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in vivo January 2009


January 2009

Issue 05


Issue 05


Building the architecture of life

IRB Barcelona gets on the project leadership bandwagon

2009 will be a busy year for some IRB Barcelona PhD students. At least until November 2-3, when the first IRB Barcelona PhD student symposium, ‘The Architecture of Life,’ is scheduled to take place.

IRB Barcelona has been granted the coordination of two European projects, making the Institute a leader in Spain, together with the Spanish National Research Council. The EC will grant IRB Barcelona funding of more than 5 million euros from 2009 to 2011.

Staff at the newly created Advanced Digital Microscopy Core Facility have been busy these past months purchasing a wide range of advanced microscopes, which will be soon fully operational to support IRB Barcelona researchers.

Run, IRB Barcelona, run

Faces to Names Interview with American visiting professor Alan Smrcka about his sabbatical year at IRB Barcelona. Page 6



Page 2

Page 3

Page 2

New year, new beginning for Board of Trustees

Enlightening research with new imaging techniques

Getting the inside scoop on science

On March 1, a team of runners from IRB Barcelona will take to the streets to participate in the city's marathon. In addition to putting their endurance to the test, they'll also be raising donations for charity. Support them with a donation and by coming out to cheer them on. For more info on the race, visit


Hey good looking, whatcha got cooking?


From the nanoscale to species hybridization

January 2009


in vivo

Issue 05

IRB Barcelona gets on the project leadership bandwagon The coordination of two European projects makes the Institute a leader in Spain, together with the Spanish National Research Council


he Institute for Research in Biomedicine

anti-malarial compounds. The project, called

has been chosen by the European Com-

Mephitis, will take a look at the formation of

mission to coordinate two European health

proteins in the parasite that are involved in

research projects, as part of the second call of

the transmission of malaria, with the aim to

the VII Framework Programme. This conces-

identify the key components that inhibit this

sion makes IRB Barcelona a leader in Europe-

process and allow the development of anti-

an projects in Spain, together with the Spanish

malarial drugs.

National Research Council. In all, Spanish centres will be heading ten projects.

lar Medicine Programme at IRB Barcelona,

The EC will grant the projects funding

will coordinate a pioneering project on dia-

of more than 5 million euros from 2009 to

betes, a disease described as the epidemic of

2011. Malaria and diabetes will be the topics

the XXI century. The project called MITIN

addressed by the consortia headed by the re-

will be the first time that bioinformatics is

searchers Lluís Ribas de Pouplana and Anto-

applied to obtain information about complex

nio Zorzano, respectively.

diseases such as diabetes, which are the re-

The consortium coordinated by Lluís Antonio Zorzano (right) with other members of the MITIN project during the kick-off meeting held at IRB Barcelona on November 4.

Antonio Zorzano, head of the Molecu-

Ribas de Pouplana, head of the Gene Trans-

sult of a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

lation Laboratory at IRB Barcelona, will ex-

Sònia Armengou

plore a promising line of research to find new

Enlightening research with new imaging techniques


ore than 120 m2 of lab space can be

available in Barcelona,” according to Julien

light microscopy imaging techniques that

filled quickly when you know what

Colombelli, manager of the ADM. “Together

will complement confocal and conventional

you want. Staff at the newly created Advanced

with the growth of IRB Barcelona, this trend

fluorescence microscopy, such as multipho-

Digital Microscopy (ADM) Core Facility

ton imaging, spinning disk confocal or

have been busy these past months purchas-

self-implemented laser nanomanipulation. Photo: R. Solà

ing a wide range of advanced microscopes, which will be soon fully operational to support IRB Barcelona researchers in a wide range of imaging experiments. The new core facility, a joint collabo-

such as 3D visualization. “The unit aims to problem,” says Colombelli. The immediate challenges of the facil-

(PCB), will be equipped with the latest up in a specialized environment, and will

sis software and processing technologies provide more than one solution to every

ration with the Barcelona Science Park computers and imaging technologies, set

The facility will also provide image analy-

ity are to put together a complete team of Julien Colombelli (right) and imaging specialist Lidia Bardia at the ADM.

also offer quick access to a wet bench and

imaging specialists to support IRB Barcelona scientists throughout the full process of imaging. This starts from teaching re-

culture room for critical experiments. “The

should consolidate to reach an expected full

searchers how to maximize microscope us-

ADM will collect the largest number of appli-

capacity and space occupancy by 2011.”

age, to assisting them in experiments and data

cations and instruments within a single unit

The ADM will introduce new advanced


interpretation based on image processing.

