Skip to main content
Dr. Cristina Quiles

co-founder and CEO of Neuroscience Technologies

From cardiologist to businesswoman. Dr. Cristina Quiles is the co-founder and CEO of Neuroscience Technologies, a biomedical company specializing in neuropathic pain, in addition to working on research projects related to inflammatory pain, fibromyalgia and migraines. She is also a member of the CataloniaBIO Board of Directors. She has recently moved to London, a city on the cutting-edge of pain research, where the company has opened a new affiliate.

In 2005, a group of doctors and researchers in Barcelona founded Neuroscience Technologies, a company specializing in the neurophysiology of human pain that provides support services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors by assessing the activity of compounds using microneurography.  Microneurography is a technique that inserts microelectrodes into a nerve in order to see the electric activity of the nerve fibers. In addition to specializing in neuropathic pain, they are also currently working on research projects related to inflammatory pain, fibromyalgia and migraines.

Neuroscience Technologies, located at the Barcelona Science Park, has been recognized with the Barcelona Provincial Government’s Award for Business Initiatives Led by Women and the BMW Initiative Award.

You worked as a cardiologist for years. What made you decide to start up your own company?

I have always been interested in research as part of my professional career. I participated in a research group on pain, through which I had the opportunity to join a business project, which came about as a result of two research contracts from a leading international pharmaceutical company in this field. It was an unknown adventure for us, but also a great opportunity to devote ourselves full-time to research.

The company opened an affiliate in London last June.

London is the top city in terms of the pain research carried out. We had the chance to sign an agreement with King’s College to do studies in their facilities. We were also lucky that professor Stephen McMahon, director of the London Pain Consortium, accepted our proposal to join our Scientific Advisory Board. This is the place to be in our field.

What differences are there between London and Barcelona in the biomedical field?

Critical mass and business experience. In London there are more scientists, more companies and they have a longer history. The walls of the Royal Society of Medicine in London are covered in portraits of Nobel Prizewinners... Catalonia is an entrepreneuring city; there are good scientists and qualified doctors with innovative ideas. Moreover, we receive a lot of support from Barcelona Activa-Barcelona City Hall and ACC1Ó (the agency set up by the Catalan Government to make Catalan enterprise more competitive) on a local level. We don’t have the history of other areas of Europe or the United States, but the critical mass will be considerable in the near future. It's just a question of time.

What breakthroughs have you reached in the field of pain?

At Neuroscience Technologies we have been able to diagnose painful neuropathies in small fibers that are more difficult to diagnose for other, less specialized doctors because the tests they normally run don’t provide information on the smallest nerve fibers. The tests we use are the quantitative thermotest, laser-evoked potentials, contact-heat evoked potentials, thermography and microneurography, among others. Even though the treatment isn't always 100% effective, knowing what’s wrong with them puts patients suffering from pain at ease to some extent.

Additionally, we have developed a test to objectively quantify the electric activity of nerve fibers that transmit the sensation of pain to the brain, which is abnormal when they are damaged. It’s more like a pain-meter.

You recently received the BMW Initiative Award for developing microneurography. Could you explain this technique?

This technique implants microelectrodes, which are much smaller than the needles used to take blood samples, inside a nerve, normally from the root, without the need for anesthesia.  Thus, we can register electric activity of even the smallest nerve fibers, which are normally overshadowed by electric activity of thicker nerve fibers, those with myelin, in conventional electrophysiological tests.  

Thus we can diagnose injury or malfunction in small nerve fibers with a very safe procedure. Dr. Jordi Serra, neurologist, founder and CSO of Neuroscience Technologies, has been using this technique for more than 18 years and has never seen any type of injury as a consequence. We have both volunteered often to be subjects of our own research. In fact, one of our patients suffered nerve damage as a result of acupuncture treatment, so you could say that microneurography is less invasive than taking blood samples or having acupuncture.

What improvements will come about with the new drugs developed?

We aren’t developing any drugs yet, but we haven’t discarded the possibility of doing so in the future if the right conditions come about (basically intellectual property and an industrial partner). It would be aimed at those who suffer from neuropathic pain, like painful diabetic polyneuropathy, sciatica, trigeminal neuralgia, postherpetic neuralgia, traumatic neuropathies caused by accidents, small-fiber neuropathies, etc. In total neuropathic pain affects between 4% and 7% of the population, so it’s a very prevalent problem.

Common pain medications, like paracetamol or anti-inflammatory drugs, aren’t effective for this type of pain. Generally anti-epilepsy or anti-depressant drugs are prescribed, which thanks to their action mechanisms partially improve pain symptoms. Many of these patients experience burning in their feet and have to sleep with them uncovered because the heat bothers them. Others feel pins and needles, cramps or deeply oppressive pain. Our aim is to completely control these pain symptoms and we believe that in the next five or ten years some pharmaceutical company will be able to do so.

You collaborate with scientists from universities like Cambridge and Yale.

The University of Cambridge hired us last year to contribute our experience with microneurography to a research project they are carrying out. In fact, no other company in the world uses microneurography, because it has a steep learning curve and results must be interpreted through physiopathological hypotheses, so they are not direct. There are only three academic groups that use this technique, in Germany, Norway and the USA.

Regarding Yale, we asked for their collaboration in diagnosing a new genetic disease we have identified in a family in Catalonia. The study was negative, so we are still looking for the cause of this disease. Also, professor Stephen Waxman, creator of the Center for Neuroscience and Regeneration/Neurorehabilitation Research at Yale, is on our Scientific Advisory Board.

Can you explain the European project Europain you are participating in?

Europain: Understanding Pain and Improving Its Treatment is a public-private partnership project funded by the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) program. Pharmaceutical companies interested in a therapeutic area laid out the bottlenecks that prevent them from marketing effective medicines and requested that public consortia be created to design research projects to find solutions to these issues. This way, the pharmaceutical industry can ask universities and SMEs for help.

Regarding the call for proposals, 13 consortia participated and the Europain consortium, which we are part of, won the bid. The project will last five years and has a budget of 15 million euros. The kick-off meeting took place at the Barcelona Science Park on 1 October 2009. We are privileged to share this journey with top European scientists in our field like the London Pain Consortium, the German Research Network on Neuropathic Pain and the Danish Pain Research Center.

What role do women play in the biosciences sector?

The majority of bioscience students are women. Women are an important resource that society is not currently making the most of. Our biological role of ensuring the survival of our species is not taken into account or respected in our current economic system. Some super-manager should find a way for women to continue having children, if they wish, without having to sacrifice their careers, as they are forced to do in many cases. All the years women spend on university studies and gaining professional experience should return in the form of income for the country.


Photos: BMW Initiative Award.

Sign up for our newsletters

Stay up-to-date on the latest news, events and trends in the BioRegion.