age. The main hypothesis of the HEBE study is that there are factors in the blood that explain these differences between biological and chronological age.

Once these factors are discovered, researchers will develop tools to measure them, and will finalize the project with the design of a Proof of Concept study to determine if they are influenced by changes in lifestyle or by pharmacological treatments already known.

Trajectory of Dr. Suárez-Calvet

Dr. Suárez-Calvet has a degree in Medicine (UAB) and Biochemistry (UB), specializing in Neurology at the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in Barcelona, and a Doctor summa cum laude (UAB).

In 2018 he joined the BBRC with a grant from the Marie Sklodowdska-Curie Fellowship program to lead research on new blood biomarkers in neurodegenerative diseases, in collaboration with the Sahlgrenska Academy (University of Gothenburg). He currently combines his research activity with clinical activity in the Cognitive Impairment and Movement Disorders Unit of the Hospital del Mar.

He previously worked as a researcher in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Munich and at the Dementia Research Center at University College London. Throughout his career, he has combined clinical experience with intense activity as a basic researcher, as demonstrated by publications in high-impact journals such as Science Translational Medicine, EMBO Molecular Medicine, Acta Neuropathologica or Neuron.

With the prestigious grant he just received, Dr. Suárez-Calvet is happy to be able to settle permanently in his city: "the ERC will finally allow me to start my own research group in Barcelona, after many years working in Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom”.

About the ERC Starting Grant

The ERC has awarded 436 Starting Grants this year with an endowment of 667 million euros. Among the selected scientists, there are 11 researchers from research centers and universities in Catalonia: Dr. Suárez-Calvet of the BBRC, Dr. Boertien of the Center for Demographic Studies, Dr. Busquets Garcia of the Institut Mar d'Investigacions Mèdiques, Dr. Neu from Pompeu Fabra University, Dr. Rubio-Valera of the Sant Joan de Déu Foundation, Dr. Ruiz Costa-Jussà of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Dr. Vanasco of the Center for Research in International Economics, Dr. Richter and Dr. Fernández from the CSIC-Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Dr. Avci of the CSIC-Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona and Dr. Viganò of the CSIC-Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia. ERC Starting Grants are highly competitive and are aimed at researchers of excellence with 2 to 7 years of postdoctoral experience, so that they can create their own research group and conduct cutting-edge research.