January 2009


in vivo

Issue 05

Building the architecture of life


New year, new beginning for Board of Trustees

009 will be a busy year for some IRB

anyone in the planning group. “We have re-

Barcelona PhD students. At least until

cently created working pairs to distribute

November 2-3, when the first IRB Barcelona

jobs, minimize surprises, and handle all the

PhD student symposium, ‘The Architecture

organizational aspects of the event,” says IRB

of Life,’ is scheduled to take place.

Barcelona PhD student Gavin Whissell.

Launched and organized from begin-

The group has already succeeded in ne-

ning to end by the

gotiations with the

PhD student sym-


posium committee,

CosmoCaixa, which

the initiative seeks

will host the event

to bring together

for free, and is now

prestigious speak-

working to final-

ers from around the

ize the budget, the

world to encourage discussions on

The PhD student symposium committee met on January 12 to update each other on the work in progress and current challenges.

a variety of topics


(From left to right) Dídac Ramírez, Miquel Gómez and Jordi Alberch at the Board of Trustees meeting held in January 2009.


RB Barcelona Board of Trustees got off to a fresh start for the new

year on January 15, as they met for

two-day scientific

their annual winter meeting. Veteran

program and the

board members used the occasion to

final list of invited

welcome some newly appointed col-

in biomedicine ranging from the molecular

speakers. “Our immediate challenges now

level up to entire organisms. The goal set by

are to start a communications campaign to

Newly elected University of Barce-

the PhD symposium planning group is to

attract as many participants as possible, and

lona (UB) rector Dídac Ramírez Sarrió

make the program very appealing to attract

to recruit more PhD students to help or-

joins the Board of Trustees as second

an eclectic mass of over 200 international stu-

ganize the event,” say Diana Martinez and

vice-president, replacing Màrius Rubi-

dents interested in all the subareas of the life

Francisco Barriga, members of the planning

ralta, who in April 2008 was appointed


leagues to the group.

team responsible for participant coordina-

Spain's State Secretary for Universi-

Working against the clock and dealing

tion. If you're interested in volunteering, get

ties, and interim acting rector, Josep

with the magnitude of tasks involved in the

in touch with the PhD student committee at

Samitier. Joining Ramírez on the IRB

organization of the event hasn't intimidated

Barcelona's board is Jordi Alberch, the UB's vice-rector for research.

VIEWPOINT — Reflections on the work in progress

Miquel Gómez, head of cabinet of the Catalan Health Ministry since 2006, also joins the board and will serve as president of IRB Barcelona's Executive Board. Gómez' appoint-

Speaker coordination

Venue coordination

Budget coordination

ment follows the departure of José

Roland Pache/ Amelie Stein

Neus Rafel/ Anna Arnal

Mariana Vargas/Duarte Mesquita

Navas, who stepped down from his duties with IRB Barcelona to take up

“Our mission is to look for outstanding speakers. The good news is that some of our top choices have already confirmed. The program is ambitious in that it will cover numerous facets of the architecture of life. Sessions will include DNA and RNA, as well as proteins and cells and up to entire tissues and organisms.”

“After months of negotiations, we've managed to reach an agreement with CosmoCaixa to host the symposium for us. We work as the liaison between the museum and IRB Barcelona, and deal with all the venuerelated aspects, including room allocation, poster session coordination, catering and communications.”

“We're scientists, but we're not scared of finances! Working on budget details is a bit tedious, but definitely worth it as a learning process. It's a skill that will help us in our future careers. We've been very lucky to have the commitment and support of IRB Barcelona to help us out with the financing of the event.”


the position of General Director of the Carlos III Heath Institute (ISCIII) in Madrid in October of last year. As founding members of IRB Barcelona, the University of Barcelona and the Parc Científic de Barcelona, together with the Government of Catalunya, make important contributions to help shape the development of IRB Barcelona's activities.

