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in vivo April 2013 | Issue 22


Competitive funding for innovative research Two recent examples confirm IRB Barcelona’s commitment to innovation and tech-

They’re waiting to welcome you in November

nology transfer. As part of the 2012 call of their Mind the Gap programme, the Botín Foundation has chosen to finance three projects from across Spain that they believe show extraordinary commercial potential: two of the three originate from the Institute’s labs. In other news, IRB Barcelona is one of five institutes to receive a share of 2.5 million euros for a ”la Caixa” Foundation initiative that aims to identify and develop basic research with potential to translate into commercial applications. IRB Barcelona’s programme is called CancerTec.

IRB Barcelona director Joan J. Guinovart presents the CancerTec programme earlier this month. (Photo ”la Caixa” Foundation).

More on these stories on page 3.

Preparations are under way for the 3rd IRB Barcelona PhD Student Symposium. A team of 13 motivated PhD students working in labs from all five Programmes at the Institute are ploughing full steam ahead to make sure that once again the Symposium is a success. This scientific meeting will see the participation of around 200 young scientists selected worldwide. “This is going to be a top-level symposium by PhD students for PhD students,” promises Organising Committee member Constanze Shelhorn. Meet her on page 7 for more details.

New mechanism in tumour development described The lab headed by Group Leader and

progression. Their discovery was published

ICREA professor Raúl Méndez has made

in March in Nature. The first author of the

a crucial step forward in understanding a

article is Alessio Felice Bava, an Italian PhD

mechanism controlled by the CPEB1 pro-

student, member of Raúl’s lab.

tein that affects more than

This finding is promising

200 genes related to cell

for future therapies. To find out

proliferation and tumour

why, see page 2.


The brain, an intercontinental challenge


Exchanges Ozgen Denis in California

The thirteen international PhD students in the Organising Committee of The Clock of Life. (Photo L.T. Barone).


Exploring microtubules


Spotlight Laura Boulan, chess and pimples

Fundamental mechanism to unleash tumour progression explained


n science, it’s all or nothing.” Ambition flows in Alessio Bava’s veins. He is a Roman biologist who is com-

pleting his thesis in ICREA professor Raúl Mé-

ndez’s lab. His efforts and self-confidence over the last four years have resulted in the publication of a paper in Nature in March. The study describes a mechanism controlled by the CPEB1 protein that affects hundreds of genes related to cell proliferation and tumour progression. To unveil the process, Alessio and his group used Hodgkin lymphoma cells. The team of scientists focussed its attention on CPEB1, a protein whose role in regulating mRNA translation in the cytoplasm has been known since the 90s. They suspected that it might also be active in the nucleus and play a role in controlling pre-mRNA processing. “More specifically,” says Raúl, “we discov-

“The next step is to use the protein family CPEB as a therapeutic target to slow down cancer progression,” says Raúl Méndez, here with Alessio Felice Bava (back). (Photo L.T. Barone)

ered that it affects the alternative generation in the mature mRNAs of the 3’-UTR, regions where most of the elements regulating translation in time and space are located.” UTR stands for ‘untranslated regions.’

lation. This means that the protein coordinates

pies. “Most healthy cells do not express CPEB1.

two sequential events in the gene-regulation

And when they do, its cytoplasmic function can


be taken over by other members of the CPEB

The action of CPEB1, one of the members of the CPEB

Raúl and Alessio showed that if CPEB1 is

family. In contrast, tumour cells are more de-

active in the nucleus, it controls around 200

pendent on CPEB1 to shorten the 3’ UTR,

RNA genes involved

while fully differentiated healthy cells use lon-

protein family, affects the

ger 3’ UTR variants. So, if we can inhibit it, we

length of RNA: “By shorten-

could specifically reprogramme or

ing the 3’-UTR in the nucle-

inhibit the proliferation of the tu-

us, the regulated transcripts

mour cells,” recognises Raúl.

lose negative regulatory signals. Under these conditions, the factors for cell proliferation, such as oncogenes, are translated at higher rate,” he explains. The protein hooks onto the RNA in the nucleus, and stays stuck to it while it travels to the cytoplasm, where CPEB1 also regulates trans-

