In Vivo - July 2017

INVIVO - Newsletter of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine - IRB Barcelona
Can't see this properly? Click here JULY 2017
Talent attraction
World-renowned scientist Manuel Serrano establishes his Cellular Plasticity and Disease Laboratory at IRB Barcelona
An international reference in cancer, metabolism, ageing and tissue reparation, Serrano joined the Institute in April under an ICREA Research Professor contract from the Government of Catalonia and with funding from the “la Caixa” Foundation. “This support from public and private sectors is crucial as it will allow us to make a qualitative leap in our research,” said Serrano in a press conference held on 12 May. His 14-member lab will devote its efforts to unravelling how tissue damage is repaired and to clarifying the link between cell reprogramming and repair. “It is a field about which little is known and in which we have an advantage that we wish to exploit,” says the researcher. In 2013, Serrano published a scientific breakthrough in Nature in which he successfully reprogrammed cells for the first time within a living organism. In 2016, he published an article in Science in which he demonstrated that tissue damage is a relevant factor for cells to return to a state that is similar to the embryonic one.
Read an interview about Serrano's “professional reprogramming” when he moved from the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO) to IRB Barcelona, and the press release that welcomed him in the spring.
Cell Metabolism
POMC neurons tell pancreas how much insulin to produce
A study co-led by Group Leader Antonio Zorzano and IDIBAPS describes new molecular mechanisms involved in the connection between a group of neurons in the hypothalamus, the detection of nutrient availability and insulin secretion in the pancreas. “These neurons are involved not only in the control of the intake, but also in the control of the amount of insulin secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas,” explains Zorzano. The study appears in Cell Metabolism.
Cell Metabolism
Glycogen synthesis does not require glycogenin protein
Group Leader Joan J. Guinovart and postdoc Giorgia Testoni have shaken long-standing assumptions about glycogen biology. They generated glycogenin-deficient mice, expecting to block glycogen accumulation. To their surprise, this was not the case. Despite higher glycogen levels in muscle tissue, mice underperformed normal mice in physical activity. The findings, published in Cell Metabolism, may help better understand glycogen storage disease XV, a genetic disorder.
EMBO Mol. Med.
CRISPR and patient-derived organoids allow better study of tumours
A new methodology proposed by researchers in the Colorectal Cancer Lab opens up the possibility to study human tumours by tracing genetic modifications. “For the first time we can analyse cell lineage relationships in growing tumours. This will help us to address how distinct cell populations contribute to growth, dissemination, and resistance to therapy,” write the authors in EMBO Molecular Medicine. The technique designed by postdoc Carme Cortina and PhD student Gemma Turon combines patient-derived tumour organoids and CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing techniques.
Computational techniques to decipher p38α activity
EU Marie Curie COFUND fellow Antonija Kuzmanic has provided an integrative picture of the protein p38α activation mechanism and new insights into the effects of various molecules that regulate the enzymatic activity of the protein. “Considering the importance of p38α for pathological processes, we hope this study will help to target the protein with more specificity, to unconver new inhibitors, and to explore alternative activation pathways with increased specificity,” stresses Kuzmanic. The study has been published in the journal eLife.
Mutated Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b favour skin tumours in mice
In a study published in eLife, ICREA Research Professor Salvador Aznar-Benitah and postdoc Lorenzo Rinaldi investigated the role that epigenetic regulators Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b play in adult mice. When mice that lack these enzymes were exposed to chemicals that promote tumour growth, a process that mimics skin exposure to UV light, the mutant mice developed many more skin tumours than normal mice and were more likely to form secondary tumours in the lung. Future research will help identify drugs that can help treat cancers in which the Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b proteins are mutated or less active.