January 2009


in vivo

Issue 05

Getting the inside scoop on science during Science Week 2008


ver wondered what a gigantic com-

nuclear magnetic resonance to take a look

puter could possibly have to do with

at the structures of tiny proteins. She also

human health, how a little girl from Zamo-

animated the youngsters with stories about

ra ended up dedicating her life to looking

how she got interested in science and de-

at really, really small things, or whether it's

cided to become a researcher.

possible to get a PhD degree in a day? The

Other activities, organized jointly with

week of November 14-23, 2008 was your

the Parc Científic de Barcelona, included

chance to find out as IRB Barcelona re-

the ‘Doctorate Express’ where participants

searchers opened their doors to the public

learned how a doctoral research project is

and participated in activities organized for

carried out and then visited labs and scien-

Science Week '08. The schedule for the week was superpacked. Montse Soler, director of the joint

Experimental Bioinformatics Laboratory director Montse Soler (second from right) demonstrates the latest techniques in proteomics research during Science Week 2008.

IRB Barcelona/Barcelona Supercomput-

tific services to hunt for clues to get their own degrees. In a separate activity, PhD students Carme Cortina and Elisa Espinet from IRB Barcelona's Colorectal Cancer

ing Center Experimental Bioinformatics

most potent supercomputers in the world

Research group led a hands-on activity

Laboratory, explained how two seemingly

to answer fundamental questions about

about their work to identify some of the

separate areas of activity - computer sci-

human health, and then followed up with a

genes involved in cancer.

ence and biomedical research - can achieve

tour of the state-of-the-art facilities.

Science Week is an annual event, spon-

amazing things when put together. She

Group Leader Maria Macías visited a

sored by the Catalan Foundation for Re-

demonstrated how biomedical research-

public school in Badalona to talk about

search and Innovation. Events are open to

ers are harnessing the power of one of the

the work she does using a method called

the public and free of charge.

A work of cover art


AECC visits MetLab

RB Barcelona research at the interface between

chemistry and systems biology graced the cover of November 2008 issue of Nature Chemical Biology. The image is an artistic




Different tions



interactome. constella-



sent proteins, multiprotein complexes and pathways, and






between the elements. A second layer on top of the intricate network includes information about small molecule interactions. The cover was created by Patrick Aloy (IRB Barcelona) in collaboration with


sabel Orbe Martínez Avial and María de la Mora Areitio from the Spanish Association for Cancer Research (AECC) visited Roger Gomis and IRB Barcelona's MetLab in November to get a first-hand look at the progress being made in the group's research on cancer metastasis. The MetLab received a 300,000 euro grant in 2008 from the AECC to study the molecular mechanisms behind metastasis of breast cancer to the lung. “This project is a wonderful example of collaboration between clinical and basic research centers which aims to translate research results into direct benefits for patients,” says de la Mora Areitio.

colleagues from Anaxomics Biotech SL.


January 2009


in vivo

Issue 05

Hey good looking, whatcha got cooking?

Getting things off to a good start


hat better way to ring in the new academic year than with a big old fiesta? IRB Barcelona members welcomed this year's class of PhD students to the community for some fun and celebration at the PhD Student Welcome Party, held in the Movistar tent, adjacent to the PCB buildings, on October 16. The party provided a chance for students to get to know one another in a relaxed atmosphere and to gear up for the busy years of research that lay Photo: M. Gavaldà Performances at the party included L'Atelier, featuring IRB Barcelona's own Carles Martínez

Photos: A. Puerto, S. Serra


t was an epicurean's delight at the an-

tradition, the lunch was followed by a ‘Caga

nual IRB Barcelona Christmas Party. Re-

Tió’ led by IRB Barcelona director Joan

searchers from across the lab traded in their

Guinovart, with special gifts generously of-

lab coats for aprons and got down to some

fered by Sigma Aldrich and the Sant Hilari

serious cooking as part of the activities orga-

de Sacalm resort. And in the Christmas spirit

nized for the event, held on December 17 at

of giving, donations totalling nearly 1,300

the Sant Hilari de Sacalm resort, located in

euros were collected and given to the Casal

the nearby Montseny mountains.

d'Infants del Raval.

