In Vivo - October 2017

INVIVO - Newsletter of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine - IRB Barcelona
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The biological rhythm of ageing
“Aged stem cells conserve circadian rhythm but now perform another set of functions to tackle the problems that arise with age,” explains ICREA researcher Salvador Aznar Benitah, leader of two studies published in Cell Press by scientists at IRB Barcelona, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the University of California, Irvine (US). Rejecting the scientific dogma associating ageing with the loss of stem cell circadian rhythm, the researchers show that, with age, stem cells promote a greater functional decline in tissues due to an alteration of their rhythmic activity. The study also demonstrates that a low-calorie diet keeps the circadian rhythm young. Read the press release, and an interview with first authors of the two studies, research associate Guiomar Solanas and “la Caixa” PhD student Francisca Oliveira Peixoto, both at IRB Barcelona.

The 108th Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has recently been awarded to American scientists Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young for their discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms—work that they performed in the fruit fly as a model organism.

Treatment of metastatic breast cancer
A study published in the Lancet Oncology by an international team led by Prof Rob E. Coleman (University of Sheffield) and Prof Roger R. Gomis (IRB Barcelona) identifies the effect of MAF amplification on the outcome of treatment with adjuvant zoledronic acid in early breast cancer. This new knowledge may be key to the early detection of patients who would benefit from zoledronic acid and those who should be spared, and both reduce disease recurrence and deaths from breast cancer. The original discovery was patented and transferred to Inbiomotion, a spin off from the IRB Barcelona and ICREA, founded at the end of 2010.
Elucidating the internal mechanisms of tumours
Researchers at IRB Barcelona shed further light on the causal relationship between chromosomal instability, loss of epithelial polarity and tumorigenesis. In a paper featured on the cover of the journal PNAS, ICREA Research Professor Marco Milán, postdoc Mariana Muzzopappa and PhD student Lada Murcia have identified the cell types and molecular mechanism responsible for the unlimited growth potential of epithelial tumours and demonstrated that the growth of these tumours is independent of their microenvironment. “In epithelial tumours caused by chromosomal instability or loss of cell polarity, the interaction between two tumour cell populations drives malignant growth,” explains Marco.
Histone 1, the guardian of genome stability
Why is histone 1 a major protection factor against genomic instability and a vital protein for the organism? Scientists led by Ferran Azorín, CSIC research professor and head of the Chromatin Structure and Function Lab at IRB Barcelona, have published a study in the journal Nature Communications on the function of histone 1, the least known of the five histones. "Although histone 1 is key component of chromatin—the form in which DNA is packaged inside the cell nucleus through the action of histones—, there is still a lot we don’t know about this molecule," says Ferran.
Key component allows the spread of S. aureus resistance to antibiotics
Scientists at IRB Barcelona, with the collaboration of the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas (CIB-CSIC) in Madrid, have identified a key component of the machinery that allows Staphylococcus aureus to transfer genes that confer antibiotic resistance. “The battle against bacteria—particularly in hospital settings where they are a major threat—implies understanding how genes are transferred to adapt to a changing environment. For example, when they are treated with new antibiotics,” explains IRB Barcelona Group Leader and CSIC Professor Miquel Coll, who published the study in the journal PNAS.
Getting ready to celebrate European science
The first ENABLE Scientific Symposium “Breaking Down Complexity: Innovative Models and Techniques in Biomedicine”, is gearing up to welcome more than 250 young researchers to Barcelona from 15 to 17 November. The Symposium is mainly organised by and for PhD students and Postdocs from four international institutes, including IRB Barcelona. Xenia Villalobos, Academic Officer in the Academic & International Scientific Affairs (AISA) Office at IRB Barcelona, is supporting the students in their endeavour and shares her thoughts on the organization of ENABLE
Elena Meléndez, recipient of the first “IRB Barcelona Futur” PhD fellowship
The academic year began with the arrival of 11 new students to IRB Barcelona’s International PhD Programme—among them Elena Meléndez Esteban (Barcelona, 1993), the recipient of the first “IRB Barcelona Futur” PhD fellowship who has joined Manuel Serrano’s Cellular Plasticity and Disease Lab. This fellowship has come about from the campaign with the same name launched by the institute in December 2016 to increase public awareness of the importance of biomedical research and PhD training. “So many people have shown such generosity in supporting the PhD training of a young researcher whom they have never met,” says Elena.
Immunotherapy for HNCs
An IRB Barcelona immunotherapy project for head and neck cancers (HNCs) has been awarded funding from CaixaImpulse to facilitate its development towards the market. Gonzalo Fernández-Miranda, research associate with the Translational Control of Cell Cycle and Differentiation Lab, heads this eight-month project. Aimed at supporting the development of bio-health projects, CaixaImpulse also offers researchers the opportunity to meet key partners, industry experts and consultants to explore collaboration and business opportunities, in addition to training in key areas like IP Rights, finance and commercialisation. “It helps us to understand what we need to create a successful spin-off,” stresses Gonzalo.
Three innovation projects for market development
The labs headed by Angel R. Nebreda, Ernest Giralt and Roger Gomis at IRB Barcelona have secured funding for the further development of three medical applications for myocardial ischemic reperfusion injury (IRI), brain diseases, and breast cancer, respectively. These products or technologies, which have arisen from research in their labs, have received this funding through the 2016 “Knowledge Industry” grant call, which is run by the Catalan Government and cofunded by European Regional Development Funds (ERDFs). These grants will allow them to make progress in biomedical projects covering a variety of medical needs. Read an interview with Roger Gomis here.
