Catalan researchers amongst the authors of a study on a hereditary type of cancer

Gabriel Capellá and Marta Pineda, from the Hereditary Cancer Programme of Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO-IDIBELL) are amongst the authors of an International study on hereditary sequence variants related to Lynch syndrome.

Lynch syndrome, often called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), is an inherited disorder that increases the risk of many types of cancer, particularly cancers of the colon and endometrium, being responsible of 2-5% of cases. This study, published in Nature Genetics, focused in the genetic causes of Lynch’s syndrome. Researchers compiled data on thousands of genetic variants that could be associated to Lynch syndrome. Finally, they developed a classification scheme to a number of unknown variants in this syndrome. This will facilitate the consistent management of families suspected to have Lynch syndrome.  


A worm which broods the eggs like hens

Researchers from the University of Barcelona and the Institute of Research in Biodiversity (IRBio) discovered a new species of marine worm in Antarctica, Antarctonemertes riesgoae, which broods the eggs like hens. The scientific finding, recently published in the journal Polar Biology, was developed in collaboration with researchers from the University of Alcalá, the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, and Harvard University.

In marine Antarctic waters, UB experts found that during reproduction, females of the nemertean A. riesgoae secrete a very dense mucous substance through its body wall that solidifies in contact with seawater creating an elastic layer. Once the cocoon is created, females lay eggs on it and brood them. Brooding behaviour is not uncommon but it is remarkable in marine worms that in addition energetically defend their eggs from external threats. To date, only two nemertean species were known to brood their eggs.

The research is a part of the Actiquim-II project. We informed about this project in a post in our blog on 17th September, about the discovery of Osedax deceptionensis, a new species of marine invertebrate that feeds on bones.


World AIDS Day and research on HIV in Catalonia

Today, December 1st, we celebrate the World AIDS Day. Related to this event, it is interesting to know the research that is being carried out on vaccines against HIV in Catalonia through the HIVACAT program.

As we discussed in a recent entry (14-10-13) on occasion of the World Congress on AIDS vaccine, AIDS Vaccine 2013, Catalonia has a large critical mass of researchers who do quality research in this area. Among the leaders , the public-private consortium HIVACAT integrates two prestigious research centers , the IrsiCaixa Institute for Research on AIDS and the Infectious Diseases and AIDS IDIBAPS / Hospital Clinic of Barcelona team, in collaboration with Esteve and supported by Obra Social “La Caixa”, the Government of Catalonia and the Clínic Foundation. The program is co-directed by Dr. Bonaventura Clotet (IrsiCaixa) and by Dr. Josep Maria Gatell  (Hospital Clínic).

The HIVACAT research programme is structured around 8 areas of research, including the description of markers related to the control of the infection, the study of HIV diversity and its effects on immune response, the analysis of HIV entry mechanisms in target cells, and the development of new substances capable of acting as vaccines. Some of them are therapeutic vaccines, they induce an immune response in infected individuals to control virus replication. In recent years, researchers have found some therapeutic vaccine candidates that have been already tested in humans, with promising results. But researchers at HIVACAT are also working on prophylactic vaccines, which could be used to prevent infection.

Despite these success, research on HIV is in danger if funding is lacking, as Dr. Clotet warned yesterday in statements made to El Punt/Avui . According to Dr. Clotet “3.5 million euro will be required to advance in the most promising projects”. Where will these funds come from? Probably, public investment will not be sufficient. This is why HIVACAT encourages civil society to make donations. From one euro, one can to contribute to finance the development of a low cost HIV vaccine, easily accessible to all sectors of the population.


The benefits of “sofregit”

Researchers at the University of Barcelona and Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red – Fisiopatología de la Obesidad y Nutrición (CIBERobn), in colaboration with Hospital Clínic of Barcelona, have analyzed for the first time the composition of the “sofregit”, a basic component of Catalan cuisine made with tomato and onion fried with olive oil. The interest in the “sofregit” came from the results of the PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea (PREDIMED) study, which has recently demonstrated that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events. In the PREDIMED study a validated 14-item questionnaire was used, and one of these items was ‘‘how many times per week do you consume vegetables, pasta, or other dishes seasoned with tomato-based sofrito?’’. An increase of two or more points in this score has been related to a lower risk of cardiovascular events, but the beneficial compounds present in the “sofregit” had never been analyzed. The advantage of “sofregit” is that it combines several bioactive compounds from the ingredients, which have beneficial effects when consumed separately. Thus, consumption of tomato-based products has been associated with a reduction in the incidence of chronic degenerative diseases, probably due to their content in lycopene and other carotenoids. Onions are a very rich source of flavonol compounds that are linked to a lower incidence of cancer. Another ingredient of some “sofregits” is garlic, which contains phytochemicals that act against the formation of lipid peroxides and scavenging superoxide. Moreover, oil is an important factor determining the bioavailability of phenolic compounds, playing a crucial role in their accessibility and extractability from food. The results of the study, published in the journal Food Chemistry, show that “sofregit”, as a consequence of combining these ingredients, contains 40 polyphenols, and also carotenoids and vitamin C. Thus, a daily consumption of 120 g of “sofregit”, for example added to pasta or other dishes, provides 16–24 mg of polyphenols and 6–10 mg of carotenoids.

