Disputatio of Barcelona 2021

Mental health and pandemics: burden and resilience. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at 6:30 p.m.

In-person and streamed live from the Institute for Catalan Studies, Barcelona

A video recording of the event is available on IEC’s YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/JUVdviptZVo



Imagen RRSS

Mental health, which, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic already represented as a leading cause of disability around the globe, is receiving renewed attention. Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and of control strategies, such as lockdown measures, have created additional mental health challenges for the general population, but especially for vulnerable populations, such as those living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and their caregivers. However, while the COVID-19 pandemic is considered an important burden for mental health systems worldwide, it also serves as an unprecedented global experiment that provides unique opportunities for understanding genetic pathways shared between infectious disease and neurodegeneration, as well as for studying the predictors and mechanisms of increased resilience to dementia on both individual and societal levels.

In this context, the Academia Europaea – Barcelona Knowledge Hub (AE-BKH) held its Disputatio of Barcelona 2021, entitled, “Mental health and pandemics: burden and resilience,” on Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at the Institute for Catalan Studies (IEC). With the goal of providing an invaluable dialogue among expert scientists on the relationship between mental health and pandemics, the session sought to find consensus on priorities and possible paths forward. Serving as the two disputantes for the debate were: Arcadi Navarro, MAE, ICREA Research Professor at Pompeu Fabra University and Director of the Pasquall Maragall Foundation, Barcelona; and Eider Arenaza-Urquijo, Research Team Leader at the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center, Barcelona. Ricard Guerrero, MAE, AE-BKH Academic Director, introduced the disputantes and directed questions from the audience to them.

Dr. Navarro began by offering an overview on current research on how COVID-19 may trigger degenerative effects leading to cognitive impairment and even AD symptoms, outlining the main questions that researchers are attempting to answer. Dr. Arenaza-Urquijo, for her part, offered interesting results from ongoing research on how the brain builds resilience against ageing, stress and other risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Both disputantes highlighted the urgency to promote mental health and stress resilience as a means of promoting healthy aging, notably in the context of pandemics. The role of vaccines was also featured as an important player in improving mental health outcomes.

The event followed the tradition of the Disputatio of Barcelona series of annual debates between two renowned experts (disputantes) holding different viewpoints on a common topic of social relevance. Now in its ninth edition, the series began in 2013 and was inspired by the original Disputatio held in Barcelona in 1263, a theological debate between Christian and Jewish intellectuals presided by King James I of Aragon. As is tradition, the two invited disputantes responded to questions posed by the audience, comprised of members of the local academic community.

Dibuix disputatio vermell



Eider Arenaza-Urquijo (Photo by Balmaseando.eus)

Eider Arenaza-Urquijo

Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center

Eider Arenaza-Urquijo is a Ramón y Cajal researcher and Research Team Leader at the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center, Pasqual Maragall Foundation. In addition to working on the centre’s Alfa Study, a pioneering, long-term study that seeks to identify biomarkers of the preclinical phase of Alzheimer’s disease, she is also a collaborating researcher at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota, USA).

Dr. Arenaza-Urquijo obtained her PhD in 2013 at the University of Barcelona and has conducted research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM, France), the University of California (Berkeley) and the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota, USA). Her main line of research focuses on understanding brain mechanisms and lifestyle and mental health factors associated with brain resilience in ageing and Alzheimer’s disease. To this aim, she combines neuroimaging techniques, lifestyle and mental health evaluations and cognitive testing.

Dr. Arenaza-Urquijo is currently involved in several international research groups. She is Vice-Chair of the “Reserve, resilience and protective factors” professional interest area of the Alzheimer’s Association International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research (ISTAART), and co-leader and co-founder of the ADDRESS! Group (Alzheimer’s Association) for understanding sex/gender and race/ethnicity differences in brain resilience.

Arcadi Navarro

Pasqual Maragall Foundation

Arcadi Navarro, MAE, is Director of the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC), Pasqual Maragall Foundation, since 2019. He is also ICREA Research Professor at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) and Group Leader of the EGA Team (European Genome-phenome Archive) at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG).

Following the completion of his PhD in Biology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and postdoctoral studies at the University of Edinburgh (UK), Prof. Navarro then joined UPF, first as a Ramón y Cajal fellow in 2002 and later as an ICREA Research Professor in 2006. Between 2008 and 2013, he was Vice-Director of the Institute for Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a joint initiative of UPF and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). Since 2010, he is Full Professor of Genetics at UPF, leading the Biocomputing of Genomic Diversification Research Group. He directed the UPF Department of Experimental and Health Sciences between 2013 and 2016, during which time he started a collaboration with the CRG, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS), known as the European Genome-phenome Archive, which he co-directs. Between 2016 and 2018, he served as Secretary for Universities and Research of the Government of Catalonia.

Research interests of Prof. Navarro include genome evolution, computational genomics, chromosomal speciation, genotypes and phenotypes, and the biological roots of senescence.

Arcadi Navarro rec


Partners of the AE-BKH:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        With the collaboration of: