In Vivo - September 2016

INVIVO - Newsletter of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine - IRB Barcelona
Can't see this properly? Click here SEPTEMBER 2016
Alzheimer’s disease
Barrel-shaped amyloid-beta might cause cell death by making holes in neuron membranes
Natàlia Carulla and colleagues from Belgium and The Netherlands describe how to prepare a specific type of amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) aggregate, considered the pathogenic molecular form of Aβ in Alzheimer´s disease, with the ability to perforate cell membranes. In the context of Alzheimer´s disease, this discovery suggests that the aggregate can also perforate the membrane of neurons, alter the equilibrium of these cells, and trigger their death. What causes neuron death and the subsequent cognitive decline in Alzheimer´s disease is still unknown. The discovery was published in in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Image: Artistic representation of neuronal damage in Alzheimer's Disease (Antònia Casanovas).
Impressionists' images of proteins shed light on their shapes and movements
Changes in the shape of proteins are very difficult to observe in real time and the methods used to study them involve costly simulations. A joint study led by IRB Barcelona alumna Laura Orellana, now at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, has led to the development of a much simpler method. “It is like an impressionist painting, in which you can appreciate the general picture but without many details. Using these models, we get a view of the entire molecule and they also allow us to study changes in large proteins, using a laptop, in only a few minutes,” she explains.
Of flies and beetles
Evolutionary changes in organ morphology have been key to allow animals to adapt to diverse habitats. But how can simple genetic changes give rise to modified organs? A paper published by Jordi Casanova's group, in collaboration with the Institute of Evolutive Biology (IBE), analyses the expression and function of two regulatory genes, spalt and cult, in the develping tracheal systems of two insect species, the fruit fly Drosophila and beetle Tribolium. Image: David Marquina Reyes.
ACS Chemical Biology
Hidden potential of disordered proteins
Disordered proteins could be potential drug targets for diseases such as prostate cancer and some neurodegenerative diseases. Xavier Salvatella and colleagues have discovered a certain degree of structure within the disordered region of the Androgen Receptor, a protein involved in prostate cancer and Kennedy Disease. “This protein is like a chamaleon,” explains Salvatella. “It’s highly flexible and dynamic, and these properties allow it to take on many forms.” Image: Frank Winkler, adapted by Albert Ros Lucas.
Chemical Society Reviews
Front page for BBB shuttles
Benjamí Oller, Macarena Sánchez, Ernest Giralt, and Meritxell Teixidó have published a review on the emerging field of shuttle peptides—molecules that have the capacity to transport drugs across the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) and thus treat diseases affecting the central nervous system. In recent years, transporters based on peptides are attracting attention in the field due to their low production cost, reduced effect on immune system response, and chemical versatility compared with traditional antibodies and other larger proteins. The review article presents the BBB as a formidable obstacle but at the same time a great opportunity for the administration of drugs to the brain.
Building molecular complexity from scratch
Pauson-Khand reaction expert Xavier Verdaguer, associate researcher in the Asymmetric Synthesis Lab, has written an article on a study by Chuang et al. that describes a new method for the artificial synthesis of a plant-derived molecule that has potential pharmaceutical applications. The Pauson-Khand cycloaddition reaction facilitates a rapid increase in molecular complexity and is crucial to finding synthetic methods for drug development based on complex molecules.
Alumni of Excellence Award 2016
“Think big and don't give up” says David Vilchez
“Pleased and proud.” Upon receiving the first IRB Barcelona Alumni of Excellence Award in September, Vilchez expressed his satisfaction and joked about remembering the good vibes of that day to warm him during “the cold winters in Germany”. He obtained his PhD at the Institute in 2008 and now runs his own group at the CECAD-Cluster of Excellence in Cologne, Germany. He says that he has taken various things with him to his current research position in Cologne, among them IRB Barcelona’s “spirit of collaboration” and the attitude he learned here as a PhD student of not being afraid of what you cannot do. “Just go to a lab that can do it,” he says. An excerpt of the interview is included in an accompanying podcast. Vilchez is the first IRB Barcelona alumnus to receive the “Alumni of Excellence Award.”
A new agreement with Tohoku University in Japan to boost BBB research
IRB Barcelona and the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Tohoku University in Japan have signed a new academic exchange agreement. In August, the Dean of the Japanese institution Tetsuya Terasaki and IRB Barcelona Director Joan J. Guinovart endorsed a long-standing collaboration between chemists at the two centres. The collaboration, based on common interest in “regioselective transport” of Blood-Brain Barrier shuttles, has already brought about academic exchange. Terasaki co-chaired a recent Barcelona BioMed Conference with Ernest Giralt dedicated to the Blood-Brain Barrier.
Scientists set to become entrepreneurs
IRB Barcelona fosters entrepreneurship among its young scientists. Postdoctoral fellows Daniela Kalafatovic and Giorgia Testoni tell in vivo about their experience of learning how to deal with markets, patents and venture capitalists. They took part in a workshop organised by BIST and the ESADE Business School earlier this year. To round on this experience, in collaboration with the Entrepreneur in Residence Marc Ramis, Technology Transfer Officer Alba Olivares set up a training session informally dubbed “@IRB start up.”