How to prepare a good “sofregit”? Here you will find some advices from the journal “CUINA”:

. onion must be chopped with a knife, do not use electric mixers, kitchen robots or graters, otherwise it would be too pasty. It can be cooked over a high heat with a lot of oil (better if it is virgin olive oil), to avoid excessive water evaporation, or fried over a low heat, which takes longer and requires water addition.

. tomatoes: pulpy tomatoes, such as “pera” or beef tomatoes, are the best. They should be boiled for some seconds, peeled and get off the seeds before adding them to the fried onion. Tomato must be added when the onion is already browned, and the volume has reduced two thirds. When all the water from the tomato is evaporated, the “sofregit” is ready.


Catalonia, fourth in world ranking for average citations of papers published in Nature and Science

A note published on November 15th by the Institut d’Estudis Catalans Research Observatory (OI-IEC) presents a bibliometric analysis on the geographical origin of papers published in Nature and Science during the period 2001-2012 to evaluate the impact of the Catalan scientific activity in these two leading journals. One of the main reported conclusions is that the research papers from Catalan institutions in Nature and Science are, in terms of average citations, ranked fourth among those published from all countries in the world.

This study goes beyond the one we commented in this blog on October 27th that reported on the relationship between published papers and country population. It shows that research made in Catalonia is not only quantitatively relevant but its impact places us among the leading countries in worldwide scientific advancements.

Big step taken by a catalan research group improves the control of CO2

It’s well known that research in our country has a significant potential in a wide diversity of scientific subjects. Plan for Research and Innovation of the Government of Catalonia establishes five strategic lines of research:

• The biomedical and health sciences

• Research in ICT engineering

• Research in science and food technology

• Research in social and cultural development

• Research in sustainability and environment.

Numerous research groups born around universities, institutes, foundations, and scientific parks attract foreign talent. At the same time, they’re also achieving some remarkable success in all these subjects.

The Tarragona Science and Technology Park brings together the innovation activities of the chemical and energy sectors. It hosts the Catalan Institute of Chemical Research (ICIQ), who works next to some companies in three points: the catalysis process in chemical health and sustainability; supramolecular chemistry: nanoscience and new materials, and renewable energies: solar energy and hydrogen production.

Atsushi Urakawa was born in Fukuoka (Japan). He obtained his BSc degree  in Applied Chemistry at Kyushu University (Fukuoka) including one year stay in the USA. Afterwards, he continued his education in Chemical Engineering at the Delft University of Technology (Delft, The Netherlands) for his MSc study (2001) and further at the ETH Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland) for his PhD study (2006 with distinction). In 2006, he undertook a position as an Oberassistent (senior scientist/lecturer) in the group of Prof. Alfons Baiker at the ETH Zurich. In January 2010, he joined the ICIQ as a group leader where he leads a research group with particular emphasis on the development of in situ/operando spectroscopic tools and on the rational design of heterogeneous catalytic processes potentially pivotal for solving environmental and energy-related problems. In july 2010, the group joined Atul Bansode, a graduate from the University of Pune India). He is a doctoral student of the institute working in particular on the development of catalytic processes for conversion of CO2 using microreactors

On the issue January 2014 of “Journal of Catalysis” (i f 6249 ) (now it is online) the have published their work about an efficient method (95%) converting CO2 into methanol in one step. From the autors in their paper: “The global warming, mainly sourced from the human induced emission of CO2, is one of the major environmental threats we are facing in the 21st century. In the past few decades, there has been growing scientific consensus to devise the strategy for CO2 capture, fixation, and recycling technologies to level off the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Nature has its own CO2 fixation process which is extraordinarily selective in converting CO2 into organic compounds. However, natural chemical transformation of CO2 is not simply fast enough to cope with the increasing CO2 emission rate of the industrialized world. Chemical transformation of CO2 is not only about mitigating the global warming; rather it is about recycling of the carbon, irreversibly relocated in the form of CO2 from the ground by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. In the light of the finite availability of fossil fuels, the production of commercially valuable chemicals and fuels from CO2 is a promising strategy to simultaneously tackle the two major problems of the century, namely the global warming and fossil fuel depletion, for sustainable development. Methanol It is an excellent fuel and a key starting material of the important industrial reactions. The use of methanol in fuel cells directly or indirectly as the source of hydrogen by a reforming reaction is well documented”

In the paper, authors report an exceptionally productive process for the synthesis of methanol via continuous catalytic hydrogenation of CO2 under high-pressure conditions over co-precipitated Cu/ZnO/Al2O3 catalysts. The effluent stream of methanol can be directly fed to a reactor containing a catalyst for selective production of alkane or alkene.