“This research is helping me to in


receive good offers for my next step

de-differentiation and transformation,

as a postdoc, an exhilarating phase


“three key features of oncogenesis,” points out

in every scientist’s career” admits Alessio. “I


hope I can combine my wish to be a good scien-

The finding is promising for future thera-

tist with my desire to form a family.” (ltb)

Centrobin, a key cell division protein identified


CREA research professor, Cayetano González and his group have published a new study in Nature Cell Biology that contributes one

important step towards elucidating the molecular mechanisms that some stem cells use to renew themselves while generating differentiated daughter cells. Using the Drosophila neuroblast, the fly’s neural stem cell, as a model system, the scientists identified a protein that plays a key role in cell division. The protein, dubbed Centrobin, is both necessary and sufficient to enable daughter centrioles to bind the pericentriolar material. González’s group demonstrated that the protein is present in daughter


in vivo

April 2013

| Issue 22

centrioles and absent in mother centrioles. The article shows that daughter centrioles experimentally depleted of Centrobin cannot bind pericentriolar material while mother centrioles modified to carry ectopic Centrobin can. They also show that within the cell, Centrobin is physically bound to a set of known centriolar and pericentriolar material proteins, thus identifying a molecular pathway that


might account for Centrobin’s function. “These studies are a good example of basic fundamental research aimed to understand the molecular basis of stem cell division,” notes the IRB Barcelona Group Leader.

These little piggies are on their way to market

CancerTec kicks off


and Knowledge of the Catalan government,

Andreu Mas-Colell, minister of Economy romising research results coming from

considering current colorectal cancer treatments

two IRB Barcelona laboratories are no

can cost up to 15,000 euros. It’s a win-win situ-

longer just good ideas. They’ve been


singled out by the Botín Foundation to receive

Modesto Orozco’s ambitious Nostrum Drug

support so that they can be developed into new

Delivery is another example of a clever invest-

products and taken to market.

ment today that could lead to substantial savings

As part of the 2012 call of their Mind the Gap programme, the Foundation has chosen to finance three projects from across Spain that they believe show extraordinary commercial potential: two of the three originate from IRB Barcelona labs. The first is a test developed by Eduard Batlle and Elena Sancho to measure the risk of metastasis in colorectal cancer patients; the second is a drug-design simulation platform engineered by Modesto Orozco (who is also

in the future. The project relies on an immense database of protein interaction dynamics, developed by Orozco and his team, which allows them to predict how a drug will interact with other molecules in the body. Their approach significantly

and Jaume Lanaspa, director general of the ”la Caixa” Foundation, together with other officials and scientists from institutes across Barcelona gathered at the CosmoCaixa on 12 April to present a programme to foster innovation. IRB Barcelona is one of five institutes to receive a share of 2.5 million euros for the initiative that aims to identify and develop basic research with potential to translate into commercial applications. IRB Barcelona presented its CancerTec

reduces the need for clinical trials, and could lead

programme, which this year has seen the

to savings in time and costs of up to 40 million

launch of four new projects aimed at devel-

euros per drug, roughly 10% of the total devel-

oping new diagnostic tools and innovative and

opment costs for each new product.

efficient therapies for cancer. They include new

The Botín Foundation will invest a total of

treatments for brain and prostate cancers as

coordinator of the IRB Barcelona - Barcelona

one million euros to set up the spin-off compa-

well as tools to improve the sensitivity of pa-

SuperComputing Center Joint Programme) that

nies that will develop these technologies, and will

tients to radio- and chemotherapy, and the

aims to reduce the need for pre-clinical and clini-

also offer them management, coordination and

validation of a diagnostic and therapeutic tool

cal trials.

consulting support to ensure that in two years’

for liver cancer in patients with diabetes. These

“Our project, Colostage, aims to prevent

time the companies can attract additional fund-

projects are now in the proof-of-concept stage.

patients who aren’t at risk of developing metas-

ing and allow their products to finally reach the market. (ss)

A second call for new projects is expected to

tasis from undergoing chemotherapy treatments,


which can be costly, unnecessary, and very ag-

be launched in May.


gressive,” says Batlle. Through their research, his group has identified a set of genes that determine the likelihood of whether colorectal cancer will metastasise. If patients don’t have the markers, it is unlikely that their cancer will spread. “Doctors simply don’t have the means to distinguish between patients at risk and those who aren’t,” says Sancho, “so our test will really help them choose the best choice of treatment for their patients. At the same time it will lead to substantial savings for the healthcare system,

