In Vivo - December 2016

INVIVO - Newsletter of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine - IRB Barcelona
Can't see this properly? Click here DECEMBER 2016
Tumour cells are dependent on fat to start metastasis
Group Leader Salvador Aznar-Benitah has led a study, published in Nature, that has identified the cells responsible for initiating and promoting metastasis in several types of human tumours. The group’s results show that the protein CD36, which absorbs fat from the cell membrane, is an essential factor that determines whether tumour cells become metastatic. The scientists showed that, in the absence of CD36, human tumours did not develop metastasis, and that the inhibition of this protein dramatically reduced the size of existing metastases. The study reports that mice given a high-fat diet developed the most aggressive metastases, indicating that the metastatic process is enhanced by fat intake. IRB Barcelona will co-develop antibodies against CD36 with the potential to treat patients. Core Facilities managers Camille Otto-Attolini and Neus Prats also are among the authors of this paper, published in collaboration with the Vall d'Hebron Hospital and the Hospital del Mar. The story received extensive media coverage worldwide. Watch this video explaining the researchers findings for more information.
IRB Barcelona welcomes new Group Leader, Núria López-Bigas
Biologist and ICREA Research Professor Núria López-Bigas just joined the Institute, after 10 years of leading a laboratory at the Pompeu Fabra University. Her group develops computational models to identify the genetic alterations that cause tumours to form. “In our lab, we carry out different types of research, from basic science, motivated by the curiosity to understand how cells function, to applied research, with the hope of bringing about direct benefits for patients,” she says.
The medicine of the future begins... with your donation
IRB Barcelona’s most recent fundraising campaign “Future” aims to raise 25,000 euros to fund the first year of a PhD student. The campaign, which will run through until the end of January 2017, was organized as part of “Giving Tuesday,” a day in November devoted to charitable donations. IRB Barcelona has appealed to primary and secondary schools, and their Parent-Teacher Associations, to organise fundraising events to support the campaign and to spread the word. Merck, Promega and Waters have also lent their support to match donations.
Cancer Research
Bioinformatics brings to light new combinations of drugs to fight breast cancer
An in silico analysis of pairing 64 drugs used to treat breast cancer has allowed researchers at IRB Barcelona to identify 10 previously untested combinations with potential to tackle resistance to breast cancer treatment. Group Leaders and ICREA researchers Patrick Aloy and Angel Nebreda and their teams published their findings in Cancer Research in November. One combination, of raloxifene and cabozantinib, was tested in mice and “dramatically” boosted the anti-tumour effects of each of the two drugs.
'Liquid-like droplets' that sequester mRNA
Researchers at IRB Barcelona are increasingly intrigued by protein aggregates that behave like “droplets of oil in water” (green in the picture). They are now described as membrane-less cytoplasmic organelles. In a paper published in eLife, CPEB4 expert and ICREA researcher Raúl Méndez has provided one of the most detailed examples of the regulation of the dynamics of these liquid-like droplets that comprise the protein CPEB4 during cell division. Postdoc Jordina Guillén-Boixet observed that CPEB4 molecules recognise each other bind to form these droplet structures sequestering mRNAs and hiding them from ribosomes, thereby preventing their translation into proteins.
The greater the number of centrosomes, the greater the branching in the trachea
Fly scientists in the Development and Morphogenesis in Drosophila Lab have studied how the number of centrosomes in cells determines the final shape that cells adopt and their function. In an article published in Current Biology, the scientists studied centrosomes in the tracheal cells of the Drosophila to demonstrate that cells that hold more than two centrosomes form more branches (a single cell is like a small tree with many branches). In contrast, those that have two (the usual number) form standard branches, while those that have none show practically no branching.
Nobel Prize for research into cell “recycling”
This year the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese biologist who discovered autophagy—the process used by cells to clean and recycle their components. Group Leader Antonio Zorzano studies autophagy in his research at IRB Barcelona, and explains why Ohsumi’s discovery is so key in an interview published in La Vanguardia.
“Curiosity should fuel research”
The biologist Jens Lüders has headed the Microtubule Organisation Lab at IRB Barcelona since 2008. His team is devoted to elucidating how these minuscule structures—without which cells can’t work—are organised and their function. In the video “Curiosity as a fuel”, Lüders suggests that transcendental discoveries arise from basic research and that such science is driven exclusively by curiosity.
