A BSC, CRG, and IRB collaboration agreement will promote Barcelona as a world leader in computational biology

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) launch a Joint BSC-CRG-IRB Programme in Computational Biology for a period of five years and renewable every three years. These three institutes are Severo Ochoa Centres of Excellence and nodes of the Spanish Bioinformatics Network. Their long-term expertise and research quality will turn Barcelona into one of the most outstanding clusters worldwide.

The programme is headed by Modesto Orozco (IRB), with Roderic Guigó (CRG) and David Torrents (BSC) as associate directors, and comprises 10 research groups from these three centres

The goals of this joint programme are to retain the critical mass of researchers, to attract talent, and to boost computational biology

IRB and CRG will offer 10 scientific platforms, including the Experimental Laboratory hosted by IRB, and will provide the link to experimental biologists. BSC offers access to computing resources, such as the MareNostrum supercomputer, one of the most powerful machines in Europe and part of the PRACE Research Infrastructure


An article signed by researchers from the University of Barcelona chosen as one of the best published in 2013 on psoriasis

The International Psoriasis Council (IPC) has chosen an article published by the translational research group on immunodermatology led by Luis Francisco Santamaria from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona and the Barcelona Science Park, as one of the best of 2013 about psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic cutaneous inflammatory disease of the skin that is highly prevalent and significantly affects the quality of life of patients. Last year a total of 1,908 papers on the disease were published, according to data obtained from the portal PubMed.

 One of the main conclusions of the article, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, is that Streptococcus pyogenes antigens are directly involved in the pathological mechanisms that result in the appearance of psoriasis lesions. According to Dr. Santamaria, “although many research studies have been focused on psoriasis, immunopathogenic mechanisms are essential but remain hardly known”. He adds that ” the particularity of the study is that it establishes a new ex-vivo model to elucidate how psoriasis lesions are initiated and triggered by means of the interaction among the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, CLA+ T lymphocytes (a group of circulating cells which play a major role in psoriasis physiopathology), and epidermal cells”.


Eduard Batlle winner of the Pezcoller award of The European Association for Cancer Research

The European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) announced the last Friday that Eduard Batlle is the winner of the Pezcoller Foundation – EACR Cancer Researcher Award.

The award, presented biennially to a researcher of excellence with no more than 15 years post-doctoral experience, celebrates academic excellence and achievements in the field of cancer research.

Eduard Batlle, is an ICREA (Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats) Research Professor at IRB Barcelona (Institut de Recerca Biomèdica) who coordinates the Oncology Programme and directs the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory Group at IRB Barcelona.

Eduard Batlle (Barcelona, 1970), received a doctorate in biology from the University of Barcelona. He spent four years at the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology, in Utrecht, The Netherlands, under the mentorship of the renowned scientist Hans Clevers.

His work has been published in the best biomedical journals, including several articles in Nature journals and deserving two covers in Cell and Cancer Cell. Dr. Batlle holds several prizes, including the Debiopharm Life Sciences Award for Outstanding Research in Oncology from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland (2006), the Banc Sabadell Biomedical Research Award (2010), Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Award (2013) and “Doctores Diz Pintado” National Cancer Research Prize (2014).

Research activity in the last 10 years has focused on the mechanisms that drive colorectal cancer progression. Among other findings, his work revealed the first connection between intestinal stem cells and colorectal cancer.

The inner layer of the intestinal tube, the intestinal epithelium, is in a constant process of renewal. Hundreds of millions of terminally differentiated intestinal cells are replaced by new cells every day during the life of an adult organism. This tremendous regenerative power is ultimately sustained by a small population of intestinal stem cells. It is believed that alterations in the functioning of intestinal stem cells account for the pathophysiology of various bowel disorders. Our laboratory studies the connection between the biology of Intestinal Stem Cells and Colon Cancer. We have recently archived for the first time the isolation of stem cells of the human colonic epithelium as well as of tumour stem cells from colon cancers. We are currently analysing the features of these two cell types with the aim of designing new therapeutic and diagnostic tools for the management of colon cancer.

Our most honestly congratulations


Independence, research funding and the country that we want

A few months ago we discussed in this blog the presentation of the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence, a document which contains questions and answers about independence, some of them about research and health in an independent Scotland. Recently, an article entitled “Health on the agenda in Scottish independence referendum” has been published in Lancet. Although the article refers mainly to the specific situation of Scotland and the UK in relation to the public health system, one can draw some basic ideas which can be applied also to Catalonia.

For example, in the article it is mentioned that the Scottish Government will seek to maintain the UK-wide research funding system, with Scotland contributing directly to the Research Council budget. As it is commented in the white paper, Scotland already contributes to funding of the UK Research Councils through the tax base and the Scottish Government intends that it should continue to contribute as an independent country. What is the situation in Catalonia? Between 2008 and 2011 we received approximately 700 million annual funding from the R & D National Plan, which corresponds to 20% of the total budget in Spain. What will happen when we become independent? Will we not be allowed to access the National Plan funds? It is possible, because the attitude of the Spanish Government is not the same as the UK Government. However, we must keep in mind that we have already paid the funds of the National Plan, because we contribute to the central government income through taxes. In fact, according to estimates of the Department of Economy and Knowledge of Catalonia, Catalonia accounts for 19.4 % of total revenues of the central government, but only receives 14.2 % of the total expenditure of the state. As Josep Maria Martorell comments in a recent interview “the amount that we attract through the National Plan is probably much less than what our citizens pay. So, we should not worry too much to have access to the National Plan if we have our own resources … With the additional resources that we will obtain, we can launch our own policy of research projects.” He adds an interesting point: “I think that the Catalan Government will dare to agree common policies with neighboring countries”. Spain will be one of these neighbors. Will we dare? Will they?