Teams composed of members from

Judging by the smiling faces - and the

across the Institute got to know each other

absence of cases of food poisoning - the day

as they sliced and diced learned how to make

was deemed a great success. Thanks to ex-

traditional Catalan dishes. As a reward (or

pert event organizer Meritxell Gavaldà for

perhaps punishment), the chefs-for-a-day

making it all happen. A collection of photos

then sat down to a Christmas lunch where

of the party is available at http://picasaweb.

they sampled the fruits of their labor. As per


ahead. Light refreshments helped get the crowd ready for performances by the musical groups L'Atelier and Brigada Cobalto, featuring IRB Barcelona's own Carles Martínez (Guinovart group) and Sergio Palomo (Batlle group), respectively. Dj Gwaine then entertained the crowd with his mixing skills until the wee hours. After the party, the new PhD students went straight back to the lab to start work on their theses.

Forging new ties


esearchers from IRB Barcelona and the Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS) met on January 22 to mark the first in a series of seminars, organized as part of the newly created Institut d'Investigació Sanitària Clínic-IDIBAPS. The initiative aims to foster collaborations between scientists at participating basic and clinical research centers in order to promote translational research. The first meeting focussed on projects related to cancer.

January 2009


in vivo

Issue 05



Awarded for breakthrough research on metastasis

Alan Smrcka. Visiting professor, IRB Barcelona group on

IRB Barcelona Adjunct Director Joan Massagué received on December 13 the “Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research” given by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Massagué was selected for this award for the impact of his studies on the metastasis of breast cancer to the lung. A leading expert in cancer metastasis and head of the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Massagué has devoted more than twenty years to elucidating the role of the TGFBeta protein in cell growth and division.

“Many great ideas in science are processed in the subconscious”

The research carried out by IRB Barcelona Principal Investigator Miquel Pons recently passed the critical eye of a panel of more than one hundred evaluation experts. ‘La Marató de TV3 Foundation’ selected Pons on November 25 to head a three-year research study on key proteins linked to abnormal heart growth. The Foundation will devote more than 7 million euros to fund a total of 26 research projects that address cardiovascular diseases.

Among the most influential IRB Barcelona Director and Adjunct Director Joan Guinovart and Joan Massagué made it for a fourth consecutive year into the ranking of the top 25 most influential scientists in Spain, published this January by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. Guinovart was chosen for his pioneering work on diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases, and Massagué for his breakthrough research on metastasis.

Photo: S. Sherwood

Green light to study key proteins in heart diseases

Design, Synthesis and Structure of Peptides and Proteins


Alan Smrcka (New York, 1958) has taken a break from his teaching and research duties at the University of Rochester to spend a sabbatical year working at IRB Barcelona in the Design, Synthesis and Structure of Peptides and Proteins group. A professor in pharmacology, physiology, oncology, biochemistry and biophysics, he was honored by the Wilmot Cancer Center in 2007 for his research into protein and cell interactions targeting new therapies for cancer and heart diseases. - Why Barcelona for your sabbatical year? “My wife and two children wanted to go somewhere out of America where we could get not only a scientifically enriching experience but also a cultural one. I started looking at the type of research that was being done in Barcelona with the idea that if I couldn't find really good science, we wouldn't take the step. I came across Ernest Giralt's work at IRB Barcelona, and I was very impressed with what I saw. It put to rest any reservations I had about leaving my own lab.” - For instance?

Alan Smrcka (left) during the interview in the PCB Cafeteria.

- That's quick ... “The secret in science is to be excited about what you're doing to keep your motivation going. You shouldn't give up just because it gets tough.” - Have you ever given up? “Sometimes you have no choice. When you get stuck for too long you have to be willing to give up on certain short-term goals to find your way around and get to where you want it to go.”

“Mainly to do cutting-edge research and be - How do you get the overall picture when able to take new research ideas back home.” all you have is scattered data? - Is one year enough time? “I'm a strong believer that many great ideas “My goal is to develop a new method for looking at G-protein dynamics through mass spectrometry and amino spectroscopy in order to target heart diseases, inflammation and pain medication. I think there's a really good chance of succeeding. We have already very exciting data showing that the methods we're using will work.”


in science are processed in the subconscious outside the lab, when you stop focusing about specific problems you have to solve. It's happened to me a number of times to have come up with keen ideas after subconsciously thinking about them. Even when I'm sleeping the scattered data I've collected in the back of my head is being processed!”