Wing growth does not depend on the gradient of molecule Dpp
Group Leader Marco Milán and postdoc Lara Barrio have shown that the morphogen Decapentaplegic (Dpp) plays a dual role in the structural organisation and growth of wings in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. This study, published in the journal eLife, demonstrates that Dpp is necessary for tissue growth but that “its gradient does not direct wing growth,” explains Marco Milán, ICREA Research Professor and head of the study. “There must be an alternative and as yet unknown mechanism that regulates the size of the final structural of the fly wing.”
Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol.
Towards a deeper understanding of genome regulation
The journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology has published a study on the regulation of mRNA translation, authored by researchers in the Translational Control of Cell Cycle and Differentiation Laboratory. ICREA Research Professor Raúl Méndez, an expert on the CPEB (cytoplasmic polyadenylation element binding protein) protein family, has revealed the interplay between the proteins CPEB1 and Musashi1 (Msi1) in the regulation of mRNA translation. “In this study our aim was to determine whether Msi1 and CPEB1 act cooperatively to regulate mRNA,” explains Research Associate Eulàlia Belloc, co-first author of the paper. Through a genome-wide analysis of CPEB1- and Msi1-associated mRNAs in the frog Xenopus laevis, the scientists have revealed a new layer of CPE-mediated translational control.
Cell Death and Differentiation
The TLK2 gene is vital for development of placenta in mice
In a paper published in Cell Death and Differentiation, Group Leader Travis Stracker and researchers in his Genomic Instability and Cancer Laboratory have shown that the TLK2 gene is vital for the development of the placenta and for embryo viability in mice. They also note, however, that TLK2 is not essential in adult mice. Its “twin” gene TLK1 substitutes for its loss. “We propose that mutations in the TLK2 gene in humans could result in impaired placental function during embryo development. Placental defects could result in insufficient oxygen during development and cause neurological disorders,” says Stracker. This finding may be of biomedical relevance, since recent clinical data obtained from a massive genomic analysis of people with intellectual disabilities undertaken in the Netherlands detected mutations in 10 new genes, including TLK2.
PhD4MD Programme
Cejalvo authors a paper on the biological changes in breast cancer between the primary tumour and metastases
Medical doctor and PhD student Juan Miguel Cejalvo has published his first study as part of the PhD4MD programme at IRB Barcelona. Together with Aleix Prat at IDIBAPS and ICREA Research Professor Roger Gomis, his supervisor at IRB Barcelona, he has shown that the longer the time from the onset of the tumour to the development of metastasis is, the more aggressive this cancer becomes. The paper, published in Cancer Research, underscores the importance of the molecular characterization of metastasis in breast cancer. The researchers have also shown that, between the initial tumour and secondary ones, the subtype of breast cancer can change in up to 40% of cases.
Career Development
Personal and professional career development, essential tools for early-career researchers
The Research & Academic Office and the Human Resources Department at IRB Barcelona organised in June two one-day workshops for PhD students and postdoctoral fellows aimed to help young scientists to reflect on their personal strengths and discover their ‘blind spots’. This way, they can increase their self-awareness and be ready for career planning, management and development. Academic career specialist Sarah Blackford has some tricks and tips that might be useful for their next career steps. “Being aware of your skills and knowing which ones you would like to take forward into your new career will enable you to be more strategic and purposeful in your job search,” she explains.
Horizon 2020
A new tool to enter the era of multiscale genomics and dynamic chromatin
Scientists in the Multiscale Complex Genomics (MuG) Consortium are working on new cloud-based computational infrastructure to support and improve the existing genome analysis tools. The beta-version of the Virtual Research Environment (VRE) was presented for the first time in Cambridge in April. MuG is a Horizon 2020 project coordinated by IRB Barcelona Group Leader Modesto Orozco.
Artist in residence
“Scientific discoveries have always had a profound impact on art,” says artist Anna Rierola
At the beginning of 2017, IRB Barcelona launched its Artist in Residence programme, which aims to bring artists who have an interest in science closer to researchers, data and infrastructure at the Institute. By fostering interactions between artists and scientists, the programme offers new opportunities for inspiration and reflection on both sides. Anna Rierola is the 2017 Artist in Residence.