Europe boosts Supek’s research in cancer genomics
IRB Barcelona scientist Fran Supek (b. Zagreb, Croatia, 1981) is among this year’s 406 ERC (European Research Council) Starting Grant awardees. The leader of the Genome Data Science group will start a five-year project called “HYPER-INSIGHT”, focused on the genomes of hypermutated tumours to detect cancer vulnerabilities. The project has received 1.5 M€ of funding. “I am very pleased and honoured to have received an ERC Starting Grant. ERC funding is immensely helpful for young independent researchers as it allows us to think in the long term and to focus on the most exciting scientific ideas,” says Fran. Read more in this press release and interview.
New multidisciplinary Masters programme at IRB Barcelona
The Translational Control of Cell Cycle and Differentiation Lab and the Stem Cell and Cancer Lab will host two students from the first Master of Multidisciplinary Research in Experimental Sciences (BIST & UPF), who will join IRB Barcelona for the 2017-18 academic year to gain training in experiment methodology. This new programme, launched by the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology and the Pompeu Fabra University, offers practical training across multiple disciplines at recognised centres of excellence. The first of its kind in Spain, this course equips students with the skills that prepare them for careers in science in ever increasingly competitive research environments.
“Girls take to the Lab”
A call to action: “Learn science and technology in a fun and participative way!” An objective: to foster the interest of girls aged 7 to 12 in science and technology through fun workshops. Activities allow girls to discover the world of research and innovation by learning about great female scientists who have made significant contributions to scientific knowledge. And three scientists: Lada Murcia and Celia Santos, PhD students with the Development and Growth Control Lab, and Teresa Juan, PhD student with the Structural Bioinformatics and Network Biology Lab. These are the three key ingredients of the outreach initiative “Noies al Lab” (“Girls take to the Lab”).
"I CAN School Challenge"
Inspirational kids making the world a better place
Salvador Aznar’s research that shows that fats fuel cancer metastasis has inspired a class of school students to embark on an initiative to learn more about the food we eat and how it affects our health. "We know what we eat" is the title of a project that 9-year old kids at the Assumpció de la Vall d'Uixó primary school in Castellón began earlier this year. They studied and gathered information about eating habits, saturated fats, palm oil and the importance of a healthy diet, and also interviewed IRB Barcelona scientists Gloria Pascual and Salvador Aznar Benitah. Their ambitious project was selected as a finalist, from among 121 entries, in an international initiative called the "I CAN School Challenge". This competition forms part of the "Design for Change España" movement, an international initiative that seeks to give kids aged from 8 to 15 the opportunity to change the world.
Launch of the IRB Barcelona Philanthropy Fund
Thanks to the generous donations of many individuals, organisations and companies to IRB Barcelona over the last three years, the Institute has launched the first call of the IRB Barcelona Philanthropy Fund. Two biomedical research projects will be funded with 40,000 euros. One of the projects selected will be in the field of oncology, to accommodate all donations made specifically for cancer and metastasis research.
Many moons have passed since 2006 when Francisco Lozano (better known as Curro) moved to a recently launched IRB Barcelona to head the Information Technology Services. He has recently embarked on his next career move: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization in Lyon (France) has hired him as their Head of Information Technology Services.
After spending three years as a Visiting Student in the Complex and Metabolic Diseases Lab led by Antonio Zorzano, Jordi Coste is about to embark on new projects in the United States, leaving behind what he considers “a big family” at IRB Barcelona. But before crossing the pond, he has found time to look back on his years with us: “The Institute has helped me to improve my critical and logical thinking skills, and this will definitely help me in the future.”
The power of science to break moulds fascinates Zinna, who did a Master in Regenerative Biology and Medicine at the CRTD in Germany. This course was a personal and scientific challenge and it drove her “to apply for a competitive PhD Programme like INPhINIT,” she says. She is now pursuing a PhD in Salvador Aznar Benitah’s group at IRB Barcelona, where “people are driven by a common goal: scientific and social growth.”
3 - 5 NOV
100XCiencia.2 Co-creating Value in Scientific Research
Palacio de Congresos de Alicante, Avenida Denia, 47, Alicante
Representatives of all the CSOs and the UMMs (scientific directors, transfer and innovation managers, communication and dissemination managers) will meet in Alicante on 2-3 November 2017 with outstanding representatives of the knowledge-based industry, economy and administration
13 - 15 NOV
Multidimensional Genomics: The 3D/4D organization of chromatin
Institut d'Estudis Catalans, carrer Carme 47, Barcelona
Chairs: Modesto Orozco (IRB Barcelona), Marc Martí-Renom (CNAG-CRG/ICREA), Giacomo Cavalli (IGH-CNRS).
15 - 17 NOV
ENABLE Conference - The 1st European PhD and Postdoc Symposium
Palauet Casades, carrer de Mallorca 283, Barcelona
“Breaking down complexity: Innovative models and techniques in biomedicine”
ENABLE is the first European symposium organized by and for PhD students and Postdocs. This initiative seeks to promote excellence in the biomedical sciences in Europe by supporting young researchers, strengthening scientific careers, and bringing biomedicine closer to society.
27 - 29 NOV
Morphogenetic engineering
Institut d'Estudis Catalans, carrer Carme 47, Barcelona
Chairs: Marco Milán (IRB Barcelona/ICREA), James Sharpe (EMBL-CRG/ ICREA).
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