January 2009


in vivo

Issue 05



Team building in the cold More than thirty researchers from the IRB Barcelona Molecular Programme traveled to Vall de Núria in the Pyrenees at the end of October to spend two days together. The reason? The annual programme retreat, a team-building activity conceived to promote interaction among the research groups, as well as exchange of ideas and scientific goals. Full days of science were combined with time off to enjoy the mountains and breathe clean air.

Special guest editor for SEBBM IRB Barcelona press officer Sònia Armengou recently put her journalistic and editing skills to work by contributing to the December issue of the Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM)'s magazine. Invited as a special editor, Sònia coordinated and edited the journal's special section dedicated to Women in Science.

The calm after the fire IRB Barcelona Director Joan Guinovart crossed the Atlantic ocean to visit the construction site of the Faculty of Sciences at the Austral University of Chile on November 20. Invited by the vice-chancellor as a token of thanks for the continued support received from IRB Barcelona, Guinovart took a guided tour of the facilities to see the reconstruction work with his own eyes. The last time he had visited the university was in December 2007, soon after the ferocious fire had devoured the faculty.

From the nano scale to species hybridization Entrepreneurial researchers undertake a vast range of projects at the PCB-Santander Bioincubator


nventors study how to perform tasks in

medical Research Unit at the Vall d’Hebrón

an easier, faster or efficient manner. This

Hospital, which on observing how research

objective is shared by many researchers and

performed in hospitals provided knowledge

especially by the two partners who set up

of high added value, decided to set up a com-

Sabirmedical, a start-up initiative that arose

pany to facilitate the transfer of this know-

from a friendship established during an Er-

how. Transbiomed develops diagnostic kits

asmus grant and that has recently joined

for hormone-dependent cancers, diabetes and

the PCB-Santander Bioincubator. Experts

other diseases to facilitate early detection and

in medical engineering, Víctor Llorente and

disease monitoring. The founding partners are

Vicent Ribas, set up the company in January

Jaume Reventós and biologists Raimón Forés,

2007, but have been working for much lon-

Miquel Abal and Andreas Doll.

ger in the development of expert systems.

Another enterprise that joined the Bioin-

These systems seek to improve methods and

cubator in 2008 is Agrasys, an initiative pro-

instruments used for diagnosis and medi-

moted by two researchers, Pilar Barceló and

cal care, as well as those used to measure

Paul Lazzeri, who have formed a partnership

physiological parameters, such as glucose

both personally and professionally, and have

concentration in blood, blood pressure and

worked together for more than 20 years in

even the amount of milk that a newborn can

several public and private centres and compa-

drink from each of his mother's breasts.

nies around the world. They have settled in

Like them, the team at Endor Nano-

Barcelona and have expressed great satisfac-

technologies grew from a friendship, in this

tion with their choice. Applying techniques

case between a physicist, Joaquim Querol,

such as classical genetics, species hybridiza-

and an MBA economist, Javier Fernán-

tion and biotechnology, the company focuses

dez. The company performs R+D projects

its activities on new varieties of plants to de-

in the field of nanotechnology applied to

velop new functional foods and biofuels. The

biomedicine and cosmetics, which have re-

team includes researchers at CSIC who play a

sulted in specific applications in this mar-

key role in project development.

ket. “One of the most significant moments

With these new members, and Aleria

for the team —explains Querol— was the

Biodevices, which joined the PCB-Santander

day that Infinitec Activos showed us a

Bioincubator in 2009, the facility now boasts

sample of anti-aging cream that they sell

14 companies. The Bioincubator is a small-scale

and that provides the active ingredient by

example of the growth and variety of projects

means of nanoparticles that we have devel-

developed in Catalonia in the biotech sector

oped at Endor.” This entrepreneurial spirit

and evidence that the entrepreneurial culture

has also been at the heart of Transbiomed,

among researchers is gaining ground.

which arose from a hospital setting. The initiative was taken by a team in the Bio-


Carme Pérez, PCB

January 2009


in vivo

Issue 05

SPOTLIGHT Stars for a day


RB Barcelona researchers Laura Nocito, Marc Liesa and Dèlia Zafra proved to be good at handling the pressure of being filmed on November 7. Their mentoring experience to students who had carried their research project at the Institute was chosen to be part of an online video library of interviews and educational material for a new web channel the Ersilia Foundation will release this February. The three researchers spent over two hours with the Ersilia team answering questions in front of the camera.