Four hundred visit IRB Barcelona
On 13 May, IRB Barcelona held its second Open Day. Audiences of all ages visited laboratories, participated in workshops, and attended informative talks. More than 80 IRB Barcelona researchers and staff members welcomed visitors and guided them through the visit. “It is very rewarding for us to see people's fascination for science. Our scientists enjoy sharing their enthusiasm for research with the public. In the end, we all learn from the experience,” says Muriel Arimon, Public Engagement and Science Education Officer. Take a look at the Open Day 2017 pictures on Flickr.
Barcelona Fun Science
Communicating science and having fun. It’s all about engagement
To raise public awareness of science, researchers are increasingly encouraged to explain what they do and why they do it, and in the process they are challenged to break the stereotype of a scientist. To be able to engage non-scientific audiences, the first step is to know how to stir up curiosity about science. In April at IRB Barcelona, Rachel Cruickshank, founder of Barcelona Fun Science, held a workshop using demonstrations and science-play sessions to reach adult audiences.
100 young students set to experience science
In July, IRB Barcelona participated in a two-week scientific summer camp called Barcelona International Youth Science Challenge (BIYSC), aimed at stimulating scientific talent among young students worldwide. The Institute offered a project on “Drosophila melanogaster: a model to study human disease.” This initiative is organised by the Catalunya-La Pedrera Foundation, in collaboration with top research centres across Catalonia.
Science Festival 2017
A weekend for science in Barcelona
IRB Barcelona's Group Leader Patrick Aloy participated in the 11th edition of the Barcelona Science Festival, which took place in May in the city's Parc de la Ciutadella. The focus of this edition was on the challenges of the future. Aloy's micro-talk, on 28 May, was dedicated to network medicine. The Festival Barcelona Ciència is a well-established event involving about a hundred activities aimed at the general public. It is run by Barcelona Cultura agency and involves Catalan organisations, companies and research centres.
IRB Barcelona’s outreach endeavours receive financial backing
The Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), within the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, has granted the Institute funding of 15,000€ to support outreach activities in 2017. In this call, FECYT provided support for 193 projects from 117 Spanish institutes. The funding awarded to IRB Barcelona will be used for activities run by the Office of Communications and External Relations.
Félix Junquera Tejeda (2000-2017)
The IRB Barcelona community is mourning the loss of one of its youngest and brightest members. Félix Junquera Tejeda, a student at Fedac Horta school and member of the 2016-2017 Crazy About Biomedicine programme, passed away on June 1 at the age of 17. In many, many ways, he will serve as an important inspiration for the entire IRB Barcelona community. His fellow Crazy classmates have written this touching tribute to Félix.
Alumni of Excellence Award 2017
I still carry with me the passion IRB Barcelona sparked, says 2017 Alumnus of Excellence Marc Liesa
The 2017 IRB Barcelona Alumni of Excellence Award has gone to Marc Liesa, who obtained his PhD in 2008 in Antonio Zorzano’s Complex Metabolic Diseases and Mitochondria Laboratory. The award, established in 2016, acknowledges the excellence of former IRB Barcelona scientists and is given with the support of Eppendorf. Liesa visited the Institute on 5 May to receive the distinction. He talks about his science and shares some secrets of his success.
Friedreich's Ataxia
Primary school generously donates for research
On 20 June, a group of 11-year old students of the Garbí Pere Vergés Primary School visited IRB Barcelona for an important delivery: a cheque for IRB Barcelona's researchers involved in a project on Friedreich's Ataxia. They coordinated a fundraising campaign that involved the students, teachers and parents at the school, and collected more than 3,000€ for research on this rare disease. It was an opportunity for them to learn about these diseases and to raise awareness about the importance of donations to support basic research. Group Leader Ernest Giralt and Research Associate Macarena Sánchez thanked the students in the name of the group and of patients affected by this illness. This initiative was fostered by RecerCaixa, an initiative to promote science of excellence by the ”La Caixa” Foundation.
