BLOC Experts: Interview with Vicent Ribas

BLOC is a European Project that brings together different academic and industrial partners to improve a new technology that integrates tissue engineering and magnetic resonance spectroscopy using dynamic nuclear polarisation (DNP-MR), to monitor diabetes and liver diseases.

Dr. Vicent is a biochemist with a strong background in the study of metabolism. The last years he dedicated his research to understand the impact of metabolic diseases on liver function, using animal and cellular models. His knowhow is crucial for BLOC project, where he validates and interprets the measurements of DNP-NMR with in vivo models of metabolic diseases. You can check here a short video, where he describes his role in BLOC project and shows some of the work he is carrying out at IDIBAPS, and an interview where he explains in more detail some aspects of his professional profile and other topics related to the project.

1) Can you describe yourself in a couple of lines?

I am a biochemist originally from Ibiza in Balearic Islands. During my career I have been interested in metabolism and how it affects our quality of life. First, I did my PhD at the Hospital Sant Pau in Barcelona on atherosclerosis. Then I performed a postdoc at the IRB Barcelona studying diabetes and I moved to the UCLA in California for four years, where I was studying the gender-specific differences in the metabolic syndrome. Afterwards, in the last eight years, I have been investigating on how metabolic diseases impact on liver function and how can drive cancer.  For all these research studies I generated and used different models such as genetically engineered mice, cells or virus, and also with clinical data from human subjects.

2) What is your role/position within BLOC?

Given my experience in animal and cellular models for metabolic disease my role as a postdoctoral scientist is to obtain and describe in vivo models of metabolic diseases to check and validate if the measurements of DNP-NMR can detect these metabolic disturbances and how to interpret these results for the evaluation of the disease and its treatments.

3) Could you tell us a little bit about the concrete work you are involved in inside BLOC project? What are you currently working on/which experiments are you carrying out?

Right now I’m mainly involved in two different lines of research. First, there is a line working on in vivo experiments where I am evaluating type two diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease mouse models for their use in the DNP-NMR to detect meaningful changes in the metabolism in live animals. Second, along with some of other scientists of the BLOC project, I’m working on setting up in advanced engineered in vitro models of these metabolic diseases in cultured cells to make them to be as similar to the original tissue and design them to fit into the system to use in the DNP-NMR analysis.

4) What are the expected results? What is the expected impact of the work you are doing? Why is this relevant for the project/for the goal of the project?

We need to have reliable and reproducible models to detect the changes in metabolism that are relevant in the metabolic disease and therefore validate the results that we obtain with the DNP-NMR. We expect to have a range of different animal models to check these metabolic fluxes and also different engineered in vitro cultured cells that are able to recapitulate these changes. These models will be very important both to validate this new technology but also to have reliable models for the study by DNP-NMR of human metabolic diseases.

5) How do you feel about being a part of this European Project? How is it to work with other partners around Europe?

I feel very excited to work in this multidisciplinary team because it broadens your point of view of the scientific challenges. I worked in academic, clinic and basic science projects before; however, I find this particular project very interesting because it combines biochemistry, biotechnology and engineering, so I’m learning a whole new vision. Working in this integrative environment brings new opportunities, new perspectives and revolutionary solutions that would be impossible otherwise.

 

The other members of the BLOC Consortium are: IBEC, Oxford Instruments and Multiwave Technologies.
If you want to know more about the project and the other partners, check the BLOC project webpage.

A new scaffold allows pancreatic islets to adopt spheroid-like architecture in vitro

BLOC co-coordinator Javier Ramón from IBEC led a work recently published in the Journal Biofabrication describing a new technology that increases the performance of pancreatic cells grown in vitro and induces their organization in β-cell clusters, similarly to the spheroid-like structures found in vivo. This new technology will be crucial to develop BLOC’s benchtop NMR to study metabolic diseases as diabetes. 

