4th edition of the Fundación Jesús Serra Research Awards

6th edition of the Research Awards

The aim of the Jesús Serra Research Awards of the Fundación Occident is to promote recognition of work in the field of research, particularly in the fields of basic, clinical, epidemiological and technological research on nutrition and diet, carried out by researchers in Spain.

Dates for the 6th edition of the Research Awards

- 03/04/2024: opening of calls (Completed)

- 07/06/2024: closing date (until 14h CET) (Completed)

- 10/07/2024: deliberation

- 20/11/2024: awards ceremony


Winners of the 5th edition of the Research Awards

Dr Manuel Irimia, Professor at ICREA research and Head of Unit at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, and Dr Maira Bes-Rastrollo, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarra (UNAV), are the winners of the 2023 Research Awards in the basic and clinical research categories, respectively.

Manuel Irimia was the winner of the Awards, specifically, in the basic category, for his research focused on the role played by microexones in the function of the pancreas and glycaemic regulation. With the Research Award's endowment, Irimia and his team want to explore the use of these elements to establish new molecular targets and therapeutic strategies for diabetes, thus contributing to reducing the morbidity associated with the disease.

In the clinical category, Maira Bes has received an award for her research aimed at understanding how the various dietary patterns have an effect on chronic diseases and mortality, as well as eating habits. With the award, Bes will work on developing the world's first survey to assess the nutritional quality of vegan diets on a standardised basis. This will make it possible to validate the detection of dietary and health risks in a clinical context and will help health professionals improve dietary recommendations for vegans.

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5th edition

Manuel Irimia

ICREA research professor and group leader at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona.

Diabetes is a disease that affects almost 10% of the world's adult population, with an increasing prevalence worldwide. This life-threatening illness, which poses a major challenge for healthcare systems, is characterised by the poor functioning or loss of beta cells. These cells are characteristic of a series of structures of the pancreas known as "islets of Langerhans", which are responsible for producing insulin, the hormone responsible for maintaining glycaemic blood control. However, the mechanisms underlying the failure of these cells in diabetes are not well known, and there are still no effective interventions to prevent it. 

In a recent study published in Nature Metabolism, Irimia's team discovered that microexons play a key role in the function of the pancreas and glycaemic regulation. Therefore, they are a possible therapeutic target for treating diabetes. Microexons are minute fragments of DNA that are part of more than 100 genes, including vital genes for insulin secretion. With the project that has received the Jesús Serra Award of the Fundación Occident, 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 the burden on healthcare systems.

Manuel Irimia: Irimia obtained a PhD in Genetics from the University of Barcelona and completed post-doctoral stays at the University of Stanford and the University of Toronto. On his return, in 2014, he joined the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), where he has since led the research group "Transcriptomics of vertebrate development and evolution".

Maira Bes

Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarra (UNAV). Maira Bes is one of Spain's leading health science researchers in the area of Nutrition and Dietetics and one of the best Spanish scientists according to the ranking established by the CSIC. Her research into nutritional epidemiology focuses on understanding how different diet patterns have an effect on chronic diseases and mortality, given that these diseases are the main cause of death worldwide and are partly the result of poor nutrition. 

Sustainable Development Goal SDG3, Good Health and Well-being, emphasises the need to promote a diet that is primarily plant-based and which, in addition to being healthy, is more environmentally sustainable. However, diets of this type can be nutritionally deficient, and their nutritional quality varies according to food options.

Thanks to the support provided by the Jesús Sera Research Awards, Maira Bes will develop and validate the world's first survey to assess the nutritional quality of vegan diets on a standardised basis. This will make it possible to detect dietary and health risks in a clinical context and will help health professionals improve dietary recommendations for vegans. 

About Maira Bes: After obtaining a PhD in Pharmacy from the UNAV, Bes completed a post-doctoral stay at Harvard University and was a visiting researcher at the University of Loma Linda. She is currently the Lead Researcher of the SUN Project and the Diet and Lifestyles group at the Health Research Institute of Navarra (IdiSNA), a research affiliate with CIBERobn, and the coordinator of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology's Nutrition work group. In addition, she combines her research work with teaching the degrees of Medicine, Pharmacy and Nutrition at UNAV.