NEW AT IRB BARCELONA Zhanna Shcheprova (Russia, 1981) has recently moved from Switzerland to Barcelona for personal and professional reasons. Her decision to choose the Cell Division Laboratory at IRB Barcelona to work as a postdoctoral fellow was motivated by the lab's research direction and the working atmosphere. Her challenges are now to get familiar working with Drosophila in order to study the mechanisms of rejuvenation and achieving immortality in certain types of cells. There's no doubt she's qualified to dig into this area of research. Zhanna's work on rejuvenation in yeast during her PhD studies was so impressive that it made it into Nature magazine last year.

Katharina Kreymborg (Germany, 1980) decided not to move to the United States to work as a postdoctoral fellow because she was convinced that research possibilities in Europe were very strong. A biologist with a PhD in neuroimmunology, she has recently joined Eduardo Soriano's research group at IRB Barcelona attracted by the wide range of areas of expertise within the laboratory, and also by the challenge of working for the first time in her life in the field of neurology.

Sònia Saborit (Spain, 1975) has proven to be good at dealing (Front) Marc Liesa and his two students were the first ones to stand in front of the camera. In the background, Dèlia (right) and Laura (second right).

- What was the filming experience like? “We were a bit shy at first—it was the first time we were taped and interviewed together! It turned out to be a fun and original experience to take a break from our routine.” - What kind of questions were you asked? “They digged into the details and conclusions of the research work carried out by the students we had mentored as part of the PCB programme ‘Tutoring for Secondary School Students.’ - What have you learned from tutoring? “Participating in this kind of initiative has helped us to improve our teaching skills. It's very rewarding to see how students show interest and get excited about the learning process.” - What's your advice for students? “The key to enjoy and succeed in their work is to choose a subject they really like, always ask a lot of questions, and keep in mind that patience is the key, as experiments don't always work at first.”

with walk-in appointments. Since she started her new position as Project and Grant Officer in November, many IRB Barcelona researchers have stopped by her desk searching for answers about project and grant applications. Sònia is in charge of disseminating grant calls and providing support in funding applications, drawing up internal procedures for project evaluation, and coordinating institutional grants. She holds a degree in Philosophy and a Master of Business Administration, and carries many years of experience in project management for research centers in Barcelona.

ON THE MOVE David Vilchez (Spain, 1978) has made a new year's resolution: the commitment to change his lifestyle. After five years of work toward his thesis in the Metabolic Engineering and Diabetes Therapy group, he's now moving to San Diego to work as a postdoctoral research associate at the Salk Institute. He's leaving with mixed feelings about saying goodbye to his coworkers and optimism about what the future holds. “Some times stirring up life is good for career advancement in science,” he says.

Marc Liesa (Spain, 1981) will be moving abroad in March to start new research work at the Boston University Medical Center. He sees his change as an opportunity to complete his training as a scientist in a city known for its high level of research activity per square kilometer. He's leaving IRB Barcelona with his Doctor title under his arm after having successfully completed his thesis on the role of mitochondrial dynamics under the supervision of Principal Investigator Antonio Zorzano.

Published by the Institute for Research in Biomedicine. Office of Communications & External Relations. Parc Científic de Barcelona.  Baldiri Reixac, 10. 08028 Barcelona, Spain. Editor: Anna Alsina. Associate Editor: Sarah Sherwood. Contributors: Sònia Armengou, Carme Pérez. Design: Aymerich Comunicació. Printing: La Trama. Legal deposit: B-30893-2009. © IRB Barcelona 2009

IRB Barcelona - InVivo 5 - January 2009  

This is an online publication of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona). Please, visit our webpage at www.irbbarcelona.or...

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