Modesto Orozco presents his project at the Botín Foundation in February. (Photo Fundación Botín)


Alba solves first structures The first paper published

with data on protein structures collected with the Synchrotron Alba carries the signature of an IRB Barcelona scientist. Research associate Joan Roig, in a study led by colleagues at the Institute of Biotechnology and Biomedicine of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, gathered 3D information of protein complexes involved in cell division with the beamline XALOC, which is devoted to shedding light on macromolecular structures. “This work

helps us to understand how the proteins we study bind and interact; it could be highly relevant for possible therapeutic strategies seeking to target our proteins,” says Roig. Alba is a third generation Synchrotron Light Facility located in the Barcelona area.


Interdisciplinarity shapes proteins Boosted by the PhD pro-

gramme’s lab rotations and interdisciplinary postdoc programme, a collaboration between experts in computational modelling and bio-

physics has yielded a fruitful result. A study authored by PhD student Michela Candotti, postdoctoral fellow Santiago Esteban-Martín, and Group Leaders Xavier Salvatella and Modesto Orozco, and published in PNAS, describes a new technique that overcomes the obstacles encountered when studying the shape of Intrinsically Disordered Proteins (IDPs). “Our results contribute to research into disorders that involve IDPs, such as cancer, Parkinson’s, Kennedy's and Alzheimer’s diseases,” explains Salvatella.


in vivo

April 2013 | Issue 22


An eye on the future of microscopy


PIM. Memorise this name. It stands for Selective Plane Illumination Spectroscopy, or Lightsheet Microscopy for short. “This is the microscopy of the future. It will challenge traditional confocal micros-

copy, especially for in vivo samples,” assures the Advanced Digital Microscopy Core Facility Manager Julien Colombelli. The company Carl Zeiss commercialises this technique, implemented at IRB Barcelona since 2011. The first public event to demonstrate the use of the technique took place in January at the Institute, in collaboration with the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO).


“Lightsheet microscopy causes less damages to the sample than scanning confocal microscopy and allows us to take images much faster and for a longer time,” says Colombelli. (ltb)

Julien Colombelli in his core facility. IRB Barcelona, CRG and ICFO are the reference centres in Spain for Lightsheet Microscopy. (Photo L.T. Barone)

The brain, the 21st century’s challenge


n the space of only a few months, Europe and the US announced the

develop new treatments for brain diseases and build revolutionary new In-

launch of two large-scale projects to study the brain. “Nobody wants

formation and Communications Technologies.” The main objective of the

to be left behind,” says Modesto Orozco, IRB Barcelona Group

HPB is to simulate brain function through supercomputation.

Leader and participant in the European initiative called “The Human Brain

To achieve this objective, a full range of scientific and technical exper-

Project” (HBP). The US project is still pending approval by the Congress,

tise is needed, from molecular and cellular biologists to engineers and even

but the European initiative is already underway, having been granted a ten-

ethics specialists. Orozco is a world leader in simulating biological systems

year budget of one billion euros.

at an atomic and molecular level, and he will be working with the network

HPB involves more than 120 institutions, European and non-Europe-

of researchers devoted to brain simulation. “Besides the obvious medical

an, with a considerable representation of Spanish and Catalan centres. The

benefits, if we can understand how the brain works, with a bit of luck, we

EU’s HBP report states that “Understanding the human brain is one of the

will be able to design much more efficient software and hardware with

greatest challenges facing 21st century science. If we can rise to the chal-

evident applications in robotics,”explains the researcher. (sa)

lenge, we can gain fundamental insights into what it means to be human,



“Since I was 14, biology has been my dream”


urkish born Ozgen Deniz (Izmir, 1983)

PhD student in Modesto Orozco’s Experi-

see how another lab works and open doors to

had very clear ideas when she was

mental Bioinformatics lab. She is about to

a possible postdoc position. I was impressed

young. “I was 14 when I first saw in the news

complete her thesis on nucleosome position-

by the level of the seminars and by how easy

something related to biology research. And I

ing in yeast during the cell cycle.

it is to build up collaborations. Also, phar-

knew I wanted to work on cancer,” she recalls.