The Catalan Institute has already submitted an application for a patent and has offered the method to the industry for the development and commercialization of new process through licensing agreements or joint development projects.

This is just one example of the Catalan Government policies to attract talent to our research system. Therefore in a future Independent country of Catalonia, we should take that into account in order to have a significant role in a scientific global scene.


Two catalan research group are part of the international consortium who get to identify 11 new genes linked to Alzheimer’s

A research from the consortium IGAP (International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project) suggested for the first time that 11 gens play a key role in the common late-onset form of Alzheimer’s. The international team involves, between others, researchers from the Catalan ACE Foundation, (Institut Català de Neurociències Aplicades), and the Institut de Investigació Biomèdica (IBB) Sant Pau.
These results, which have just been published online by the prestigious journal Nature Genetics, come from a whole genome association study (GWAS) assisted by an international consortium. The paper presents an initial meta-analysis of four previously published GWAS data sets. In a second stage, 11,632 SNPs were genotyped and tested for association in an independent set of 8,572 Alzheimer’s disease cases and 11,312 controls. In addition to the APOE locus, 19 loci reached genome-wide significance, of which 11 are newly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The function of some of these 19 genes is related to molecular mechanisms already identified as impaired in AD, such as the production of beta- amyloid peptide and synaptic transmission. However, its specific identification could be turned into new targets for pharmacological research aimed at combating this disease. But the isolation of genes whose functions were not studied until now, opens new possibilities. Among them, there are certain genes located in the region HLADRB5/DRB1 (essential for the immunological system), which corroborates the role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s disease.
This project involved nine Spanish research centers, including two Catalans, The Department of Neurology from IBB and the ACE (Alzheimer Foundation Education Center) Foundation.
The IIB Sant Pau, led by the neurologist James Kulisevsky, was established in May 2009 as an association of healthcare organizations with their own research program. Different research areas participate in this program, including neurological and mental disorders. Jordi Clarimón, coordinator of the “Genetics in Neurodegenerative Diseases” group and Alberto Leon, coordinator of the “Neurobiology of Dementia” group, have participated directly in the project of IGAP consortium.

The other center is the Catalan Institute of Applied Neurosciences, associated with the ACE Foundation. A clinical psychologist, Lluís Tárraga Mestre, and a neurologist, Mercè Boada Rovira, are the charter members of this family Foundation, which is recognized in the European Union as a specialized centre for the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Both Dr. Boada and the geneticist Agustín Ruiz, head of research at the Foundation, have collaborated in the work and are also listed on the publication’s co-author list.
Jordi Clarimón explained “these findings do not change, at least in a short term, both diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease, but help us understand the genetic bases of the neurodegenerative processes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease”. In this way, “although we cannot design, for instance, genetic tests of risk for common forms of the disease, the identification of these genes is a essential advance in the research of new biomarkers”.

In the words of Agustín Ruiz, “this study is only a preview, more details of IGAP data will follow shortly. These data will shake the understanding of the genetic basis of the disease.” According to Ruiz, “it is necessary to extend the retrieved information, and come back to the laboratory to turn this knowledge into new therapies and diagnostic tools for future applications.”

In November, all these researchers will probably participate on the annual meeting of the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN), which will be held in Barcelona. This event will keep the trend of this city to become an important attraction pole for national and international biomedical meetings. Therefore, from 2014 to 2019 Barcelona will host, along with Vienna, the annual congress of the United European Gastroenterology (UEG Week). Both cities will take turns on hosting an event that brings together about 14,000 participants.


Large scientific facilities: the Alba Synchrotron

Large scientific facilities : the Alba Synchrotron

In the latest issue of RECERCAT, the newsletter of Catalan research, it was reported that researchers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia will use the Alba synchrotron to study the materials used to paint the “Altar of St. Ursula and the eleven thousand virgins” a work of the fifteenth century that is exhibited at the National Museum of Art of Catalonia . This analysis will not only determine the origin of the pigments, but also what materials should be used today to preserve them. Furthermore, studies will highlight the relationship between different artists and schools, as well as the connection to the art of European regions in the fifteenth century. The research group of the UPC has already done ​​other similar investigations using the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, which is an infrastructure shared by the states of the European Union. But undoubtedly the existence of a synchrotron in Catalonia will be key to the investigation, since most of the advanced European countries (Germany, France, UK, Switzerland, Italy and France) have this type of facility.