Pancreatic islets are responsible for maintaining glucose homeostasis by secreting the hormones insulin and glucagon. When cells from peripheral tissues cannot properly use this insulin, an imbalanced situation occurs that may end with the development of type 2 diabetes, characterized by an excess of glucose. This chronic metabolic disorder is considered a global pandemic affecting more than 400 million people worldwide. Despite its prevalence, research in this field have been classically based on the use of monolayer cell cultures that do not accurately reproduce the in vivo physiology of pancreatic islets, limiting to reveal naturally occurring processes and reducing the consistency of in vitro experiments.

To face these constraints, researchers led by Javier Ramon developed a scaffold based on carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) cryogels, improving its mechanical and physical properties when compared to gelatin-based scaffolds. This new scaffold allows to engineer pancreatic cells, generating β-cell clusters and creating specific range pseudoislets. In summary, they can reproduce in vitro the round-shaped cell aggregations of around 100 µm in diameter that form the pancreatic islets. Besides these advantages, the new scaffold also increases the cell viability for up to 7 days and the response to glucose over conventional monolayer cultures.

Immunostaining of mouse primary pancreatic islets within a 1% CMC-scaffold stained for insulin (red), Ki67 (white) and nuclei (DAPI). Aminofluorescein was used to stain the fibers of the cryogel (green).

The new scaffold developed in this work is a key point to attain the main objective of BLOC project, as it will allow to satisfactorily engineer the pancreatic islets that will be used in the benchtop nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to study metabolic diseases as diabetes. The use of a suitable 3D tissue engineering system makes possible to precisely position the cells to simulate the native structure of the tissue under study.

 

 

Reference article: Cellulose-based scaffolds enhance pseudoislets formation and functionality. Ferran Velasco-Mallorquí; Júlia Rodríguez-Comas and Javier Ramón-Azcón. 2021. Biofabrication 13, 035044.

You can read the complete publication here:
Cellulose-based scaffolds enhance pseudoislets formation and functionality – IOPscience

 

Irene Marco-Rius launches her own research group as principal investigator

The coordinator of BLoC project, Irene Marco-Rius, has been recently selected to participate in the new “la Caixa” Foundation – BIST Chemical Biology Programme and begin her own research group as principal investigator, the “Molecular Imaging for Precision Medicine group”.

The young talent and research excellence of Irene Marco-Rius has recently been recognized by the “la Caixa” Foundation – BIST Chemical Biology Programme, a new programme that aims to launch a powerful research programme in chemical biology, and to attract talent through the creation of a hub in Barcelona focused on this discipline. Irene is a physicist, holds a PhD on magnetic resonance spectroscopy by the University of Cambridge, and has an international profile that counts with several stays in the USA and in different European countries. Through this programme, started last April, she will receive funding to begin her own research group as principal investigator at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC). Her laboratory, named “Molecular Imaging for Precision Medicine group”, will focus on developing innovative molecular imaging technologies to diagnose diseases and assess early response to treatments.

My research focuses on developing technology to diagnose disease and evaluate response to treatment without any pain and without the need for a biopsy. In fact, we use a magnetic resonance imaging device that allows us to monitor chemical reactions and informs us on the health status of the cells inside the human or animal body, or in bioengineered tissues.

A new chapter in the scientific trajectory of Irene is beginning now, and this change implies that from now on she will assume the coordination of BLoC project as principal investigator, while Professor Javier Ramón will continue his participation as co-coordinator.

About the “la Caixa” Foundation – BIST Chemical Biology Programme

The idea behind this newly created “la Caixa” Foundation – BIST Chemical Biology Programme is to take advantage of the very developed biopharmaceutical sector present in the region of Barcelona to establish new multidisciplinary chemical-biology research lines that will culminate with the development of novel biomedical approaches and innovative drugs to treat diseases. Chemical biology applies the quantitative techniques of chemistry to the study of biological processes that occur in living organisms, being a research area with high relevance for the field of medicine.

la Caixa” Foundation supports excellent research in health and biomedicine in Spain and Portugal stimulating innovation and the transfer of knowledge from the laboratories to new treatments and solutions for patients. The foundation acts by promoting generation of new knowledge in key biomedical areas and the improvement of medical and clinical practice. They also support basic research and the dissemination of the results to the society.