Another aspect that could be highlighted from the article published in Lancet is that the Scottish independence referendum is about more than national identity. It’s certainly not a nationalistic debate—it’s very much becoming a debate about the kind of society people want to live in. In this sense, the Catalan National Assembly is making a start with the project “The country that we want”.  The project aims to create a pluralistic and participatory process in which citizens will raise the main challenges and proposals on the social, political, cultural and environmental live in a better country. It aims to be a forum to respond to questions about the independence process and its consequences. It is an exercise of sovereignty construction, with participation of different sectors of the country, the more plural and transverse the better. One of the axes of this project is “Research, knowledge and infrastructure”, and Research for Independence participates in it. We will keep you informed about the project and how you can contribute to it.


The University of Barcelona participates in a project to develop new antibiotics

Treatment of infections produced by Gram-negative bacteria is difficult because most of them are resistant to multiple drugs. In response to this problem, the Innovative Medicines Initiative, Europe’s largest public-private partnership aiming to improve the drug development process, has launched the ENABLE (European Gram Negative Antibacterial Engine) project. The programme works with seven lines of compounds developed across Europe. One of them has been developed by Professor Francesc Rabanal, from the Department of Organic Chemistry of the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Barcelona. According to Professor Rabadal, “ENABLE is a really competitive project that has selected the best laboratories that have the best antibiotic candidates across Europe. Each antibiotic line will be evaluated every three months”. For the moment, the research of the University of Barcelona is in the project for two years; during this period of time, details the expert, “the chemical synthesis will be done and the action mechanism of the compound line will be studied with a maximum budget of 751,000 euros”. “In two years —he adds—, if we have provided new compounds, we will continue competing”.

The ENABLE project is a good example of collaboration between public and private sectors. Over 30 European universities and European companies, led by the multinational pharmaceutical GlaxoSmithKline and Uppsala University (Sweden), collaborate in this project. The goal of this and other projects is to mobilise expertise from universities and industry in Europe to meet global challenges and place Europe at the forefront of collaborative research between industry and academia for health challenges.


A catalan, Director of the Theoretical Division of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics

Joan Ignasi Cirac és un físic català que ha arribat molt alt en el camp de la recerca en teòrica quàntica. Nascut a Manresa, es llicencià en física teòrica. L’any 1991, després de llegir la seva tesi doctoral es traslladà als Estats Units per treballar com a investigador post-doctoral amb Peter Zoller al Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics de la Universitat de Colorado i el 1996  va aconseguí la càtedra d’astrofísica al Institut für Theoretische Physik d’Innsbruck.

Des de 2001 és director de la Divisió de Teoria de l’Institut Max Planck d’Òptica Quàntica de Garching a Alemanya. L’Institut Max Planck aglutina més de vuitanta instituts i centres de recerca, agrupats en tretze seus repartides per Europa, Estats Units i Àsia.

Cirac ha estat treballant fent recerca a dotze universitats d’arreu del nom i també en l’Institut Tecnològic de Massachusetts (MIT). El 2013 va rebre el premi Wolf de física, junt  amb Zoller, per les seves innovadores aportacions teòriques als camps del processament d’informació quàntica, de l’òptica quàntica i de la física dels gasos quàntics. El premis Wolf és el premi de més prestigi en el camp de la física i l’antesala del premi Nobel, per la qual cosa el seu nom sona amb força com a mereixedor d’aquest guardó.

Es considera el pioner en la teoria quàntica de la informació (computació quàntica).  Segons les seves teories, la computació quàntica revolucionarà la societat de la informació i farà possible una comunicació molt més eficient i segura. El seu treball “Quantum Computations with Cold Trapped Ions”, al costat de Zoller, és considerat com el primer article que mostra com construir un ordinador quàntic  i la seva recerca sobre les xarxes òptiques va impulsar el camp de la simulació quàntica. Recentment ha realitzat importants aportacions al desenvolupament de la teoria quàntica de molts cossos, com la introducció dels “projected entangled -pair states” per descriure sistemes en equilibri.

Al mateix dia que anava a RAC1 a explicar la base dels ordinadors quàntics i feia una conferència a la Universitat de Vic, el Dr. Cirac ha assistit a la renovació de la càtedra  Ignacio Cirac, Fundació Catalunya – La Pedrera de l’Institut de Ciències Fotòniques (ICFO), amb l’objectiu de promoure la captació de talent internacional en l’àmbit de la recerca en teoria quàntica de la informació.

Felicitem a tots els integrants de l’ICFO per aquesta bona notícia i és un plaer per tots constatar la bona salut de que gaudeix aquesta recerca al nostre país.