“My dream is to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease”
Group Leader Patrick Aloy is an ICREA research professor and ERC Consolidator Grant holder. He leads the Structural Bioinformatics and Network Biology Laboratory at IRB Barcelona. In the “Meet Our Scientists” video “Networks of life,” he talks about the network biology of Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer.
Protection of animals used in research
IRB Barcelona, one of 250+ institutions to support the European Directive on the well-being of animals
On 6 September, IRB Barcelona joined 252 institutions throughout Europe to sign the “Statement supporting European Directive 2010/63/EU”, promoted by the European Animal Research Association to endorse European legislation that protects animals used for scientific purposes. Research Associate Ivan del Barco believes that the Directive “forces you to really think about your experiment and minimise the use of animals to get your results.”
Five labs worldwide join forces to study rare disease
The US National Institutes of Health has awarded an international consortium $8.5 million over five years to find a treatment for Lafora Disease, a rare and severe form of epilepsy. The disease is characterised by the accumulation of abnormal deposits, called Lafora bodies, in neurons. IRB Barcelona Director Joan Guinovart joins scientists from the US, Canada and Spain. The US charity Chelsea’s Hope, formed by families affected by this disease, has promoted this international collaboration. “We have been studying Lafora disease for over ten years and have come together to work towards a breakthrough. It is great that the initiative arose from families,” he highlights.
28th Barcelona Biomed Conference
150 world experts gather in Barcelona to discuss plasticity and cell migration
On 3-5 October, around 20 top speakers and 150 participants debated cutting-edge research into plasticity and cell migration—two key aspects in paediatric cancer, metastasis, and regeneration. They met at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans on the occasion of the 28th Barcelona BioMed Conference, an event organised by IRB Barcelona, with the support of the BBVA Foundation. Jordi Casanova, IRB Barcelona scientist and CSIC researcher, and Jean Paul Thiery, from the University of Singapore, co-organised the event, entitled "Epithelial transitions and cell migration: learning from development to tackle disease."
29th Barcelona Biomed Conference
Science needs fewer barriers between fields, more time and less aggressiveness, says Maria Macias
On 28-30 November, researchers gathered for the Barcelona BioMed Conference “From genomes to structures: looking at big data with an atomic perspective.” The event, focussed on structural biology, massive genomic analysis and big data, was organised by IRB Barcelona Group Leader and ICREA researcher Maria Macias, in collaboration with Hartmut Oschkinat from the Leibnitz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie in Berlin. “The challenge that Hartmut and I had was to put together a group of experts that could help us open our minds,” she says. Among the invited speakers was Nobel Prize Winner Ada Yonath, who also co-chaired with Macias a special roundtable discussion on women and science. “We all need to work for a less aggressive approach in science,” says Macias. Learn more about the conference here. Image: Jaume Cosialls/Diario Médico.
International experts debate recent breakthroughs in oncology at CosmoCaixa
For the 4th consecutive year, CosmoCaixa set the scene for researchers from all over the world to participate in a B·Debate, an initiative of Biocat and the Obra Social “la Caixa”. Held on 13 October, the gathering addressed the latest advances in cancer research, with a special focus on what leads to relapse and metastasis. The B·Debate was organised by IRB Barcelona scientists Salvador Aznar-Benitah, Eduard Batlle and Raúl Méndez.
7th "Vi per Vida" wine tasting in support of cancer and metastasis research
On 26 November, the "Vi per Vida" charity organisation run by sommelier Xavi Ayala held a wine-tasting event for 400 people in Calella. The proceeds from the “Vi per Vida” campaigns are given to the IRB Barcelona, which has a programme specifically devoted to research into cancer and metastasis, and about 50 projects in this field. “We bring Catalan wine to the public in a fun activity involving audio-visual presentations and Catalan pop music, and as a group effort we all contribute to a worthy cause,” says Ayala.
“IRB Barcelona will always be special: I took my first steps here”
IRB Barcelona alumna Ana Janic visited the Institute in October to give a talk in the work she is doing her current position as a postdoc in Andreas Strasser’s Lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia. She talks about her experience during her doctoral studies and the important role that the Alumni Network can play in fostering collaborations and interactions with former IRB Barcelona scientists. “I think that interaction between scientific communities is essential and the Alumni initiative will open up further opportunities for collaboration,” she says. Listen to the podcast of this interview.