On the other hand, the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST) is a leading institution of multidisciplinary research formed by seven Catalan research centres of excellence, including IBEC. BIST aims to promote excellent research in a multidisciplinary environment, fostering collaboration among the members of this diverse scientific community to become a global reference for training outstanding research talent and to maximize science impact in society.

The Chemical Biology Programme initiative aims to attract talent from the field of chemical biology and to create an ecosystem that fosters research excellence in improving health.

 

BLOC Project: towards a new technology to monitor diseases

An article about BLOC project was recently published on Cordis EU Research Results. It gives an overview of the project, including the technology and proof-of-concept, and talks about its innovative aspects and how the results can impact on biomedicine and reach the society.

BLOC project is creating an innovative technology to monitor diseases and cellular responses to various stimuli, using dynamic nuclear polarisation (DNP-MR) techniques and a benchtop nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer. Researchers are working on a piece of equipment to observe the metabolism of tissues engineered with cells in an easy and non-invasive way, filling the actual gap in metabolic studies that use simple 2D in vitro cell cultures.

© Oxford Instruments

Imagine that your doctor could observe the response of your own cells to a specific drug during a routine consultation. The doctor could test if the treatment you apparently need will have the expected effect and know your body’s reaction in advance. By doing so, lots of time (and money) would be saved, but more importantly, it could mean a considerable reduction of secondary effects for you and choosing the right drug for you. It seems science fiction, but it is closer than you might think.

BLOC is a European project that is working towards enabling precisely that. A consortium composed of different European academic and industrial partners is developing new technology to study the metabolism of tissues in real time.

New technology to see the metabolism in real time

To fully utilize biological systems, it is crucial to understand the systems’ complexity from molecular to multi-organ level. Pharmaceutical industry relies heavily on in vivo animal models and in vitro two-dimensional (2D) cell cultures to develop therapeutic strategies. There are many ethical issues surrounding experimentation in animals, and also serious concerns regarding their biological relevance, because the capacity to extrapolate animal model data to human conditions is limited.

Although current in vitro tissues are useful to study molecular and cellular processes, there are some limitations as they do not cover the complexity of the physiological microenvironment in which cells grow. Current 2D tissue models often do not simulate complex cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, crucial for regulating cell behaviours in vivo. Due to these shortcomings, there is now substantial interest and need in developing fully functional 3D tissues that closely mimic the in vivo system for disease modelling and chemical testing, such as bioengineered organs.

BLOC will develop new technology based on a benchtop nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer and dynamic nuclear polarisation (DNP-MR) for metabolic readout of 3D in vitro models to monitor disease and evaluate responses to different stimulus. The use of a 3D tissue engineering approach renders precise positioning of cells and defines cells’ interactions with their surrounding environment, mimicking the 3D structure of native tissue constructs. The novelty of this technology is the use of a small NMR spectrometer that can fit in any bioengineering laboratory and dissolution DNP, which increases the MR signal of endogenous 13C-labelled metabolites by a factor of more than 10,000 relative to the physiological background. Metabolites hyperpolarised by DNP and injected into cells and tissues enable real-time quantitative assessment of metabolite flux and spatial distribution non-invasively.

Diabetes and liver diseases as proof-of-concept

Diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are significantly increasing worldwide. NAFLD is strongly associated with obesity, insulin resistance and dyslipidaemia. On the other side, type 2 diabetes, the most common form of this disease (90–95% of cases), is preceded by a prediabetic stage characterised by insulin resistance. Despite the high prevalence of both diseases, there are currently no methods to predict their metabolic onset, disease progression and treatment efficacy. A key step to face this problem is to develop a technology able to provide precise diagnostic and metabolic analysis at an economically affordable cost.

As a proof-of-concept, BLOC project will fabricate a biomimetic model composed of liver cells and pancreatic islets and develop the necessary benchtop NMR hardware and software to study such metabolic diseases. The study of the crosstalk between different cell populations in the liver and pancreas would broaden our understanding of complex systems contributing to metabolic diseases. BLOC technology is expected to be available for society in the next few years.