Alba is a third generation synchrotron located in Cerdanyola del Vallès. It was designed in 1994, its construction started in 2003 and officially opened in March 2010. The planning of the works and their subsequent operation is carried out by the Consortium for the Construction, Equipment and Exploitation of the Synchrotron Light Laboratory ( CELLS ) , with co- funding from the Spanish and Catalan governments. Around the machine there are a collection of experimental research laboratories, called beamlines. Currently there are seven beamlines for a wide variety of experiments, such as Materials Science and Powder Diffraction, X-Ray Microscopy or Macromolecular Crystallography. The Alba team currently consists of about 160 dedicated engineers, scientists, support staff and technicians. The Alba Synchrotron and the CERCA Institute (Research Centers of Catalonia) have signed a collaboration agreement to regulate CERCA visiting researchers who develop long-term scientific and technological projects at ALBA.

On November 16th an open day will be held at the Alba synchrotron, as a part of the Science Week, organized by the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation. Registrations are now open.


Feliu Maseras, reference in the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

A catalan, Dr. Feliu Maseras from the Instutut Català d’Investigació Química (ICIQ), has been cited in the documents published in the Nobel Foundation’s website  about the contributions to the study of multiscale methods, the subject of 2013 Chemical Nobel Prize. This year laureates are Martin Karplus , Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for his research on the development of multiscale methods, based on the current computational chemistry.

Multiscale methods add another dimension to computational chemistry, as they use different methods for different regions of the same chemical system. The most typical case is the use of quantum methods, which are accurate but expensive, to describe a small region of the system, and a method of molecular mechanics, with less computational cost, for the entire system.

On its website, the Nobel Foundation has written: “The work behind this year’s Nobel Prize has been the starting point for both further theoretical developments of more accurate models and applied studies. Important contributions have been given not only by this year’s laureates but also by many others including J. Gao, F. Maseras and K. Morokuma, U.C. Sing and P. Kollman  and H. M. Senn and W. Thiel.”

The paper referred in the text is the article published by Maseres and Morokuma in the Journal of Computational Chemistry in 1995. Feliu Maseras had the pleasure of working with another of the great figures in the world of multiscale methods, Professor Morokuma. One of their joint research papers, the one that is mentioned in the description that has facilitated the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, deals with an adaptation of multiscale methods to facilitate its application in other chemistry fields, other than biochemistry, like for instance homogeneous catalysis. This is the second time that Professor Maseras is referenced in the Nobels. Professor Akira Suzuki, Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2010, also refers to an article by Professor Maseras during his Nobel Lecture at the University of Stockholm in December 8th, 2010.

ICIQ, along with institutions such as the Catalan Institute of Classical Archaeology, Institute of Food and Agricultural Research, Catalan Institute of Vine and Wine, Wine Technology Park, Hospital Joan XXIII or Chemistry Technology Centre of Catalonia, constitute the Campus of International Excellence Southern Catalonia ( CEICS ).

CEIS represents the strategic union of different organizations and structures involved in teaching, research, knowledge transfer and the productive sector in southern Catalonia. It aims to become an international benchmark in knowledge and competitiveness within the areas of chemistry and energy, nutrition and health, tourism, oenology, heritage and culture. It also seeks to become the heart of an authentic region of knowledge that can play a key role in the future growth of the region and in its productive network. The driving force behind this group is Rovira i Virgili University (URV). 1700 researchers work at campus, 1028 scientific articles have been published by them and 192 R&D projects have been awarded funding, a total of € 19 million. For example, the Wine Technology Park in Falset (Vitec) has launched a project to adapt the irrigation of vines to the type of soil, grape variety and the requirements of the oenologist, with a significant improvement in the quality of product.
But in the same field of Dr. Maseras, the spanish edition of the magazine “MIT Technology Review” has chosen Bernard Ollé, Chemical Engineering of URV, as a young innovator. In June 2007, the investment firm Puretech Ventures hired him in order to lead four new biotech companies that at present are working on the ability to modulate the microbiome to produce a new class of drugs to treat some diseases.

TV3 Telethon 2013: Solidarity does not degenerate

On Thursday 31 October started the social dissemination campaign of the 2013 Telethon (La Marató de TV3, organized by the public Catalan TV) devoted to neurodegenerative diseases. Under the slogan “Solidarity does not degenerate” this celebration of solidarity will work to raise awareness and funds to combat a type of disease which affects half of the population over 80 years.

Read more…