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Two CaixaImpulse Innovation Projects to bring Science to Industry

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ITQB NOVA receives €98K to transfer the results of its cutting-edge research from the laboratory to patients

Oeiras, 17 October 2023

ITQB NOVA researchers lead two of the six biomedical projects selected in Portugal in the CaixaImpulse Health Innovation Call 2023 promoted by “la Caixa” Foundation. The initiative supports biomedical projects with the capacity to reach the market and improve health. The teams led by Ana Pina and Mónica Serrano will receive 49K euros each to develop biological batteries to power e-skin devices and a diagnostic system to replace current PCR tests, respectively.

The project led by Ana Pina, Principal Investigator of the Bioinspired Peptide Systems lab, aims to develop ultra-thin, flexible, lightweight and biocompatible biological batteries to power electronic skin devices. By overcoming the technical limitations of current energy sources, the "Collagen-inspired biobatteries as a power source for electronic skin devices" project promises to push the "e-skin" technology forward to facilitate the detection of diseases and the application of medical treatments, and to advance the monitoring of people's health. The project will be developed in collaboration with Centro de Investigação de Materiais (CENIMAT) and UCIBIO – Unidade de Ciências Biomoleculares Aplicadas from NOVA School of Science and Technology (NOVA FCT), and Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC).

The other ITQB NOVA selected project led by Mónica Serrano, "Development of a cheaper, faster and more versatile alternative to PCR for pathogen diagnosis", stems from a collaboration between the Microbial Development lab headed by Adriano O. Henriques and the Yeast Molecular Biology lab led by Catarina Pimentel. The project aims to develop a diagnostic method that is more feasible and easier to implement than current PCR tests. The research team wants to combine the nucleic acid amplification method they have previously developed for COVID-19 tests, with a technology based on nanoplatforms to identify pathogens, enabling routine health checks and large-scale testing.

Both projects originated from the 2023 edition of the InnOvalley Proof of Concept Fund, a partnership with the Oeiras Municipality toh supports research projects from ITQB NOVA and the Gulbenkian Institute of Science. The applications are now open to the 2024 PoC edition.

In Portugal, other COLife and LS4Future projects have been funded, including one led by the NOVA Medical School's Guadalupe Cabral and two by the Institute of Molecular Medicine, led by Pedro Castro and Luísa Lopes. 

To date, the "la Caixa" Foundation has granted a total of 21.3 million euros to 202 projects, from which 42 spin-offs have been born. The selected projects will receive a total of €300K to be developed over the next two years, with the possibility of receiving extra funding in later stages. In addition to financial support, the researchers will also receive mentoring, consultancy and training from international experts from different areas of the innovation ecosystem. The initiative is carried out in collaboration with Caixa Capital Risc and in partnership with the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT).

Know more about the selected ITQB NOVA projects.

Collagen-inspired biobatteries as a power source for electronic skin devices

Project leader: Ana Pina, ITQB NOVA, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

In comsortium with: Ana Baptista, Centro de Investigação de Materiais (CENIMAT), Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCT-NOVA); Leonor Morgado, UCIBIO – Unidade de Ciências Biomoleculares Aplicadas, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCT-NOVA); Felipe Conzuelo, ITQB-NOVA, and Erin Tranfield, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC)


Electronic skin (e-skin) is one of the most innovative fields in which the electronics industry is currently working. E-skin technology will facilitate the detection of diseases, the application of medical therapies and, in general, more advanced health monitoring. However, there are still some technical hurdles to overcome.

Current electronic materials are rigid and non-degradable, while the human body is soft, dynamic, stretchable and self-healing. Currently available energy sources (batteries) for e-skin systems are heavy and made of hazardous materials. Other more advanced portable power sources, such as enzymatic biobatteries and biofuel cells, also present technical limitations. There is therefore a need to develop a new class of electronic materials that have properties similar to skin.

The project aims to develop an ultra-thin, flexible, lightweight and biocompatible battery to power e-skin devices that combines innovative collagen-like materials and flexible microelectronics for portable applications, leaving conventional power sources behind.


Development of a cheaper, faster and more versatile alternative to PCR for pathogen diagnosis

Project leader: Mónica Serrano, ITQB NOVA, Universidade Nova de Lisboa


Infectious diseases kill more than 17 million people a year. Although diagnosis of infectious diseases is critical for carrying out effective public health management policies, almost half of the world's population has little or no access to diagnostic tests. Affordable and easy-to-implement diagnostic methods that enable large-scale surveillance and testing are urgently needed.

The cost and complexity associated with producing the reagents needed to conduct molecular diagnostics that identify pathogens through the detection of their genetic material is often an obstacle to routine and large-scale surveillance of infectious outbreaks. This is compounded by the need for a cold chain to preserve sensitive reagents and for expensive equipment and highly trained personnel.

The project focuses on developing a diagnostic system that is more affordable and easier to implement than current PCR tests. The team already has prior experience in developing diagnostic tests, having designed a sensitive and low-cost test for COVID-19 based on a nucleic acid amplification method. In this case, they propose the use of a nanoplatform as an immobilization matrix for  enzymes in conjunction with the strategy previously described and used in their latest diagnostic test. With this approach, technicians, bulky instrumentation and a cold chain will not be required, meaning it could therefore be easily implemented in low-resource settings.

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