As part of her training, she spent six

maceutical companies there are more active

“Back then, I thought it was all simple. Only

months in Los Angeles, at the University of

in recruiting the best scientists. But I found it

later would I discover how hard you have to

Southern California. “I had some results here,

disappointing that the productivity was not so

work to get there...”

and wanted to test them. In the lab they were

high. I find it is much easier and more efficient

not doing exactly what I do. But soon I con-

at IRB Barcelona to order the products I need

structed my own strain of yeast. I learnt

for my science. Plus, here we have all the facil-

all about the ChIP-on-chip technique,

ities I need at hand, like Mass Spectrometry.”

which combines chromatin immunopre-

After feeling uneasy at first (“Barcelona

cipitation with microarray technology

is safer than LA,” she notes), she enjoyed

and I brought it back here.”

the beauty of nature and sports there. “I did

Today Ozgen is the first ‘experimental’

in vivo


April Issue 22 Ozgen inp4 a climbing session during her2013 stay at the University of South California, in Los Angeles. (Photo Y. Ozakin)


Ozgen brings home a mixture of im-

climbing, yoga and lots of surfing. Sometimes

pressions. “The experience was great,”

I woke up at 5 to surf 2 hours before going to

she explains. “It was an opportunity to

the lab! Crazy, isn’t it?” (ltb)

“We, pillars of research”

Exploring microtubules


ife begins with microtubules. These

segregation of chromosomes during cell division,

long polymers of the protein tubulin al-

was at the centre of some of the liveliest debates,”

low, among other things, spermatozoa

confirms Group Leader Jens Lüders, co-organiser

to move around. They organise the interior of

of The microtubule cytoskeleton in development

the cells and control many key cellular processes,

and disease with Tim Stearns from Stanford Uni-

such as division, the directional transport of pro-

versity, USA.

teins and vesicles, or changes in cell shapes.

Another inspiring subject was how microtu-

All eyes were set on those structural poly-

bules orientate. “Microtubules are polar struc-

mers during the last Barcelona BioMed Con-

tures that function as an organised group and

ference on 18-20 March which was organised

need to be carefully arranged. They also build

in collaboration with the BBVA Foundation.

specialised structures such as cilia. These are like

Among the topics that caught the interest of the

a cell’s antenna, receiving signals that control cell

150 participants were the malfunctions of the

behaviour,” adds Lüders. Despite the tight sched-

microtubule cytoskeleton that can lead to can-

ule, the days ended pleasantly, with warm poster

cer and developmental disorders. “The incorrect

sessions, wine and snacks on the patio of the In-

functioning of the mitotic spindle, which drives

stitut d’Estudis Catalans in Barcelona. (jl)



New PhD Student Council member Jesús Herraiz (Photo L.T. Barone)

esús has the contagious enthusi-

asm of a newcomer. “The Student Council has achieved significant advancements over the years,” says the newly-elected representative for the Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Programme. “Often people associate the Council only with the Cool-off sessions. But it has achieved much more than that: the contribution to printing theses, the topping up of scholarships, the organisation of Student’s Day - a fantastic opportunity to make good use of the interdisciplinary environment to talk about our science, as well as training courses, such as one on public speaking. And we are also going to establish Statutes for the Students.” Jesús combines his scientific passion (“I’m working on the synthesis of a marine peptide, Mayotlide. I hope I can present it at an international symposium in September,” he says proudly) with his desire to change things and connect with people. “We are the pillars of research, prac-

Jens Lüders (left) organised the Barcelona BioMed Conference together with Tim Stearns (Stanford University, not pictured). Also in the picture, Group Leader Cayetano González (right)(Photo L.T. Barone)

First practical sessions for those “crazy” students


he time to begin to put into practice

Anabel-Lise Le Roux’s lab. The other day I was

what has been learnt in theory has fi-

in Bahareh Eftekharzadeh’s lab and I learnt a lot

nally arrived.

about neurodegeneration and her work. Every-

The 24 high school students selected for the

‘Crazy about biomedicine’ project, developed in

thing is so incredibly fascinating!”


tically the arms and hands of the Group Leaders. And we take part in most outreach and communication activities. We play a fundamental role in science and we are the visible faces of the Institute. I hope people get more involved in the activities of the Student Council,” he states. Asked to pick an idea to fight for as representative, Jesús would choose “a