EMBL Alumni gathering
European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Spain
On 5 October, the EMBL Alumni Association organized “EMBL in Spain,” an event co-hosted by the CRG. Eighty participants, including several EMBL alumni who are now at IRB Barcelona, gathered to hear about up and coming science being done by EMBL alumni in Spain, to learn of the latest developments and opportunities at EMBL, and to discuss progress on the launch of a new EMBL site in Barcelona. The event provided an opportunity for valuable networking. EMBL alumni events are held regularly in the Laboratory's 24 members states, are growing larger as alumni bring their networks to introduce to other alumni and to EMBL. Photo: CRG/EMBL.
First BIST PostDoc Day brings together 200 young scientists to debate careers in research
On 23 November, nearly 200 postdoctoral researchers from the six centers that make up the BIST met in the Recinte Modernista of the Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona to participate in the first BIST PostDoc Day. The aim of the meeting was to create a space that allowed postdoc researchers to share their expectations and concerns, to learn about the experience of researchers that have become entrepreneurs or group leaders, and to suggest ideas on how BIST can support and enhance their professional careers. A special video for the event was prepared. Read the news on the BIST site.
Miquel A. Pericàs, new director of BIST
In October, the director of the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ) took over as general director of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST). He succeeds Montserrat Vendrell, who moved on to take up an entrepreneurial post in the private sector. “BIST brings together six of the best centers in Catalonia, multiplying their capacity to promote excellence in research, new lines of multidisciplinary research, training and career support programs for researchers, and science outreach. By making significant progress in these areas, we will be doing a great service to our country,” he says.
Iproteos closes a round of funding valued at 1.5 million Euros
Biotech Iproteos – co-founded by IRB Barcelona and based at the Parc Científic de Barcelona – has closed a round of funding valued at €1.5 million, led by Caixa Capital Risc and with the participation of Kinled Holding, a Hong Kong-based international investment company, and the biotech company ASCIL Biopharm. The funds will be used to complete a preclinical phase in order to start Human Phase I trials of Iproteos' compound to treat cognitive impairment associated with schizophrenia. The drug is one of the few being developed worldwide to halt the progression and reverse the symptoms of this condition. “Currently available antipsychotic drugs do not treat schizophrenia's cognitive impairment. Our compound has demonstrated its efficacy as a cognitive enhancer in in vivo preclinical trials,” explains CEO Teresa Tarragó.
“We help teachers to understand that we all do science every day”
IRB Barcelona’s Tandem Project collaboration with the Mare de Déu de Montserrat primary school in Cornellà is moving forward, full steam ahead. During this second year of the 3-year project, the focus is on providing specific training for teachers, many of whom lack specific education in science. IRB Barcelona researchers Maribel Hernández, Francisco Barriga, Clara Suñer and Saska Ivanova have been working with teachers to help them build tools based on science that they can use in their classrooms. “I wanted to explain that all of us, not just scientists, do science every day,” says Maribel. “And this is especially true for little children who have the scientific method innately wired into their brains!”
Photo ALbum 1
Chemistry for teachers
On 4-5 November, a dozen high-school science teachers from throughout Catalonia gathered at IRB Barcelona for the 7th edition of 'Teachers and Science', a workshop organised in collaboration with the Catalunya-La Pedrera Foundation. This edition was dedicated to Chemistry as a fundamental ingredient in biomedical research. Group Leader Ernest Giralt, Research Associates Meitxell Teixidó and Macarena Sánchez, Postdoctoral Fellow Josep García, and PhD Students Pol Arranz, Cristina García and Salva Guardiola guided teachers through the discovery of the secrets of the chemical world.
Family Day 2016
Once again, family members of IRB Barcelona's staff had a chance to visit the labs they hear so much about, and where their relatives spend so much time. Organised by the Office of Communications and External Relations, IRB Barcelona Family Day 2016 was held on 18 November. Special thanks go to Begoña Cánovas, Lorena González, Ana Igea, Eduard Puig, Marta Frigolé, Laura Isabel García, Joel Paz, Jürgen Walther and Sanja Zivanovic for helping to make this a special and fun day for the families of the people who work here.
Crazy 2016 closing ceremony
The 4th edition of Crazy About Biomedicine came to an end on 16 December with the customary closing ceremony. 24 outstanding high school students, who have spent Saturdays throughout the year in IRB Barcelona labs learning about the most advanced research topics, received their diplomas before an audience of proud family members. IRB Barcelona Director was accompanied by Jürgen Walther and Sanja Zivanovic, who represented the tutors at the ceremony. Crazy About Biomedicine is organised in collaboration with the Catalunya-La Pedrera Foundation. In January, 24 new students will begin a new 'crazy' adventure at IRB Barcelona.
