Happy 10th birthday, IBEC

We often say that Catalonia is a leader in research, and sometimes we are called self-complacent. But the truth is that we have many examples of success, and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), that celebrates its first ten years of research activity
is one of those examples.
It’s been a hair-raisingly fast climb up to the near top of the tree of centres in the Catalan research arena, with IBEC already holding its own alongside bigger and more established organizations for scientific output, number of ERC grants, patents, spin-offs, training programmes, national or EU-level stamps and endorsements, and other important indicators.
Fulfilling its first mission, which is to conduct basic and interdisciplinary research in bioengineering and nanomedicine at the highest international level, IBEC has published more than 740 indexed scientific papers in the last decade, more than half of them in the top decile of high-impact journals. Its 19 group leaders have achieved no fewer than 11 prestigious research grants from the European Research Council (ERC), and six of them have been supported by ICREA, the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies. The institute has coordinated five Europe- or worldwide consortia of EU-funded projects under FP7 and Horizon 2020, as well as being a partner in countless others. Its scientific breakthroughs have included the first functional splenon-on-a-chip, a new concept in biology, plithotaxis, pioneering breakthroughs in drugs controlled by light, uncovering crucial mechanisms in breast cancer, resolving a long-standing chemistry enigma, developing record-breaking nanojets, and many more.
To realize its mission to transfer its knowledge and technology to the biomedical sector, IBEC works with hospitals and industry to develop its research into products that can be brought to market and the bedside. With 23 patents under its belt and 3 spin-off companies, IBEC can claim with pride such advances as new pancreatic cancer molecules, a drowsiness indicator for vehicles, novel wound-healing particles, and many others in the pipeline.
In its efforts to achieve another mission, collaborations with international academia, IBEC has set up Memoranda of Understanding or other official alliances with organizations in thirteen countries. It was a creating partner of EIT Health, one of the largest publicly funded health initiatives in the world, and is part of countless other networks at international, national and local level. Its impressive internationality doesn’t hurt, either; 38 countries have supplied IBEC’s scientists and staff over the years.
With the last but not least of the missions – training the next generation of experts in healthcare technology – in mind, so far 104 PhD students have defended their theses at IBEC. Its students and other researchers have gone on to work in prestigious institutions and companies all over the world and have been part of some tremendous scientific advances.
These are undeniably impressive feats for a centre that, upon its launch at the end of 2006, was little more than five research groups from the UB and the UPC who had come together to pool their knowledge. IBEC’s hectic ascent towards its ultimate goal of becoming a world reference in bioengineering – not forgetting to improve health and quality of life in the process – was duly recognized in 2015 with a Severo Ochoa Excellence Award from the Spanish ministry in charge of research.


Warming up the engines for the YES campaign

The referendum law was officially presented by the government yesterday. The law specifies, among other things, how the campaign will be carried out. The political formations with representation in the Parliament of Catalonia will have the right to use 70% of public spaces and free information spaces in the public media allocated to the campaign. The remaining 30% will be distributed among the accredited interested organizations, according to the number of signatures presented. ANC will surely campaign for the YES, and our sectorial can contribute decisively to this campaign, as we can reach a large group of people from the University field (including students, PAS and PDI) and the research centers.
For this reason, we appeal to all of you to help us as far as possible in the different tasks that we will have to carry out until the end of this year: events, distribution of flyers, stands, mass mobilization in decisive calls, contributions to our blog or other activities.
We have reached a crucial moment to achieve the objective we have set ourselves. We encourage everybody to collaborate!


Rafel Simó, research scientist at Barcelona’s Institute of Marine Sciences (CSIC), explains why he wants independence and what an independent Catalonia might bring the world.

Rafel Simó, chemist and oceanographer, research scientist at Barcelona’s Institute of Marine Sciences (CSIC), answers to the questions of the ‘Faces of independence’ series, in which well-known figures from around the country explain why they want independence and what an independent Catalonia might bring the world.

Simó explanis that he is in favour of independence by diferent reasons: sentiment, historical and political grievances and future: it is a privilege and a great opportunity to build a new nation-state which will require a new constitution and afford us the chance to debate the nation-state model. Next, he explanis the contributions that an independent Catalonia would make to the world. Here we reproduce a small fragment of this interview:

“… ours is a creative nation both in the Arts and in scientific research, a nation which is attractive to others for its combination of character, climate and landscape. This view that others have of us has been conveyed to me by many scientists from all over the world whom I have dealt with. Rather than becoming a service-economy, we should leverage this appreciation to establish and strengthen bonds of cooperation that will further knowledge and innovation in all areas.”