‘Pausenraum,’ like in Germany, a rest area in the Park where one can read a paper or sit in a quiet environment.” (ltb)

collaboration with the Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera, began with high anticipation their rotation through the six labs, covering themes such as DNA damage, cell architecture, neurodegeneration, membrane biophysics, drug discovery through bioinformatics and therapeutic peptides (in the picture). Student Pepe Amich energetically summarises a common feeling. “As always, it is a lot of fun! I loved the lipid sedimentation assay in

in vivo


AprilFrom 2013 Benjamí Oller shows four of the students how to carry out their experiment. left toIssue right: 22 Benjamí, Marc Duque, Sara Ávila, Judit Sanz and Adrián Manzanares. (Photo L.T. Barone)


Global opportunities for IRB Barcelona


usiness leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs dropped in on IRB Barcelona on 22 March to meet our scientists and get a glimpse of the Institute as an important motor for innovation and the economy.

The visit was organised by “Barcelona Global,” a powerful platform of local

ambassadors who aim to showcase the city as an ideal place to attract talent and investment. The tour, which also included stops at the PRBB (Biomedical Research Park Barcelona) and the CRG (Centre for Genomic Regulation), gave participants a chance to see firsthand how research is being done in the city. Among the guests were senior members of the Catalan government including Antoni Castellà, Secretary for University and Research, and Josep Maria Martorell, General Director of Research (both in the photo on the left, sitting in first row). IRB Barcelona director Joan J. Guinovart commented that “if businesspeople were

IN BRIEF Therapeutic peptides On 1 March Group Leader Fernando Albericio gathered around 100 people from industry and academia to discuss peptide-based drug discovery, a promising option for addressing new therapeutic challenges in many diseases. The main advantage of this approach is that new drugs can be produced by chemical synthesis at a low cost and with fewer side effects. The event was part of MemTide, a project that brings together six partners from five European countries.

Ageing and stem cells IRB Barcelona is a partner in a new European project, Early warning signals of ageing in human stem cells and age-related disorders. Patrick Aloy’s group is leading IRB Barcelona’s contribution to the

more aware of the value of our research, we could more easily transfer the knowledge that

collaboration, whose goal is to apply integra-

we generate to the business sector.”

tive systems biology approaches to characterise


After the presentation, the guests met with the scientists working at the Institute. In

the molecular players associated with the physi-

the picture on the right, PhD student Lorena Pereira shares her vision with one of the

ological processes of ageing and age-related dis-


orders. EMBL is coordinating the project.

Young excellence The Spanish Society of Biophysics (SBE) has awarded IRB Barcelona Group Leader and ICREA researcher Xavier Salvatella the ‘Premio Grupo WerfenIzasa-Beckman Coulter.’ The prize is addressed to biophysicists under 40 in recognition of the quality of their research carried out in Spain.

Lluís Ribas’ switch As of April, Lluís Ribas de Pouplana’s group has switched from the Cell and Developmental Biology to the Molecular Medicine Programme, which is more in

Two moments of the Barcelona Global visit. (Photos S. Armengou)

Do you need some English therapy for writing? Then read this article


onsidering the importance of English in

to the test with real examples of poor English usage

science communication and in order to

in science.

enhance the writing skills of members

During a lively three-hour session, eyebrows

of the IRB Barcelona community, the institute

were raised in surprise as Robin masterfully reduced

organised a workshop, given by Robin Rycroft, a

a results section of 193 words to an amazing 9 or 10!

highly experienced scientific text corrector, on 18

And heads were seen nodding in acknowledgement

March for students and post-docs, aiming to provide

of bad habits and common errors.

insights into English usage in science writing.

All those present will certainly think twice

Armed with 55 words, the previous sentence is

about using “demonstrate” (3 syllables) or “show”

an excellent example of how not to write English!

(1 syllable)! In summary, a refreshing insight into the

Guided by the words “clear, crisp, concise, short,

use of English in science.

simple, and true” and previously primed with exercises, the 20 participants’ editing skills were put


in vivo

April 2013

| Issue 22

Robin Rycroft during the class at IRB Barcelona (Photo L.T. Barone)


For practice, see if you can reduce the first sentence to 12 words. (ty)

line with his current research focus.