 

Keywords
health, tissues, NMR, research, technology, cells

BLOC Experts: Interview with Alba Herrero

BLOC is a European Project that brings together different academic and industrial partners to improve a new technology that integrates tissue engineering and magnetic resonance spectroscopy using dynamic nuclear polarisation (DNP-MR), to monitor diabetes and liver diseases.

Alba Herrero is a research assistant working at IBEC in the frame of BLOC. Her background and previous research experience in multidisciplinary fields add high value to the project! You can check here a short video where she briefly describes a typical work day in the lab., and also an interview where she explains in more detail some aspects of her professional profile and her role in BLOC project. Enjoy it!

1) Can you describe yourself in a couple of lines?

My name is Alba Herrero Gómez, and I am originally from Terrassa, Barcelona. I moved to New Jersey in 2015 to study a BS in Biochemistry and play basketball in the university’s team. During my time at Georgian Court University, I joined a research laboratory on analytical chemistry and developed a project focused on NMR and Raman spectroscopy. When I graduated, I moved to New York to study a Master’s in Biotechnology, and I became a professor at the university for the Biology department. During my time at the College of Staten Island I joined a Cancer research lab and developed a multidisciplinary project on Photodynamic Therapy in cancer cells. When I graduated, I moved back home and started a Research Assistant position at IBEC to work on the tissue engineering aspect of the BLOC project.

2) What is your role/position within BLOC?

I work on the tissue engineering part of the BLOC project. I am working on developing the liver model to study diabetes and NAFLD metabolism. While working on the liver model I collaborate with the engineering team to develop ways to reduce the strain on the cells involved in the experiment. We aim to troubleshoot shortcomings from our system to make our platform as efficient as possible for DNP-NMR analysis.

3) Could you tell us a little bit about the concrete work you are involved in inside BLOC project? What are you currently working on/which experiments are you carrying out?

One of the main challenges is to develop a physiologically accurate liver model for disease study that is compatible with the DNP-NMR technique and allows for cell growth and survival. So far, we are testing the viability of the cells, structural distribution, and metabolic activity inside the model. The challenge I am tackling right now is to induce NAFLD and diabetes on the healthy cells while keeping as many physiological functions as possible, focusing the accuracy and reproducibility of the model. Since the model presents such a challenge itself, it is important to simplify the modeling technique as much as possible to make the procedure accessible without losing physiological fidelity.

4) What are the expected results?

We expect to have a physiologically accurate model that is compatible with DNP-NMR and other spectroscopic and imaging techniques for diagnosis. We also expect to develop a system that reduces the strain on cells during the experiment while allowing for an efficient data acquisition and analysis.

5) What is the expected impact of the work you are doing? Why is this relevant for the project/for the goal of the project?

With an efficient tissue engineering model, we will be able to further develop our data acquisition technique and obtain biologically relevant results, reducing the need to use laboratory animals for the validation of our results in vivo. Creating a benchtop NMR platform and making it accessible will allow for the easy use of NMR in the laboratories that choose to use this technology for their studies, helping spread knowledge about NMR and its multiple functionalities.

6) How do you feel about being a part of this European Project? How is it to work with other partners around Europe?

Being part of such a multidisciplinary project is both challenging and exciting. All the researchers involved in the project bring something to the table and even though we come from different scientific fields and backgrounds is empowering to be able to find solutions together and share our knowledge to develop the project.

 

The other members of the BLOC Consortium are: Oxford Instruments, Multiwave Technologies and IDIBAPS.
If you want to know more about the project check the BLOC webpage.

BLOC Experts: Interview with Irene Marco-Rius and Javier Ramón Azcón, coordinators of BLOC

BLOC is a European Project that brings together different academic and industrial partners to improve a new technology that integrates tissue engineering and magnetic resonance spectroscopy using dynamic nuclear polarisation (DNP-MR), to monitor diabetes and liver diseases.

