Throughout 2021 there have been a large number of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries in which Spanish researchers have participated, as well as national centers. SINC compiles some of the most important milestones that have been achieved this year in our country.
1. Spanish vaccines against Covid-19
Of the various vaccine projects that are being developed in Spain, four stand out: three from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and that of the Spanish company HIPRA.
The project of Luis Enjuanes and Isabel Sola at the National Center for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC), It is a sterilizing vaccineThat is, it would not only protect against severe symptoms of Covid-19, but it would also eliminate transmission.
The second project is directed by Mariano Esteban, also at the CNB. It is based on a virus Vaccinia very attenuated, which incorporates DNA from the protein S coronavirus. This vaccine will be able to access cells more easily than RNA vaccines.
The third is the recombinant DNA vaccine from the team of Vicente Larraga of the Margarita Salas Biological Research Center (CIB-CSIC). One of the great advantages of this injection is the ease of redesigning it, in less than a month, if it is not effective before new variants.
The most advanced project is that of HIPRA, It has already started phase II clinical trials. The Spanish company plans to produce in 2022 about 400 million doses of this vaccine recombinant protein, designed to improve safety and induce a potent neutralizing immune response to SARS-CoV-2.
2. More about Neanderthals
A study by the Chair of Evolutionary Otoacoustics and Paleoanthropology of HM Hospitales and the University of Alcalá (UAH) found that the neanderthals could hear and speak like humans, which has closed five decades of arduous debate in the scientific community.
Another investigation, with Spanish participation, He recovered Neanderthal nuclear DNA from sediments of a deposit of Atapuerca in Burgos. Until now, it had only been possible to recover Mitochondrial DNA sediment, but still needed to get the nuclear, which is much more informative. Thanks to this work, several generations of genetically different Neanderthals and whose evolution it could be driven by glaciations.
3. In space
This year, the rover Perseverance landed on Mars with the aim of search for evidence of ancient life and to deepen the knowledge of this planet. Along with him also came two instruments that have a significant participation of Spanish science: MEDA, which provides data on the time spent on the red planet; and SuperCam, which examines Martian rocks and minerals.
In addition, another of the space milestones of this year has been the launch of the infrared space telescope James Webb. The Spanish Macarena García Marín has been in charge of the calibration of MIRI, one of the four instruments on board and the only one that observes in the mid infrared.
4. An exoskeleton for children with muscular atrophy
The ATLAS 2030, a robotic device designed to help children with muscular atrophy and cerebral palsy walk, received the CE mark from the Agency for Medicines and Health Products. This allows your international commercial distribution in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics.
It is exoskeleton, made of aluminum and titanium, has 10 joints that are able to interpret the movement intention of the patient – non-invasively – and respond to it at every step. This technology, developed by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the firm Marsi Bionics, will improve the quality of life of 17 million children in the world.
5. New extinct species of carnivore in Madrid
Researchers from the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC), the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP), the University of Alcalá (UAH), the University of Zaragoza (UNIZAR) and the University Institute of Research of Environmental Sciences of Aragon (IUCA) discovered a new species of amphithoid (Ammitocyon prices), also know as bear-dogs, from the craniodental remains of three excavated specimens in the Cerro de los Batallones in Madrid.
Analysis of his dentition and skeleton indicated that was a hypercarnivore weighing more than 230 kilos and coexisting with other large predators such as the saber-toothed tiger and a relative of the panda bear.
6. Science in the volcano of La Palma
The September 19th entered into eruption the volcano of La Palma. Since that day, dozens of researchers from different Spanish institutions they moved to the area in order to study the volcanic phenomenon.
Collection and analysis of gas samples and newly emitted material, aerial surveillance, estimates of the arrival of the wash into the sea and its impact, studies on the stability of the slopes after earthquakes, air quality measurements …
These are just some of the tasks that our scientists have carried out and that have allowed not only monitor volcano activity, whose Eruptive activity has lasted 85 days, but they have also provided crucial information to protect the island’s population.
7. NASA follows an asteroid from Spain
In October of this year, the asteroid Polymele passed in front of a star, a phenomenon known as concealment that 22 Spanish-American teams of astronomers, with one telescope each, followed from Spain.
Thanks to that, were able to obtain data on the shape and size of this asteroid orbiting trojan Jupiter. 10 astronomers from the Asturias Institute of Space Sciences and Technologies (ICTEA) and around 50 astronomers participated in the observation campaign amateurs Spanish, among others.
8. Big step in the fight against superbugs
A team from the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and Pulmobiotics SL have created the first live pill to treat spreading antibiotic resistant bacteria on the surfaces of medical implants.
To do this, they used genetically modified bacteria with the ability to produce enzymes that dissolve the biofilms.
9. A blind woman perceives shapes and letters thanks to a brain implant
The implanted device is a small three-dimensional array of 100 microelectrodes that allows both the recording of electrical signals and the stimulation of the brain. This microdevice was able to induce the perception of shapes and letters in a blind person with the highest resolution achieved so far.
This feat, carried out by the Biomedical Neuroengineering group of the Miguel Hernández University of Elche, was a small step towards the development of visual neuroprostheses that help blind or partially sighted people to perceive their surroundings.
10. Better understanding Parkinson’s
For more than 30 years, the scientific community believed that Parkinson’s was caused for lack of dopamine in the axons of neurons, causing movement control to be impaired.
However, this year, a study led by the Spanish Patricia González-Rodríguez described that for the motor symptoms of this disease to appear lack of dopamine is necessary both in the axons and in the brain region (known as the substantia nigra) where the neurons’ bodies are.
Furthermore, they also discovered that neurons affected by the disease do not dieInstead, they lose some of their properties and change their metabolism. This opens the doors to the design of future therapeutic treatments that allow to recover the correct functioning of these neurons.
11. Advances against cancer
Researchers from the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) discovered the molecule that is responsible for directing the metastasis process: NGFR molecule. By blocking this molecule, a drastic reduction in metastases was observed in animal models, which opens the way to a possible new treatment to combat them, especially in their earliest stages.
On the other hand, a cell and gene therapy, known as CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Recetor T-Cell) and developed by the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona-IDIBAPS, has allowed the patient with multiple myeloma resistant to the usual treatments become your own donor and their T lymphocytes are modified so that they have the ability to attack tumor cells.
After a year of follow-up, the data obtained are encouraging, since all patients improve with the procedure, and 75% of them maintain the answer at 12 months.
In February, the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) had already approved the use of this advanced therapy as a medicine for use in patients over 25 years of age with lymphoblastic leukemia resistant to conventional treatments. It was the first CAR-T developed entirely in Europe to be approved by a regulatory agency.
12. Solidarity in the fight against covid-19
Finally, the CSIC signed an agreement in November with the public health organization Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) and under the supervision of the World Health Organization (WHO) so that the serological antibody tests, developed by this center and with a reliability close to 100%, are available to developing countries.
This agreement was the world’s first license access for a health tool related to covid-19.