Barcelona geared up to host 300 young biomedical researchers in 2017
On 10 November, IRB Barcelona kicked off an international symposium series, ENABLE, designed to foster the next generation of scientific leaders. Involving scientific debates, career sessions, and outreach activities, these 3-day symposia are jointly coordinated by young students from four European centres. After the first event in Barcelona in 2017, the ENABLE symposia will be held in Copenhagen in 2018, Nijmegen in 2019, and Milan in 2020.
“There are motivating and intellectually stimulating career options besides academia”
At the yearly event “Career progression in science - options beyond the bench”, organised in collaboration with the PCB and IBEC, one of the invited speakers was Guzmán Sánchez, co-founder and scientific director of the science communication company Scienseed, one of IRB Barcelona’s partners in the ENABLE project. “We shouldn’t portray a career path as a perfectly linear sequence of events,” he says in this interview.
Scientists Dating Forum, building a future think-tank for science, politics, economics and society issues
The youngest and most restless scientists often keep themselves busy with projects outside their labs. One such project is the "Scientists Dating Forum," which has attracted the interest of various PhD students at IRB Barcelona. In vivo met Yoran Beldengrün, a Swiss PhD student at the Institute for Advanced Chemistry of Catalonia – CSIC, who is behind the initiative, and PhD student Salva Guardiola, one of the more than 50 people—including scientists, journalists, artists, and entrepreneurs—who have been involved in the initiative since the beginning of the year.
Batlle wins the 2016 Carmen and Severo Ochoa Prize
This prestigious prize, presented by the Fundación Carmen and Severo Ochoa since 1995, is given in recognition of molecular biology research performed by scientists working in Spain. The prize acknowledges Eduard Batlle’s contributions to understanding the behaviour of colon tumours and how these tumours become more aggressive, to the point of gaining the capacity to develop metastases. He was awarded the prize on 16 November in Madrid. Photo: Carmen and Severo Ochoa Prize.
La Marató awards funding to projects on obesity and diabetes
On 3 November, the Fundació La Marató de TV3 announced the 34 winning projects out of 117 presented for funding as part of the 2015 campaign devoted to obesity and diabetes. These are the two most common metabolic diseases in Catalonia, affecting one in every four people. IRB Barcelona's researchers Antonio Zorzano and Joan J. Guinovart received support for the projects that they presented. Since 2005, the year IRB Barcelona was founded, scientists at the centre have been awarded funding for 21 projects.
Joan Massagué, Catalonia International Award
On 25 October, co-founder of IRB Barcelona and president of its External Advisory Board received, together with Manel Esteller and Josep Baselga, the Catalonia International Award presented by the Government of Catalonia. The annual award recognizes individuals across the world who have made decisive contributions to foster endeavours of cultural, scientific or human significance. This year's jury selected the trio of eminent researchers “for their revolutionary work in oncology, which has contributed to the advancement of biomedicine at the international level.”
“My objective? To generate new knowledge, reach the limits, and fight against uncertainty and frustration”
After eight years, Francisco Barriga is ready for a new stage in his scientific career. He says that IRB Barcelona "shaped" him as a scientist and that he "learnt to ask the right scientific questions." In addition to his science, Francisco was a keen proponent of outreach activities. “Over the years, I have never met anyone who did not find what we do interesting. We just need to find the right way to talk about it,” he says.
Visiting Canada to hunt for peptides with bacterial viruses
Judith Palà, a PhD student in the Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Programme, spent four months last summer at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research of the University of Toronto, in Canada. “My goal,” she explains, “was to chemically synthesise the sonic hedgehog, or shh, protein.” She tells in vivo what it was like for her to spend some time in another lab, a common practise among IRB Barcelona PhD students.
Holiday party 2016
2238 € collected by IRB Barcelona staff for charity at the traditional end-of-the-year celebration
On 20 December, IRB Barcelona staff said farewell to 2016 with a cava celebration, a bake-off and a raffle to raise funds for charity. All proceeds - 2238 € - were donated to Casal dels Infants del Raval and to Proactiva Open Arms. We thank all the cooks and our suppliers who contributed prizes to the raffle.
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