Irene and Javier talked about their work and involvement in the project, and shared with us some personal feelings and opinions about the project and the future of this new technology.

1) What is your role within BLoC and what does it entail?

Irene:
We are the coordinators of the BLOC Consortium and that implies bringing all the team together. It means making sure that all work packages and all the partners are working towards the same goal, organizing regular and review meetings, writing reports, ensuring that the communication with the European Commission is fluent and regular, and of course contributing with scientific ideas.
Besides being coordinators of the project, we are also the scientific leaders of the specific work packages of the projects that are being developed at IBEC in our research groups.

Javier:
As coordinators we always have these 2 missions: to take care of the full project and to put all the small pieces of each work package and partners together to have the big picture of the work.

2) Could you tell us a little bit about the concrete work you are involved in inside BLOC project?

Irene:
Within the consortium, our workpackage is the link between the biological model and the new technology. From a biological point of view, the project focuses on two disease models: one is the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and the other one is diabetes. We want to see the changes in metabolic reactions these diseases induce.
From a tissue engineering point of view, we are lucky to count with Javi’s experience and knowledge. On the other hand, my scientific background in molecular imaging serves as a good starting point to assess what parameters are needed to have a good match between tissue engineering and NMR.

Javier:
Our main contribution to the project is to join some pieces that usually are not together, not integrated, as tissue engineering and NMR technology. We are the bridge between the technology and the biological part.
Related to science, I can say that Irene has a lot of experience in NMR and nuclear polarization, and in in vivo and cell experiments, which are crucial to develop the project. Besides, in our lab, we already had previous experience in working with tissue engineering by using similar models. This helped a lot to start the project!

3) What is the expected impact of the work you are doing and of the project as a whole?

Irene:
The impact to the whole consortium is that we will develop a portable machine, a benchtop device, that any tissue engineering lab, environmental research facility or company can potentially use. Anyone that needed this technology could have it in their laboratory, or even in their office space, if they wanted! An easy-to-use machine with minimal maintenance cost!

Javier:
At the end of the project, we want to have a new machine that everyone can use, and that is accessible for anyone, even for people who do not have too much experience or training in NMR technology. We expect at least three different areas to be impacted by our project:

  • Commercial: this machine can be easily commercialized (user-friendly and economically accessible)
  • Society: we will develop a new machine to study metabolic diseases and help people by studying highly prevalent diseases. Moreover, the use of tissue engineering will reduce animal experimentation in clinical trials.
  • Scientific and technological: we will have a new tool to make some studies that were not possible before. Using human models in tissue engineering instead of animal models will reduce possible biological differences with human biology for the pharma industry.

4) What are some of the things you have found easy/challenging to work with in this project?

Irene:
Finding the best model that replicates human physiology in the lab is quite hard. Additionally, we want to find the simplest working model, so other people can use it easily, in a fast and reproducibly way in the lab. This is very challenging!

Javier:
We must find a compromise: we need cell models that work in a way that we can easily reproduce to have a standard system suitable to do lots of experiments, but at the same time, we need a model that mimics as much as possible the functionalities of the in vivo human system. In summary, we need a compromise between a good and easy model to standardize the machine.

5) How do you see the future of this technology?

Irene:
I see a brilliant future! We are still at the beginning of the project, but in 1 year we have made a lot of progress. We do think that at the end of the project we will have achieved the objective of having a prototype of this benchtop NMR machine. And only time can tell if we will be able to have more efficient tissue engineering models, use the benchtop NMR spectrometer to understand other diseases or whether it will be used in other areas such as environmental sciences.

Javier:
There are so many potential applications for this machine, that for the moment we are not sure of which will be the final ones. Once we have the machine, we may have lots of potential projects and applications to use it, which will in turn validate our system in different technological and research fields. Toward the end of the project we will have a clearer view of the potential uses of this new technology.

6) Do you have any lessons to share?

