Dr Manuel Irimia, Professor at ICREA research and Head of Unit at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), and Dr Maira Bes-Rastrollo, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarra (UNAV), are the winners of the Fundación Occident Research Awards in the basic and clinical research categories, respectively. The presentation ceremony of this 5th edition of the Fundación Occident Awards, of GCO (Grupo Catalana Occidente), will be held in Madrid on 18 October. This event will be presided by the Secretary General for Research, Raquel Yotti, and the Foundation’s Chairman, Federico Halpern. Manuel Irimia has received an award for his research on microexons, which are minute DNA fragments that are part of more than 100 genes and play a key role in the function of the pancreas and glycaemic regulation. Therefore, they are a possible therapeutic target for treating diabetes.

With the award’s endowment, Irimia and his team want to explore their use in defining new molecular targets and therapeutic strategies for diabetes, thus contributing to reducing the disease’s comorbidity and healthcare burden. “The support provided by the Fundación Occident Research Awards is not only an acknowledgment of my team and me, but it will also enable us to identify the most interesting candidates for insulin regulation among microexons. This is a first step in our basic research towards something more tangible, more real”, Irimia explains.


Maira Bes-Rastrollo has received an award for her research on nutritional epidemiology and how the various dietary patterns have an effect on the prevalence of chronic diseases and mortality, given that these diseases are the main cause of death worldwide and are partly the result of poor nutrition. Thanks to the support provided by the Fundación Occident Research Awards, the researcher and her team will develop and validate, in the context of a European project, for the first time worldwide, a survey to assess, on a standardised basis, the nutritional quality of vegan people. This will allow detecting dietary and health risks in a clinical context and will help health professionals improve dietary recommendations for vegan people. “Among those of us who conduct research on diet and health, these Awards are a benchmark, and being one of the awardees is an honor.

Thanks to this award, we will be able to carry out a comprehensive validation with the control group of omnivorous people that will help us identify the healthiest vegan diet patterns”, says Bes-Rastrollo. The Fundación Occident Awards have been the first in Spain to focus on research in the fields of nutrition, diet and health. The jury, chaired since its first edition by María Blasco, director of the National Cancer Research Centre, every year selects two young researchers with outstanding contributions in this field.


The Awards


For the second year running, television personality Jorge Fernández will direct this ceremony, which, under the title “Feeding health is everyone’s business”, focuses on the need for an interdisciplinary research on the effect of diet on health and on the role of nutrient metabolism on the development of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and obesity. These awards’ endowment amounts to €35,000 in each category, which the winners must use in their research projects.

The fifth edition of these Awards coincides precisely with Fundación Occident’s 25th anniversary.

“Research has been a pillar of the Foundation’s activity since its inception”, stated the Foundation’s Chairman, Federico Halpern. “Two of our raisons d’être come together in these Awards: supporting young talent and promoting programmes that improve the well-being of our society”, he added.

With this in mind, the workshop “How to follow a healthy vegan diet” was organised for the first time prior to the ceremony with the aim of creating new meeting spaces for researchers and its beneficiaries, whether clinicians, patient associations or people interested in knowing healthy diets. The event, moderated by Beatriz Robles, dietician-nutritionist and science educator, will be attended by Maira Bes-Rastrollo as a guest researcher and Andrea Calderón as a nutritionist, member of the Board of Directors SEDCA (Spanish Society of Dietetics and Food Sciences) and co-author of a guide on vegan diets for clinicians.

The award ceremony will take place at 7.00pm on Wednesday, 18 October, at the Beatriz Auditorium in Madrid, and it will be streamed on the Fundación Occident’s YouTube channel.