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

BLoC at the Science Week

Last week Alba Herrero and Irene Marco-Rius, BLoC partners at IBEC, participated in the 25th Science Week, an initiative from the Catalan Foundation for the Research and innovation (FCRI) that can proudly count with the participation of more than 1 million people from the beginning. Throughout the Catalan Territory, several activities took place from the 14th to the 29th of November, as open doors visits to research centers, expositions, seminars, games and workshops. As could not have been otherwise, this year many activities were related to the COVID-19 pandemic and SARS-CoV-2, but also other scientific themes had their place.

 

 

Alba Herrero and Irene Marco-Rius participated in the event with a talk to 15-17 years old students from the Aimerigues High School, located in the city of Terrassa near Barcelona. They explained their research and talked about BLoC project to more than 80 students, who learned about NMR, diabetes, liver cells, tissue engineering… Many topics that draw the attention of the students and has not left anyone indifferent.

 

Another important pillar of the event is to awake scientific vocations and to show that women also can do research in STEAM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. In this context, Alba and Irene talked about their scientific career and the steps they walked to arrive where they are now. This was a fruitful and relaxed dialogue with the students who asked several questions to satisfy their curiosity about “being a scientist”.

Hopefully next year Irene, Alba and other BLoC members will participate a continue to bring BLoC science outside the walls of the laboratories.

Bloc researchers present their work in the 13th IBEC Symposium

The 13th IBEC Symposium took place, from the 27th to the 28th October 2020 under the motto “Future and Precision Medicine”. For the first time, this event was held online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. It counted with the participation of more than 400 registered attendees, who gave 18 flash presentations and presented 106 posters. Top international researchers, such as Robert Langer from the MIT, Ada Cavalcanti from the University of Heidelberg and the Max Plank Institute and Raquel Yotti, Director of the Carlos III Health Institute, contributed to this high  level event on Bioengineering for Health.

BLOC researchers from the “Biosensors for bioengineering” laboratory at IBEC, in Barcelona, also participated showing their latest results.

Jose Yeste, postdoc researcher, gave a flash presentation where he talked about in situ metabolomic analysis, magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging using dynamic nuclear polarisation (DNP-MR) with the aim to monitor diseases and evaluate drug response.

The other contribution of BLOC came from Marc Azagra, a PhD student from the same research group at IBEC. Marc presented a poster with an innovative protocol to analyse biomarkers for Myotonic dystrophy type1 in patient-derived tissues via nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Irene Marco-Rius and Javier Ramón, coordinators of BLOC Project, were also co-authors of the poster.

Next year BLOC Project will be present in other international events with many more posters and presentations.

Barcelona hosts the kick-off meeting of the EU project BLOC

The Kick-Off meeting of the FET-Open EU project BLOC (Benchtop NMR for Lab-on-chip), an initiative led by Javier Ramón and Irene Marco from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Barcelona (IBEC), took place this week in Barcelona.

The event has brought together all the partners of the project, who have taken the opportunity to introduce themselves and explain their roles and responsibilities. The consortium members also presented the main production and research lines of the project and defined the work plan for the following months.

Among the beneficiaries of BLOC there are two research centres: the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), which covers most bioengineering fields, from basic research to medical applications, and the Consorci Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), a public research centre dedicated to translational research in the field of biomedicine.

Moreover, the consortium counts on two high-tech companies: Oxford Instruments (OI), a leading provider of high technology solutions, information and support for industry and research, and Multiwave Technologies AG (MW), a deep science technology company incubating, developing and bringing to market a portfolio of metamaterial innovations.

Main Production and Research Lines

All the partners of BLOC will work together until 2022 to make our lives easier by offering us new approaches to metabolic disease modelling and drug discovery. Concretely, partners will develop a new technology based on magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging using dynamic nuclear polarisation (DNP-MR) integrated with organ-on-a-chip (OOC) devices to monitor disease and evaluate drug response in OOC models.

As a proof-of-concept, the project will fabricate a biomimetic multi OOC integrated device composed of liver spheroids and pancreatic islets and develop the necessary DNP-MR hardware and software to study metabolic diseases and for future drug screening applications.

Organ-on-a-chip (OOC) devices offer new approaches to metabolic disease modelling and drug discovery by providing biologically relevant models of tissues and organs in vitro integrated with sensing technology. As such, OOC devices have the potential to revolutionise the pharmaceutical industry by enabling reliable and high predictive in vitro testing of drug candidates.

To date, the capability to miniaturise microfluidic systems and advanced tissue fabrication procedures have enabled researchers to create multiple tissues on a chip with a high degree of control over experimental variables for high-content screening applications.