Flying Dutchmen On 25 and 26 February, a delegation from Nijmegen Centre for Molecular Life Sciences (NCMLS) in the Netherlands visited the Institute. The goal was to establish a strategic collaboration between the two centres. The first consequence is the exchange of students: in May, nine IRB Barcelona students will take part in a retreat organised by the Dutch PhD students.

Science fair On 11 and 12 April, two PhD students and a visiting student from Travis Stracker’s lab took part in the ‘Fira del Coneixement’ in Berga. There they showed a group of interested high school students the secrets of radiotherapy and genomic instability.

Capturing future scientists Oscar Martorell, from Jordi Casanova’s lab, travelled to Madrid in February to participate in Aula 2013, a key fair for education in Spain. His mission? To convince students to become scientists.

School visit 27 high school students from Barcelona visited the Institute on 12 March. Jelena Urosevic showed them the MetLab and how metastasis works. They also visited Marta Vilaseca’s Mass Spectrometry facility.

Treballs de recerca On 20 April

The Clock of Life: everything is on track for the 3rd PhD student Symposium in November


The third edition of the PhD Student Symposium is a top-level scientific meeting organised by PhD students for PhD students.

It is a great occasion to interact with peers in an informal context.


The topics of The Clock of Life are the molecular processes of development, ageing and diseases. “A very appealing theme,” says

Organising Committee member Constanze Shelhorn. “Our speakers will give insights into the factors driving growth, ageing and degenerative diseases. One session will be on how to live longer and better and one on the limits of life spans.”


Participants will have many opportunities to talk to the speakers in a relaxed atmosphere. The Organising Committee is preparing

a round table, tapas with the speakers, and a number of social events. “No one will need to be shy there!”


The deadline for early-bird application is 23 June, the final registration deadline is 23 September. The conference will take

place on 14 and 15 November at ‘La Pedrera’ in Barcelona.


Thirteen PhD students

from IRB Barcelona are in charge of all aspects of the organisation.



people from all five research programmes at IRB Barcelona,” she says. The students are divided into teams, taking care of everything from speakers,

mentoring programme organised by the PCB

venue and catering, to attendees,

and the Fundació Catalunya - La Pedrera took

website and sponsors. “We

place at ‘La Pedrera.’ Three projects, including

have seven sponsors, including

one tutored by Laia Miret, received awards.

a ‘platinum sponsor,’ Sigma-

An experience all PhD students have to go through at the beginning of their stay at IRB

dent-speaker contact is optimal. No one will need to be shy!❞ Constanze Shelhorn, PhD student

interdisciplinarity, we recruited

the closing ceremony for Recerca en Secundaria

Lab rotations

❝We’re going to make sure that stu-


Aldrich.” (ltb)

Working to make sure that everything at the PhD Student Symposium flows smoothly. (Photo L.T. Barone)

IRB Barcelona students among the eight finalists for the first Spanish edition of FameLab

Barcelona is the lab rotation. In the picture,

FameLab is an initiative

taking part for the first time in this inter-

that began at the Chelten-

national competition that challenges scien-

new PhD students and a postdoctoral fellow

ham Science Festival (UK)

tists in a world in which they may not feel

learning about NMR and how to interpret

in 2005. Its aim

protein spectra with Group Leader María J.

was to identi-

Macías in February. “Looking at these data is

fy new talents


among scien-

like looking inside a protein atom by atom,” she says.

tists and educate them to use an Helena and Oriol during their performances. (Photos FECYT)

innovative format to popularise their

science: the scientific monologue. Thanks to the British Council, Famelab has spread to many countries, and now involves around 4000 participants. Spain is

comfortable: communication. Helena González (from Travis Stracker’s lab) and Oriol Marimon (who was at IRB Barcelona until last December) were both selected, along with six others, for the Spanish final, which will take place on 14 May in Madrid. One of them might nal in Cheltenham in June. Good luck!

in vivo Enchanted by the secrets of NMR. (Photo L.T. Barone)


make it to the European fi-

April 2013

| Issue 22

p7 p7

NEW AT IRB BARCELONA Tomomi Hashiyama (Tokyo, 1981) joined Cayetano González’s Cell Division lab as a postdoctoral fellow. Her new adventure at IRB Barcelona has an additional perk: she joins her husband Kazuya, a developmental genetist in the same lab, thus doubling the number of Japanese members at the Institute. She studied in Toho University in Tokyo and holds a PhD in neuroscience from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University. Her specialty was the neuropeptide orexin, a