4th edition

Arkaitz Carracedo

Ikerbasque Research Professor at the Centre for Cooperative Research in Biosciences (CIC bioGUNE) and Associate Professor at the University of the Basque Country. Arkaitz Carracedo received a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Complutense University of Madrid. After postdoctoral positions at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School (USA), he established his research group at CIC bioGUNE at the end of 2010. His laboratory is a pioneer in the study of the metabolic bases of prostate cancer. His research in this field has been funded by three projects of the European Research Council (ERC) and has also been recognised with numerous awards, to which he now adds the Jesús Serra Research Award of the Fundación Occident.

Prostate cancer is the most common among men, which is a major health and socio-economic problem. The winning project aims to understand the molecular bases that regulate the aggressiveness of this type of cancer. Specifically, Carracedo aims to clarify the molecular effects of polyamines on tumour and non-tumour cells, and thus define their therapeutic potential to regulate their synthesis in our organism or even refine their use as dietary supplements. 

Polyamines are key molecules in cell growth, development and senescence. These molecules are found easily in the Mediterranean diet and are postulated as healthy dietary supplements due to their anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing effects. However, Carracedo and his team have discovered that the metabolism of polyamines is altered in cancer cells, generating higher concentrations of this molecule that could determine the progress of prostate cancer. A better understanding of this crossover effect of polyamines will allow therapeutic interventions to be developed that find a balance between their healthy effects and the access of cancer cells to these molecules.


Fàtima Crispi

Senior specialist in the Foetal Cardiology Unit of the Centre for Maternal-Foetal Medicine at Hospital Clínic de Barcelona and the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, where she leads a pioneering consultation for the study of the foetal heart in extra-cardiac pathologies. Crispi combines her healthcare work with her work as a researcher at the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) and at BCNatal. She is also an associate professor at the University of Barcelona.

Her research has focused on studying babies born with a low weight, a condition that affects 7-10% of newborns and that has no treatment. This condition is associated with a high perinatal morbi-mortality, and also has consequences on the cardiovascular health of these future children and adults. 

Crispi described how the heart of these foetuses is remodelled to adapt to the placental insufficiency that causes the low weight and, subsequently, she demonstrated that these cardiovascular changes persisted in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, which probably explains their greater susceptibility to cardiovascular diseases.

Following a study involving the diet of pregnant women, Crispi and her team were able to reduce by 30% the number of babies with a low birthweight, as well as the associated cardiovascular damage. Thanks to the support of Fundación Occident, her objective is now to study whether benefits on cardiovascular development persist in children a few years after their birth.


3rd edition

Maria Carmen Collado

Currently, she is Scientific Research Fellow of the CSIC in the Group of Tactical and Probiotic Bacteria at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC). Since 2007 she has been an assistant professor at the University of Turku (Finland). Dr Collado also participates in various specialisation courses, including on Master's degrees at the UPV, University of Valencia (UV) and University of Turku (Finland).

Her research is framed by the establishment of associations between human microbiota, food and health in the maternal and child binomial. More specifically, her team investigates the impacts of early exposure (perinatal, environmental and genetic factors) on the microbiota as well as components specific to breast milk (including immune markers, metabolites, oligosaccharides, microbiota), and the impacts of these on the health of the child and the future adult.

She has been selected for her research career in the field of clinical research and, in particular, for her research work "Interaction between microbiota and diet during the first 1,000 days of life". This project aims to highlight the importance of nutrition, the microbiota and the environment during the first 1,000 days from conception to the second year of life because of their crucial importance in influencing both the growth and development of the child's body and in the prevention of future non-communicable diseases such as obesity, allergies and diabetes in adults.


Dr Borja Ibáñez

A cardiologist at the Hospital Fundación Jiménez Díaz in Madrid, and group leader at CIBER on cardiovascular diseases (CIBERCV), Dr Ibáñez is a world opinion leader in the field of heart disease. He has been chosen by the European Cardiology Society as the chairman of the clinical practice guides for the treatment of acute myocardial infarction. His speciality is "Anthracycline cardiotoxicity: development of therapies aimed at mitochondrial protection. From mechanism to the patient."