You can read the full interview in the link below:


(Català) La Universitat de Barcelona destaca als rànquings internacionals

La Universitat de Barcelona (UB) ha recuperat el privilegi de ser la institució d’educació superior de tot l’Estat espanyol més ben posicionada en els prestigiosos QS World University Ranquings 2014-2015. La UB, que ocupa el lloc 166è en el rànquing mundial, guanya dotze posicions en relació amb l’any passat (178a posició), i és una de les primeres 200 universitats del món, seguida de la UAB (173è) i la UAM (178è). Recentment, la UB va aconseguir posicionar-se entre les 200 millors universitats del món a l’Academic Ranking of World Universities 2014 (ARWU) com a únic centre a l’Estat.

En els QS World University Rankings s’avaluen la qualitat de la recerca i la docència, la contractació dels graduats i el grau d’internacionalització de cada centre universitari, entre altres indicadors.

La UB millora en gairebé tots els indicadors emprats, però molt especialment en reputació empresarial (escala 42 posicions i ocupa el lloc 151è) i en les citacions per professor (millora 20 posicions i ocupa el lloc 293è), un valor que avalua l’impacte internacional de la recerca.

En relació amb les cinc grans àrees de coneixement que estableixen els rànquings, la UB millora la puntuació en tots els àmbits i continua entre les 100 primeres universitats del món en Arts i Humanitats, Ciències de la Vida i Medicina i Ciències Naturals.


Financement of research centers in case of independence: the example of NERC in the UK

One of the questions that arise in relation to research in an independent Catalonia is the situation of research centers belonging to CSIC, an institution which depends on the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of the Spanish government.

The Spanish government could use as an example the response obtained by researchers from NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) in the UK, about the possible situation in terms of research funding in the event of a vote ‘Yes” in the Scottish referendum. We transcribe the information that has been sent to NERC staff regarding the official line of the organization through the process of independence:

-          Public bodies can continue to talk to the Scottish Government about business as usual issues – e.g. ongoing projects, etc.

-          If the Scottish Government ask for information that is readily available and in the public domain, then public bodies, including the Research Councils, should provide this.

-          UK public bodies, including the Research Councils, should not engage in any discussions that constitute, or could be constituted, as contingency planning or negotiations in the event of either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote.

-          The UK Government, including the Prime Minister has been very clear that it is not making contingency plans for Scottish independence, or pre-negotiating with the Scottish Government. If the Scottish Government want to discuss the use or ownership of specific institutions and infrastructure, the line to take is that assets and use of infrastructure would be subject to negotiations.

-          The Government has a very clear line on a future research relationship between an independent Scotland and the continuing UK: “The research councils fund UK-based activities. UK research councils, in the event of a split, would finance research activities in the continuing UK. That is how it would work. By and large, we do not finance research activities in France or Germany. We would of course collaborate on an international basis wherever possible, but this would not be on the same basis as the current UK-wide arrangements.”

-          In addition, the Research Councils can refer to the latest line to take on possible negotiations: “In the event of a majority vote in favour of independence, both the UK and Scottish Governments agree that negotiations would be needed. But that does not mean that representatives of the continuing UK would or could facilitate everything that the Scottish Government has said it hopes to achieve through independence.”


(Català) Espanya i Catalunya retrocedeixen en el rànquing d’innovació europeu, el País Basc millora