SPOTLIGHT Laura, checkmating puberty molecules


lies might not get pimples on their faces, but they do go through a “teenage phase”. One of the researchers who discovered that flies go

through puberty is Laura Boulan, a ”La Caixa” PhD student in Marco Milan’s Development and Growth Control lab. She discov-

key factor in the mouse’s circadian rhythm, and analysed the efferent neural

ered that a molecule called bantam drives the transition from larva

pathways of orexin neurons. Her research here will focus on tumourogenesis

to pupa, the phase homologous to human adolescence.

in Drosophila. She has an advantage: her husband tutors her on the secrets of

This discovery relates growth and sexual maturity and may

cancer in fruit flies. “He teaches me kindly,” she reckons. “When I first arrived,

explain why precocious puberty takes place in cases of acceler-

I was a bit afraid of what you hear in the news about Spain and the crisis. But I

ated growth or obesity. Her results were published in March in

love it here. Nice people, nice food, nice weather. And good research. Everyone

Current Biology.

makes me feel comfortable. In Japan the university is crowded and a bit closed.”

Did you always want to be a scientist? Not really! After my studies in biology in Paris, I decided to

IRB Barcelona’s new finance controller Maite

Navarro (Barcelona, 1980) is not a freshman at the Institute. She substituted another position in the same department for seven months last year. “The main advantage is that I

spend a whole year teaching chess to kids. In fact, I still play for a team here in Barcelona. Last year we got promoted to the first division of the Catalan league. But that has always been only a hobby and after that year off I decided to start a PhD. And then you moved to Barcelona…

already knew what to expect,” she notes. “The

In France, if you take one year off, like I did to follow my

thing I love the most here is the constructive

passion for board games, you cannot get a national PhD grant.

and warm working environment: I learnt that it is one of the most important

This is the reason why I started to look for international PhD

things that makes you work better.” And Maite is indeed an extraordinarily hard

programmes and I found IRB Barcelona. The interview was love

worker and gets along well with her colleagues. “Teamwork is very important to

at first sight. Now I know that it was a good decision, both scien-

me, and I like the Finance group here very much.” She studied business admin-

tifically and personally!

istration and specialised in finance administration and in the real estate market.

What next? I still have another project


to complete in Marco’s lab. After that, I plan to move somewhere in Europe for

Drug design specialist Rima Chaudhuri

(Kolkata, 1981) spent two years as a post-

a postdoc position. One of the things I will value most when making the final deci-

doc fellow in the IRB Barcelona - Barcelona

sion will be the research top-

SuperComputing Center Joint Programme. She

ic. So far, I have worked

worked on the application of a novel physics-

with cells, flies and

based method called EDMD (essential dynamics/

mice. But my special

molecular dynamics) in rational drug design and

interest is to model

on determining how to make drugs from structural knowledge of proteins.


She is now at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, work-

nomena in flies

ing in the Diabetes and Obesity Programme, where she is trying to integrate

and then look

multi-omics data and dissect the complexities underpinning a metabolic disease

to see whether

like Type 2 diabetes. “The quality of science and the hard work of scientists

they correspond

at IRB Barcelona is impressive. In Orozco’s group, there was always someone

to what we see in

to consult, which made research go quite smoothly. My friends there probably

other more complex

love Indian traditions more than I do. They adapted very quickly to watching

animals, including hu-

long Bollywood movies with me and eating spicy Indian food.”

mans! (jl)



In vivo, issue 22. Published by the Institute for Research in Biomedicine. Office of Communications & External Relations. Barcelona Science Park. c/Baldiri Reixac, 10. 08028 Barcelona, Spain.  Web: - Facebook: - Twitter: @IRBBarcelona Editors: Luca Tancredi Barone (ltb) and Sarah Sherwood (ss). Contributors: Sònia Armengou (sa), Jordi Lanuza (jl), Tanya Yates (ty). Graphic Production: La Trama. Legal deposit: MU-29-2012. This document has been printed on recycled paper. To subscribe or unsubscribe from in vivo, e-mail: © IRB Barcelona 2013.

In Vivo - Issue 22