Irene:
This is a very ambitious and challenging project that can only be done with a multidisciplinary team,  where all the partners involved have different skills, are motivated to make it happen and push the project towards the same goal. I think that a good outcome for the future is that we will continue working together in other challenges where engineering, informatics, biology, and tissue engineering are needed. It is the first time that we all are working together, and it is going so well that we will probably stick together in the future. For the moment, the take-home lesson is that having a great team is the most important element for success!

Javier:
We are still at the beginning, but what we can say is that for this type of project, which have at the same time technological and biological approaches, the way to integrate engineers (for example, NMR engineers) with clinician groups (as the IDIBAPS) is quite tricky and requires to talk the same language. This would be one lesson for the future: find a common language that we can share between totally different fields.

 

The other members of the BLOC Consortium are: Oxford Instruments, Multiwave Technologies and IDIBAPS.
If you want to know more about the project, Irene, Javier and the other partners, check the BLOC project webpage.

Participation in the International day of Women and child in Science 2021

Last 11 of February Irene Marc-Rius and Alba Herrera from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), researchers at BLoC Project, participated in the 6th International day of Women and child in Science. The main objective of this event, held wordwide simultaneously, is to normalize and encourage the participation of women in science. The idea is to contribute eliminating gender stereoptypes and long-standing biases that push girls and women far from science related fields.

 

To celebrate the International day of Women and child in Science, Irene and Alba gave an online talk, due to the pandemic restrictions, to students from the Gayarre Primary School at Barcelona. The event was part of the “Magnet Alliance”, a school outreach program that brings together excellence research institutes with schools that have an unbalanced social composition regarding the surrounding territory. On one hand, it counts with the participation of professors engaged with the development of innovative projects through the change and motivation, allowing the schools to have a high-quality educative model. On the other hand, researchers from excellence institutions perform practical activities and seminars at the school to transmit the forefront science to the students.

 

Both Irene and Alba are actively participating in the “Magnet” program with many activities, and this time they spent a relaxed moment talking with the students. They discussed about the research they are doing at BLoC project, to develop a novel way to study metabolic diseases as diabetes using tissue engineering and magnetic resonance technology. But it was a moment not only to talk about science, but also to talk about being a scientist, a female scientist! Students were very interested and motivated and for sure enjoyed this opportunity.

 

 

 

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science we present the women that helps making BLOC a reality

Today, the 11th of February, is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, declared by a resolution of the United Nations on 2015. This day recognizes the critical role women and girls play in science and technology. To celebrate it, BLOC wants to make visible the eight women involved on the project.

Inside this small interview you will find out about their trajectory and discover some reflections and personal experiences related with what they think about the role of women in science.

Enjoy the reading!

 

I am the coordinator and scientific lead of the BLOC project. I studied Physics and decided to learn more about Medical Physics and Biochemistry to do research that addresses biomedical questions and solves everyday problems. Science doesn’t have a gender and welcomes everyone with an insatiable curiosity!

Fun fact: Did you know that quantum mechanics is the basis of magnetic resonance imaging?

 

My name is Isabel Sáez and I am the Project Manager of BLOC’s project. I am a trained Biochemist and did my PhD in neuronal metabolism. I later moved to Cologne, Germany, to continue with my postdoc, which was focused on proteostasis in stem cells and aging. Since Summer 2019, I work at IBEC and currently manage 4 research groups, among them the group of Dr. Javier Ramon. My role in BLOC is ensuring a successful implementation of the project by, coordinating the management, communication between partners and the Research Executive Agency, the report of the project or organizing meetings, among others.
Events which promote the “International Day of Women and Girls in Science” are key for raising awareness of the scientific possibilities to girls, encouraging them to pursue a scientific career and reduce gender inequality already from early points in education.  As it is the case in almost all professional areas, women are clearly underrepresented in high positions in science. Thus, as equally qualified, women have to access to these senior positions, thus closing the current gender gap. I have been actively involved in the last years in promoting the career of Women in Science by, i.e. organizing the Seminar Series “Women in Science and Society Lectures” at the Research Consortium 829: Molecular Mechanisms of Skin homeostasis together with the University Cologne.