Espanya i Catalunya retrocedeixen en el rànquing d’innovació europeu, el País Basc millora
Segons l’últim informe Innovation Union Scoreboard 2014 (IUS 2014) sobre innovació a la UE, tot i que Espanya ha millorat molt lleugerament el seu rendiment innovador, en la classificació europea passa del lloc 16 al 17 entre els països ”moderadament innovadors”.
L’informe, publicat fa un parell de mesos per la Unió Europea (UE), assenyala que malgrat que Europa ha avançat en innovació i està recuperant el seu retard respecte als Estats Units i el Japó, les diferències entre els seus Estats membres segueixen sent grans.
El IUS utilitza un conjunt de 25 indicadors classificats en diverses dimensions: recursos humans, sistemes d’investigació, finances i suport, inversió de les empreses, emprenedoria, etc. Amb aquests es calcula un índex amb el qual es crea el rànquing.
En l’IUS es classifica als estats membres en quatre grups diferents en funció dels seus resultats. Suècia en primer lloc, seguida de Dinamarca, Alemanya i Finlàndia, formen el grup capdavanter d’innovadors ”excel•lents”, ja que els seus resultats estan molt per sobre de la mitjana de la UE.
Àustria, Bèlgica, Xipre, Eslovènia, Estònia, França, Irlanda, Luxemburg, els Països Baixos i el Regne Unit tenen una qualificació de notable i estan lleugerament per sobre o pròxims a la mitjana.
Per la seva banda Espanya, Grècia, Itàlia, Portugal, Txèquia, Croàcia, Eslovàquia, Hongria, Lituània, Malta i Polònia estan per sota de la mitjana de la UE i són qualificats com a ”moderadament” innovadors.
Finalment, Bulgària, Letònia i Romania són considerats innovadors ”modestos” amb resultats molt per sota de la mitjana de la UE en aquest àmbit.
Tot i que el rendiment en innovació d’Espanya ha millorat entre 2006 i 2013, en la major part dels aspectes avaluats està per sota de la UE. Enguany ha baixat un lloc en la classificació, del 16 al 17, a causa d’una millora de la puntuació de la República Txeca. És probable que en els anys següents aquesta caiguda es mantingui.
En el marc de les comunitats autònomes espanyoles, en un informe europeu paral•lel per regions, el Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2014, només inclou dues comunitats de l’Estat espanyol -País Basc i Navarra – en el grup de “innovadors notables”, el segon grup. El descens relatiu més pronunciat ha tingut lloc a l’Aragó, Catalunya i Madrid, que han perdut la seva posició i ara formen part del conjunt de regions d’innovació moderada. Les Illes Balears se situen entre les regions menys innovadores del continent.
El notable diferencial vers al País Basc cal que ens faci pensar en les possibilitats que se’ns poden obrir amb un millor finançament. Cert és que de segur que el govern basc ha fet en els darrers anys polítiques d’innovació molt millors que la resta, però sens dubte, sense el recolzament econòmic que suposa el concert econòmic basc i el conveni navarrès difícil ho haguessin tingut. Donat que a nosaltres se’ns ha negat obstinadament i reiteradament aquest dret, només tenim un camí: #SISI


Human protein may trigger Parkinson Disease

A study led at Vall d’Hebron Institute of Research (VHIR) has demonstrated that the pathological forms of alpha-Synuclein protein extracted from patients who died with Parkinson Disease have the capacity to initiate and spread the same neurodegenerative process in mice and monkeys. The finding, published in the cover of the March issue of Annals of Neurology, may have important implications for the development of disease-modifying therapies to stop Parkinson Disease aimed at targeting expression levels, pathological conversion, and cell-to-cell transmission of alpha-Synuclein.

Recent studies concluded that synthetic alpha-Synuclein forms are toxics for neurons, both in in vitro models (cell cultures) and in vivo animal models (mice), and that can be transmitted cell-to-cell. However, it was still uncertain whether the pathogenic effects of this synthetic protein may apply to the human pathological alpha-Synuclein and occur in species closer to humans.

In this study, led by Dr. Miquel Vila, head of the Neurodegenerative Diseases group at Vall d’Hebron Institute of Research (VHIR) and member of CIBERNED, and with the participation of two additional groups from CIBERNED, and a group from the Université de Bordeaux  in France , researchers extracted alpha-Synuclein aggregates from patients who died with Parkinson Disease to inoculate them in the brain of mice and monkeys.

Four months after the inoculation in mice and nine months later in monkeys, the animals started the neurodegenerative process, starting at striatal dopaminergic terminals. With these results, Dr. Vila concludes that “human pathological alpha-Synuclein aggregates trigger in mice and monkeys the same neurodegeneration process than Parkinson Disease”.


A golden opportunity for the treatment of pathological muscle wasting

The title is a play on words with the abbreviated name of a protein (DOR, Diabetes and Obesity Regulated), which sounds like “d’or”, a word that in Catalan means golden. This protein, DOR, has been identified as a therapeutic target to treat muscle wasting associated to pathological conditions such as type 1 diabetes, or cachexia in patients with cancer or infectious diseases.

