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.