 

I am clinical Endocrinologist dedicated mainly  to diabetes care. I am also  the leader of the IDIBAPS group namely  Pathogenesis and Prevention of Diabetes. During the last decades  I have been conducting  different projects focused on islet biology, inter-organ cross-talk and lifestyle interventions to control diabetes. My role in the BLOC project is to supervise the pancreatic islet experiments and to bring my clinical experience to help the exploitable potential of the new invented techniques.
Scientific advancement is achieved with knowledge, effort, tenacity and excellence. None of these qualities is incompatible with being a woman. However, women must face and fight from a very young age against the cultural rules established for centuries. Many times society  forces young women to choose between family and scientific career. Indeed with a more equal society between genders women will decide their future and their preferences. Making the family compatible with science is a challenge for everyone.

 

I’m Maria Alejandra Ortega postdoctoral researcher of the Biosensors for Bioengineering Group at IBEC. I was born in Venezuela but my parents are Spanish so I have both nationalities. I did a bachelor and a Master in Chemistry in Venezuela. In 2010 I was accepted by the Nanoplasmonic’s group led by Prof Romain Quidant to perform a PhD in Photonics in the Institute of Photonics Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona. Finally, in 2017 I joined the group of Prof Javier Ramon to give support in the development of OOC devices and its integration with sensing platforms. Since 2 years ago I have combined my research activities with a Tech transfer manager role inside the group. I’m owner of a master in Project management together as well as a master in Business Administration (MBA), which allowed me to drive exploitation activities of some of the research developed in the group to a potential market. Inside the BLOC I’m working together with the Tech transfer Department as a support staff in the exploitation and IP protection strategies. Outside my professional side, I’m mother of two boys and a baby girl (expecting delivery day May 2021). During my free time I dedicate my entire time with them balancing like this my two passion: my family and my professional  life.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science in my opinion is taking every year more visibility due to the general motivation of the scientific society in increasing an active participation of women into the scientific ecosystem. I strongly believe that these initiatives are changing gradually the situation, although there is still too much work to do in that sense.

 

My name is Samantha Morón-Ros and my main role in the BLOC project is to develop novel strategies to improve the islet-on-chip devices and to phenotype mouse models of diet-induced obesity. I obtained my PhD at the University of Barcelona where I studied the cross-talk between different tissues in the context of thermogenesis and obesity. I also participated in projects related to immunology.

 

My name is Bia Moreno and I am the communications officer of the BLOC Project. My role is to disseminate the scientific and technological results of the project not only to the scientific and industrial community, but also to the general public, people that do not have a direct connexion with science but is interested in it. This is a very challenging, motivating and exciting task!  I am formerly a scientist, with a PhD in Molecular Biology, and after several years doing research in different laboratories I decided to fuse this background with science communication, because I really believe that a society that has access to science is more critical and prepared to face new challenges.
I have participated on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science giving talks to students from different ages, and it’s very gratifying to see that some of them realise that a woman can also be a scientist. It is very interesting to discuss with them about scientist stereotypes and show them that, contrary to what they usually see on the TV, we are “normal” people that make teamwork and have a family! You don’t need to be a crazy man with your hair in a mess to do science!

 

My name is Alba and I am currently working on the tissue engineering aspect of the BLOC project, taking care of the biological aspects involved.
I believe that having a day to shine light on the fact that women are capable and necessary in science is important to show the girls and boys that working together is possible and indispensable to advance together as a society, as well as the fact that science is not an unattainable goal for anybody as long as they put their heart in it.

 

My name is Megdouda Benamara. I obtained my PhD at the Graduate School of Electronics and Electrical Engineering of Paris and afterwards I joined  Multiwave, were I work as MRI RF engineer. My research interests include the design of metamaterials to improve performance of MRI coils.

 

 

 

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science we present the women that helps making
BLOC a reality

Molecular imaging and diagnostic techniques

The coordinator of BLoC project Irene Marco-Rius and the PhD student Marc Azagra recently published an article in ”Investigación y Ciencia” (the Spanish Edition of Scientific American), an online specialized media dedicated to the dissemination of scientific culture. They explain in a very elegant and simple way the different techniques currently used to perform molecular imaging and diagnostic (article in Spanish).