This is the conclusion from a study performed by scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), in Barcelona, headed by Antonio Zorzano, professor from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Barcelona (UB), and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The study indicates that DOR is a negative regulator of skeletal muscle mass that enhances basal autophagy. Autophagy is pathway that degrades long-lived proteins and organelles from the cell to maintain a correct cellular function. Thus, autophagy is like a quality control process that ensures cells stay healthy, but an excessive autophagy may cause muscle atrophy favoring muscle loss. The results of the study showed that DOR is highly repressed in muscle from type 2 diabetic patients, and the researchers propose that this repression is part of a mechanism responsible for the preservation of muscle mass in type 2 diabetes. The researchers also found that increased DOR expression in the muscle of diabetic mice leads to enhanced autophagy, which in turn favours the loss of muscle mass in these animals.

The results of the study point to DOR as a plausible target against which to develop a drug to prevent muscle deterioration in certain diseases. The advantage of developing a DOR inhibitor is that autophagy, a process necessary to keep cells healthy, would not be completely blocked in the absence of this protein. DOR is not essential for autophagy, but acts more as an accelerator. Thus, the inhibition of DOR would only partially reduce autophagy as other molecules involved would exert their activity normally, thus maintaining the levels of autophagy in a beneficial range for cells.


Researchers from CRESIB-IBEC improve the effectiveness of malaria treatment

Xavier Fernández-Busquets is the head of the Nanomalaria group, a sub-group of the Nanobioengineering lab (IBEC) with joint affiliation with the Centre de Recerca en Salut Internacional de Barcelona (CRESIB).  This group focus his reseach on the optimization of the nanovectors being currently developed with the objective of exploring sustained drug release strategies inside Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs), and the improvement of the targeting agents used to direct nanovectors to pRBCs.

Dr. Xavier Fernàndez-Busquets has a background training in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He has developed his career in several research centers, among which the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Basel, USA, the Universitat de Barcelona, the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia and the Barcelona Center for International Health Research.

A recent published study of this group demonstrates that an antimalarial drug (chloroquine salts) encapsulated in nanoparticles is significantly more effective when delivered in vivo than free (unencapsulated) drugs and may help to curb drug resistance.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Controlled Release, indicates that the nanoparticles are capable of recognising different Plasmodium species, making their potential as carriers for malarial drugs broader than that of other options.

Current malaria therapies require strategies capable of selectively delivering drugs to the cells infected by Plasmodium. In this study, the researchers explored the usefulness of two polymeric nanosystems, AGMA1 and ISA23, as carriers for cloroquina that selectively target the pathogen.

The study showed that both polymers bind preferentially to Plasmodium-infected red blood cells, compared to uninfected cells. Moreover, they are capable of recognising widely divergent species, such as P. falciparum and P. yoelii, malaria parasites that infect humans and mice respectively. Administration of 0.8 mg/kg of the drug chloroquine as either AGMA1 or ISA23 salts cured P yoelii-infected mice, whereas control animals treated with twice as much free drug did not survive.

“These polymers have low toxicity, high biodegradability and selectively target red blood cells infected by different species of Plasmodium,”  explains Xavier Fernàndez-Busquets, head of the Nanomalaria joint unit of IBEC/CRESIB, who led the study. “This all means that they’re extremely promising candidates as therapeutic antimalarials.”


Plasma lipids and longevity

Plasma lipids define the longevity of mammals. This is the main conclusion of a study performed by researchers from Lleida University (UdL), belonging to the research group Metabolic Physiopathology of IRBLleida, lidered by Dr. Reinald Pamplona. The study has been performed on 11 mammal species and has been published in Scientific Reports a primary research publication from the publishers of Nature, online and open access.

According to the results of the study, the longer the longevity of a species, the lower is its plasma long-chain free fatty acid (with more than 12 carbons). Their lipids are also more resistant to oxidation, a process that contributes to cellular ageing.

Researchers have used high-throughput technologies to determine the plasma lipidomic profile of mouse, rat, rabbit, guinea-pig, cat, dog, pig, horse, sheep, bull and man. This approach revealed a specie-specific lipidomic profile that accurately predicts the animal longevity. The next step in this research will be to study plama from different individuals from the same species to decipher why some of the live longer than others. The team directed by Dr. Reinald Pamplona has started a project in collaboration with researchers from Valencia University on plasma lipidomic profile in humans older than 100.

Researchers from Complutense University and Malaga University participated in the research published in Scientific Reports.