850 participants, members of research groups and medical specialists in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) from around the world, meet in Barcelona from July 12 to 14 at the International Scientific Congress of the European Network to Cure ALS (ENCALS) 2023. It is the first time that this meeting is being held in Barcelona and in Spain, which means full recognition of the experience and capacity of research around ALS that brings together the Catalan capital.
In fact, the local person in charge of the congress is Dra. Mònica Povedano, coordinator of the Motor Neuron Disease Functional Unit of the Bellvitge University Hospital (HUB) and principal researcher of the research group on Neurological and Neurogenetic Diseases of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), referent in ALS in the State and Europe, and executive member of the governing board of the ENCALS.
The opening ceremony was attended by the Minister of Health of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Manel Balcells, and representatives of organizations that support ALS research such as the Luzón Foundation, the LaCaixa Foundation and the Catalan Foundation of ALS Miquel Valls. The congress is sponsored by Juan Carlos Unzué, former player of Football Club Barcelona, donor and patient affected by ALS.
“It is a very relevant congress because it brings together all the knowledge of basic research on the continent in motor neurone disease”, in the words of Dra. Povedano. Among the topics that will be addressed in this edition are pharmaceutical regulation and the differences in Europe compared to drugs approved in the United States and Canada, in addition to promoting intellectual exchange and exploring networking.
Another differentiating fact is that the Barcelona congress opens doors to other regions of the world, such as South America and Africa. “We have seen the relevance of ancestors and our genetic load in the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. Europe becomes the axis from which research is organized, beyond the developed countries, and begins this network work with South America and with African countries, such as Ethiopia”, as explained by the specialist of the Bellvitge Hospital and IDIBELL researcher.
The celebration of ENCALS in Barcelona has marked an attendance record in the 21-year history of the congress. “Our goal is to bring together the scientific and medical community to encourage collaboration and accelerate progress in the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with ALS”, as emphasized by Dr. Orla Hardiman, neurologist and researcher at Trinity College Dublin, and co-director of the executive board of ENCALS.
Bellvitge’s commitment to ALS research
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons of the brain, brainstem and spinal cord – cells responsible for transmitting the order of voluntary movement from the brain to the muscles. This causes the brain to lose the ability to control muscle movement. Consequently, people suffering from this disease have progressive muscle atrophy, causing progressive paralysis and in some cases affecting the ability to speak, swallow and breathe.
In this area, the research group at Bellvitge Hospital and IDIBELL have several lines of research open to find markers that allow early diagnosis of ALS and determine the risk of suffering from it. In fact, one of the lines of research is that of drug clinical trials that allow the generative progress of the disease to be slowed down.
The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.
IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).