 

A human brain imaged by NMR.

In this article, oriented to a general public, Irene and Marc explain the details of several imaging techniques used in medicine to diagnose, evaluate and treat diseases. They also highlight their importance to analyse the response of patients to certain treatments and how they help clinicians to choose the best medical approach.

Some techniques as X-rays and derivatives, computed tomography, densitometry and mammography, ultrasound examinations, or optical images are used to give anatomical information about the patient (bones, tumours and ulcers). On the other hand, another group of more recent imaging techniques allow to obtain cellular and molecular information about processes occurring inside our body. Those represent a great advance as a disease can be detected long time before the appearance of anatomical changes. Examples of these techniques are PET (Positron emission tomography) and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography). Magnetic nuclear resonance is a versatile technique which can also be used to detect molecular processes.

 

Example of brains from individuals affected by (a) alcoholism, (b) marijuana consumption, (c) multiple sclerosis, (d) cocaine consumption, (e) Parkinson’s disease and (f) Alzheimer’s disease, imaged with different techniques: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT). Adapted from Preston 2010.

In this context, they mention the advances of BLoC project, that is developing a benchtop equipment to study metabolic diseases as diabetes and NAFLD in a non-invasive way and at cellular level by using the DNP-NMR techniques.

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is based on the quantic properties of the atomic nuclei in the presence of an external magnetic field. It gives information about the anatomy and has a high spatial resolution, has no depth limit, and offers a good contrast of soft tissues. This technique can also give molecular information when used with a radio-labelled substrate, as carbon-13, however with low sensitivity. To improve its performance in the detection of molecular processes, NMR can be used in combination with another technology known as dynamic nuclear polarisation (DNP). The combination of both techniques allows molecular measurements with high temporal and spatial resolution.

 

 

The authors conclude the article reinforcing the importance of all those imaging techniques not only to understand the mechanism of action of several diseases but also to find efficient treatments for them, by testing new drugs and therapies.

You can find the complete article (in Spanish) here.

A new tool to monitor albumin secretion in the context of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Researchers from BLoC project publish a work describing a new methodology which allows to monitor, directly and labelled-free, the amount of albumin in 2D fatty liver disease model. Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD) is the most common liver disorder, affecting about 25% of the world’s population. It consists in a metabolic disorder related to a chronic lipid accumulation inside the hepatocytes. Besides its high incidence, there are no reliable and applicable diagnostic tools to evaluate the disease.

Now a group of researchers including members of the BLoC project (Javier Ramon, leader of the Biosensors for Bioengineering group, and Maria Alejandra Ortega from his lab), at IBEC in Barcelona, publish a work at the Nanomaterials Journal describing a new methodology that will help to evaluate NAFLD in vivo.

It consists in a sensitive, direct and label-free way to measure overtime the levels of albumin, a protein synthesized by liver cells (the hepatocytes) that is correlated with the correct function of this organ. This new tool will permit researchers to go deeper in the NAFLD mechanism of action and test the efficacy of new drugs to treat the disease. By using this approach, they could discover for example that the amount of albumin secreted by the hepatocytes increases three days after these cells begin to receive more lipids, showing the capacity of liver cells to actively respond to lipid stimulation.

This new technology is composed by a simple integrated plasmonic biosensor (based on gold nanogratings from periodic nanostructures present in commercial Blu-ray optical discs) that measures the albumin secreted by a 2D fatty liver disease model using a highly-specific polyclonal antibody. It allows to observe the phenotypical and functional changes in fatty hepatocytes in vivo, and represents a valuable tool to study the evolution of the disease in vitro. Moreover, this prototype, customizable and cost-effective, can be integrated on lab-on-a-chip devices, being a promising candidate for improving monitoring platforms for cell cultures.

You can read the complete publication here:
https://www.mdpi.com/2079-4991/10/12/2520