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SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital will create the first live brain tissue laboratory for pediatric patients in Europe

03 June 2024
Óscar Marín and Joan Comella at the SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital

The SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital and King’s College London will finalise their plan to develop this new laboratory, which will open early 2025. The partnership will be financed by the La Caixa Foundation as part of their ongoing support for research into rare pediatric diseases at the hospital.

The SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital put forward the live brain tissue laboratory development programme with collaborator Dr Óscar Marín, professor and researcher from the prestigious King's College London in the United Kingdom. This impactful project will be the first laboratory of its kind in the world, a result of the partnership forged with La Caixa Foundation in 2023 to promote research into rare pediatric diseases at the SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital.

Dr Óscar Marín is a world-class expert in the field of neuroscience, and since 2014, he has headed the Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at King's College London. At this centre, he carries out laborious work in the field of human brain development. The SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital is the perfect place to launch this research project in early-age infants and create a collaborative research laboratory.

‘One of the main motivating factors behind this ambitious project, is to understand how human brain development works by studying its properties. Until now, a large portion of research in this field has been done on human cell cultures or on animal models. Although these are useful, none of them reflect the true complexity of the human brain,’ comments Dr Óscar Marín. ‘Now, thanks to this new lab, we will be able to use living pediatric brain tissue, a vital step in broadening our scope of knowledge of the human brain.’

Patient tissue samples from brain surgery

Brain tissue will be obtained from patients at the SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital who have brain surgery – always with their consent. This tissue normally includes pathological material extracted from the patient, but it is often the case that healthy tissue must be removed, for example, to access deep brain tumours.

These procedures are already being carried out on adults, but there are very few places in the world where children are also suitable. This procedure requires cross-departmental collaboration between healthcare teams (surgery, neurosurgery, pathology, etc.) and laboratories (technicians, researchers, biobank technicians, etc.). As such, the SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital has implemented a new protocol involving several departments, with the aim of obtaining and preserving samples with utmost safety and security.

New laboratory facility to open in early 2025

Under the direction of Dr Óscar Marín, over the following months, six researchers are expected to be hired for this one-of-a-kind new laboratory, expected to open its doors in early 2025. The team will work in close collaboration with researchers at King's College London to develop and optimise all of the experimental new techniques with maximum quality standards.

‘Thanks to this new facility, we will be able to tackle new scientific questions and challenges regarding how the human brain develops, using cutting-edge technology and methods. More important yet, is that we will be able to determine how certain diseases of the nervous system come to be, as well as their characteristics. One of our initial areas of focus will be childhood epilepsy, a brain activity disorder that appears in many rare diseases, and of which we still do not understand its origin’, notes Dr Joan Comella, Head of Research, Innovation and Learning at the SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital.

The project aims to better understand the mechanisms involved in epilepsy, and to develop possible therapies. Using advanced techniques such as transcriptomics and genomics, the team at the new laboratory will be able to study brain tissue in a completely unique way.

However, this lab will also allow for the study of several other pediatric brain disorders, and lead to more personalised medicine thanks to specifically designed treatments for each patient using gene and cell therapies. Thanks to the new advanced therapy platform, these can even be done in-hospital.

‘In the long term, we hope that this project will not just help further scientific knowledge, but also be a beacon of hope, and help develop new treatments that can improve the quality of life of our poorly little ones. The collaboration between SJD and King's College London, with the support of La Caixa Foundation, is an innovative example of how different institutions can work together towards a common goal,’ concludes Comella.