IRB Barcelona’s technology at the 2017 BIO Convention
IRB Barcelona, along with another 30 Catalan companies and organisations, participated in June in the 4-day BIO International Convention (BIO), the top partnering fair for the biomedical sector, held in San Diego. “It was a great opportunity to reach many companies outside Europe, and present IRB Barcelona’s capacities, with the goal of establishing new collaborations,” explains Tiago Botelho, Industrial Liaison Officer at the Institute. “It is also the perfect place to catch up on the latest trends in the sector and consolidate existing bonds.”
Triple boost for IRB Barcelona’s Innovation
This year, IRB Barcelona’s Innovation Department has been supported on three separate occasions by ACCIÓ (the Catalan government’s public agency in charge of promoting company competitiveness) by providing it with two grants to develop technology transfer projects (VALUNI), as well as with the quality seal TECNIO. This three-fold support reinforces and consolidates IRB Barcelona’s technology transfer activities, and proves that “we are going in the right direction,” states Cristina Horcajada, Head of the Innovation Department.
5th BioMedTec call launched
In April, the fifth internal call of the BioMedTec Programme was launched in collaboration with the ”la Caixa” Foundation. Providing co-funding to validate early-stage technologies from all disciplines, the programme aims to foster the transfer of scientific results to the market. The projects awarded in the previous call presented high innovation potential and a sound scientific rationale to cover various unmet medical needs. The BioMedTec initiative has allowed technologies to be developed at IRB Barcelona and brought closer to market, with a total of 17 new projects funded so far.
Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology
Gabriel M. Silberman appointed new General Director of BIST
On 26 June, the BIST Board of Trustees, chaired by Andreu Mas-Colell, approved the appointment of Gabriel M. Silberman as the new BIST General Director. Silberman, who holds a PhD in Computer Science and brings substancial research experience in both the private and university sectors, will succeed Miquel A. Pericàs, who combined the position within the BIST with the direction of ICIQ. In addition, the Board approved the expansion of the BIST Foundation to include the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC).
Núria López-Bigas, elected EMBO Member
In June, ICREA Research Professor and Group Leader Núria López-Bigas was elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). She is one of 65 outstanding life scientists to join more than 1,700 of the best researchers in Europe and around the world. “Being elected EMBO member is a great honour for any scientist working in the life sciences. This membership strengthens my commitment to continuing research with the highest standards,” she says.
Fundación Caja Rural de Soria
Salvador Aznar-Benitah
On 13 June, the Board of Governors of the Fundación Científica Caja Rural de Soria (FCCR) named ICREA Research Professor and Group Leader Salvador Aznar-Benitah winner of the 2017 National Research Prize. In its statement, the jury indicated that Aznars research “has forced manufacturers to change the ingredients and additives in a large number of food products”.
Francisco Cobos/
Olga Torres
Eduard Batlle
On 13 June, the jury of the XI Francisco Cobos Foundation Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Research named Group Leader and ICREA Research Professor Eduard Batlle winner of its 2017 award, in recognition of his contributions to the understanding of colorectal cancer. In May, Batlle was also awarded the biannual Olga Torres Foundation (FOT) grant for the study of colorectal cancer. The 60,000€ will allow his group to undertake research projects in 2017 and 2018.
Royal Spanish Chemistry Society
Toni Riera
On 6 April, the Royal Spanish Chemistry Society (RSEQ) awarded Group Leader and UB Professor Toni Riera its Research Excellence Prize for 2017. RESQ, founded in 1903, aims to promote, develop and communicate chemistry and its application. It awards five prizes each year to researchers who have shown outstanding contributions to their fields over the last five years. With this award, they recognize Riera's research and methodology in organic synthesis, especially of biologically active compounds, with a special focus on asymmetric synthesis.
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 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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