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i3S receives funding to halt intervertebral disc degeneration

The IVDD-RESIDE project, which is the result of a collaboration between researcher Raquel Gonçalves, from the Biofabrication group at the i3S, and the Institute for Orthopedic and Biomechanical Research, in Ulm, Germany, was financed by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation with a grant of 53 thousand euros. The objective of the project is to find new therapeutic targets for intervertebral disc degeneration, which is the main cause of low back pain.

Intervertebral disc degeneration is a progressive condition of wear and tear of the intervertebral discs that act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae of the spine. This degeneration involves changes in the number and type of cells and the progressive loss of flexibility and elasticity of the intervertebral discs. “This is a clinical problem with great social and economic impact, as it is predominant in the active adult population, is the leader in terms of the number of years lived with physical disability and is the main cause of rehabilitation worldwide. Current therapeutic solutions are usually conservative, or in more serious cases, surgery is the only option, although degeneration is not reversible”, explains Raquel Gonçalves.

In this project, explains the i3S researcher and ICBAS professor, “we will study a specific population of cells resident in the intervertebral disc, namely their cellular and molecular signature and their function in the degeneration cascade of intervertebral disc pathology”. The team, she adds, also intends to “evaluate the therapeutic potential of extracellular vesicles (EVs) derived from mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSC) in this population of intervertebral disc cells”.

With this research, says Raquel Gonçalves, “we will contribute to the advancement of knowledge of cell-based therapies, but without cells, which is currently a trend in the area of MSC-based therapies, due to the high therapeutic potential of the molecules produced by these cells and the greater ease of translation of products that do not contain living cells”.

This project follows a grant from the Humboldt foundation which was won by Raquel Gonçalves in 2017 and the work carried out since 2011 in partnership with the Institute for Orthopedic and Biomechanical Research, in Ulm, in the area of the intervertebral disc. This partnership resulted in collaborations on four international projects, a co-supervised doctoral thesis and eight co-authored articles. This new joint project, adds the researcher, “reinforces the connection between the two institutes and contributes to training new students in the development of new immunomodulatory therapies for low back pain”.

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