The Innovation team strengthens ties with industry at BioSpain
The Bilbao Exhibition Center in Barakaldo (Vizcaya) is the venue of BioSpain 2016, the eighth edition of the biennial biotech gathering. This is the most important event in this sector in Europe and is permanently held in Spain, and the fifth-ranked event worldwide for the number of partnering meetings held. Head of Innovation Cristina Horcajada and Industrial Liason Officer Tiago Botelho are in Bilbao from 28 to 30 September to present IRB Barcelona’s innovation portfolio.
“We have to teach children to exercise critical thinking”
Jordi Gaitan has joined the ranks of the Tandem project, a science education collaboration that IRB Barcelona began with the Mare de Déu de Montserrat school in Cornellà. This project, implemented with the collaboration of the Catalunya–La Pedrera Foundation, aims to boost academic results in the school through science and biomedicine. Jordi’s job is to advise the Tandem team about how to include new teaching techniques when designing the academic curriculum.
One year of Tandem
After working with the Mare de Déu de Montserrat School for a year, the Office of Communication and External Relations has put together a video portraying the learning experiences of teachers and pupils of the school.
Crazy About Biomedicine 2017
If you are in the first year of your baccalaureate studies, you have a special interest and talent for the life sciences, and want to have an extraordinary year-long experience, you have until Sunday 23 October to apply for the Crazy About Biomedicine programme, now in its fifth edition.
Guinovart named Doctor Honoris Causa by the Andrés Bello National University in Chile
The Chilean University has recognised IRB Barcelona Director for his “outstanding career in biochemistry and his contributions to research, in particular, in relation to alterations in diabetes and to Lafora disease.” The Doctor Honoris Causa award ceremony will take place on 1 December on one of the campuses of the Santiago de Chile University.
The Spanish Association against Cancer supports research at IRB Barcelona
On 22 September, postdoctoral fellows Jelena Urosevic and Carles Barceló were presented with funding from the Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (AECC) for their respective 5-year research projects on colon cancer. “Research is the only weapon we have to fight cancer,” says Urosevic. “The economic and social return for every euro invested is enormous,” adds Barceló.
Alex and Raquel celebrate their wedding with a donation to research
IRB Barcelona alumnus Alex de la Fuente and his wife Raquel Moreno had a very special idea for their wedding celebration. Instead of giving the usual commemorative gift to guests, they decided to use that money to make a donation to research in their name. “Research can move forward only if we all support it,” they think.
Bibiana Cervelló
A lawyer among pipettes. In September, IRB Barcelona recruited Cervelló for the newly created post of Head of Legal Services. “I am looking forward to supporting researchers with all their legal questions,” she tells in vivo. She does not feel like a stranger among scientists. “Research and development are fields that have always attracted me,” she says.
Pol Arranz
From chemical design to synthetic biology: two strategies to tackle the BBB. Back from a rewarding 3-month stay at Yale, PhD student Arranz already has new ideas in mind to overcome the barrier that makes it so difficult to design drugs to cure neurological diseases. “The environment there was fantastic,” he says. His idea is to return to Yale as a postdoc to continue the project he began.
Noemí Carranza
Research has always been one of the new Academic Officer's passions. A Telecom Engineer by training, she became an expert in medical imaging processing. She now wants to keep working in science but with a different role. “Supporting young scientists and their needs is ideal for me,” she says. “It is very exciting to start this new adventure.”
3-5 OCT
Epithelial transitions and cell migration; Learning from development to tackle disease
Barcelona BioMed Conference. Chairs: Jordi Casanova, IRB Barcelona/IBMB-CSIC & Jean Paul Thiery, National University of Singapore.
4, 11, 18 OCT
IRB Barcelona's new PhD student induction course
This 3-part course introduces new students to IRB Barcelona, including an overview of scientific facilities and resources, and services provided by the admin team.
13 OCT
B - Debate: Beyond Cancer Genomes
COSMOCAIXA Barcelona, c/ Isaac Newton 26
Organizers: Eduard Batlle, Salvador Aznar Benitah, Raúl Mendez (IRB Barcelona and ICREA) in collaboration with BioCat.
26 OCT
Worskhop on Biostatistics and Bioinformatics
Room 4, Tower I, Parc Científic de Barcelona
Speakers: Camille Stephan-Otto Attolini, Toni Berenguer, José Luís Mosquera, Oscar Reina (Biostatistics/Bioinformatics Unit IRB Barcelona)
10 NOV
2nd IRB Barcelona PhD Students’ Retreat & ENABLE's Kick-off meeting
Hotel Bernat II Calella
Invited speakers: David del Álamo, Maria del Mar Dierssen Sotos, Ana Puy Rodríguez, Maria J. Macias, Raquel Roca.
23 NOV
1st BIST Postdoc Day
Recinte Modernista of Hospital Sant Pau, Barcelona
Invited speaker: Daniel Gerlich, Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (Vienna, Austria)
28-30 NOV
From genomes to structures: looking at big data with an atomic perspective
Barcelona BioMed Conference. Chairs: Maria J. Macias, IRB Barcelona & Hartmut Oschkinat, Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (Berlin, Germany).
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