Dr Ibáñez leads research in the field of myocardial diseases, in particular acute myocardial infarction, heart failure, and cardiotoxicity associated with cancer treatments.

He has received this award for his clinical research career and, specifically, for his research work "Nutritional approaches for the prevention of cardiotoxicity associated with cancer treatments", focused on developing a new therapeutic intervention aimed at reducing the prevalence of chronic heart failure in cancer survivors.


Rubén Nogueiras

Professor and researcher on the Oportunius Programme at the Singular Centre for Research in Molecular Medicine and Chronic Diseases (CIMUS) of the University of Santiago de Compostela, where he coordinates the Molecular Metabolism group.

His career has always focused on the study of molecular mechanisms involved in obesity, a pandemic disease with a particularly high economic, social and health cost. 


He was selected to receive this recognition for his project "Role of Tanycytes in Nutrient Sensing", which is closely focused on pandemic diseases that involve a high economic, social and health cost such as obesity. This research aims to provide insight into the mechanisms involved in the interaction between the central nervous system and peripheral organs to regulate energy balance, and to investigate new mechanisms involved in the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a disease closely linked to obesity, whose prevalence is steadily increasing, and for which there is no treatment.


2nd edition

Dr Raúl Zamora Ros

Private foundation of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and of the Catalan Institute of Oncology.

He received this award for his research work in the field of clinical research, and in particular for his research work "Dietary polyphenols and their effects on obesity markers", which assesses the association between exposure to polyphenols and obesity markers, as well as their effect on health parameters and weight loss during a slimming treatment.


Dr Salvador Aznar Benitah

Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) and Biomedical Research Institute of Barcelona (IRB Barcelona).

He was chosen for his extensive work in the field of basic research, and in particular for his research on the "Impact of dietary fatty acids on metastasis-initiating cells". This project aims to examine recent discoveries on metastasis-initiating cells with high levels of the fatty acid receptor CD36. The research team hopes to obtain essential information on the mechanisms of metastasis and how they are influenced by diet. This point is significant since Western diets have a large intake of fatty acids, and metastasis is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths.


1st edition

Dr Guadalupe Sabio Buzo

National Centre for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) After graduating in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Extremadura in 2000, she completed her PhD on the redundant function of p38-gamma and p38-delta, under the guidance of Dr Ana Cuenda and jointly at the University of Extremadura and at the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit in Dundee (United Kingdom).

She worked as an associate researcher in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts (Worcester, USA) until she returned to Spain in 2009 with a contract with Ramón y Cajal to study diseases associated with obesity, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

In 2011, she joined the National Centre for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC), where she leads a research group on illnesses related to obesity.

She has written a large number of publications for high-impact scientific journals, such as Nature, Cell Metabolism, Blood, Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and she has participated as a guest in major scientific forums.

Research project: the role of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPKs) in the regulation of signalling pathways which are involved in metabolism, cellular proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis.


Dr Pablo Pérez Martínez

Córdoba Maimonides Institute of Biomedical Research (IMIBIC) Having graduated in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Córdoba in 1997, he is a senior professor of Medicine at the University of Córdoba and a specialist doctor in Internal Medicine at the University Hospital Reina Sofía, also in Córdoba. He is also the lead researcher at the Córdoba Maimonides Institute of Biomedical Research (IMIBIC), where he leads various research projects, including a project entitled ‘The Mediterranean Diet associated with probiotics improves cognitive skills in patients with slight cognitive deterioration, modulating the microbiota-intestine-brain axis’, which is financed by the Instituto de Salud Carlos III (Carlos III Institute of Health). With this research, he has obtained three consecutive projects from the Health Research Fund (FIS), and he collaborates in various projects financed by the European Union.

His scientific activity has revolved around the study of Clinical Nutrigenomics, focusing on the interaction between genes and environment, including the intestinal microbiome and the somatic genome, in the biomodulation of cardiovascular disease and in diabetes. He is the author of numerous scientific articles published in high-impact journals and he participates in projects related to innovation in education.

Research project: the role of the Mediterranean Diet in the improvement of slight cognitive deterioration, through the modulation of neuropeptides, fatty acids, oxidative stress markers and inflammation markers in the microbiota, intestine and brain.