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Four projects in the healthcare and life sciences led by the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG), Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) have been selected in the latest call for Advanced Grants held by the European Research Council (ERC).

These grants are open to established researchers with a track-record of significant research achievements in the last 10 years. The centers receive up to €2.5 million, plus an additional €1 million that can be made available in certain situations, to advance their research projects.

In all the areas of knowledge, research bodies in Catalonia received 10 of the 185 grants awarded, 5.4% of all those granted and 70% of those granted in Spain. So, Catalonia is ranked third among countries in the European research area in number of Advanced Grants awarded per million inhabitants, surpassing countries like the Netherlands, United Kingdom and France. The healthcare projects at Catalan research bodies that have been awarded ERC Advanced Grants are:


ResidualCRC - Eduard Batlle (IRB Barcelona):

The ResidualCRC project being conducted by Eduard Batlle’s team at IRB Barcelona is working to identify residual cells that cause colon tumors to reappear after treatment. It focuses on hidden cells from the primary colon tumor that start to spread before it is removed and go undetected for months or years until a new tumor appears. The IRB Barcelona Colorectal Cancer Laboratory has a groundbreaking study model based on organoids, which are cultivable “mini-cancers”, that will allow them to study the various mechanisms that these cells use to separate from the primary tumor, evade the immune system, invade another organ and seed a new tumor.


EpiFold - Xavier Trepat (IBEC):

The EpiFold project aims to reveal the mechanical principles that allow epithelial tissue to adopt and maintain its shape. Using in vitro tissue engineering, Xavier Trepat and his team hope to understand how these 3D structures are built in vivo so they can control the process. Plus, the project will also have a huge impact on the emerging field of organoids, as it will study the shape and mechanics of intestinal organoids. The most innovative facet of the project is that these principles will be applied to design a new generation of biohybrid devices from epithelial tissue, with a unique potential to power functions like filtration, secretion, self-regeneration or propulsion in soft robots. This project will be the starting point for a whole new technology, called “Epifluidics”, that will exploit epithelial cells’ exceptional sensing and acting abilities to design biohybrid devices.


MUTANOMICS - Ben Lehner (CRG):

The goal of the MUTANOMICS research project is to understand mutations and how they interact to alter phenotypes and diseases, an issue that is central to evolution, engineering and human disease. Deep mutagenesis can be used to quantify, understand and predict how non-additive interactions of various mutations within and among molecules affect phenotypes on several scales. The team led by Ben Lehner has shown that quantifying genetic interactions using deep mutagenesis provides enough information to determine the 3D structure of proteins. This project will take advantage of their experience with deep mutagenesis and computer modeling to provide a wide view of how combined mutations can affect phenotypes and develop methods using deep mutagenesis to determine protein structures.


BEMOTHER - Òscar Vilarroya (UAB):

The BEMOTHER project is an integrative model of the adaptations for maternity that occur during pregnancy and postpartum. This project by Òscar Vilarroya’s team aims to establish when and how the brain is restructured during pregnancy, identify the hormonal mediators that bring about and guide this restructuring, and establish how maternal psychology and behavior (including the mother-newborn relationship) evolves from conception to two years after birth. The final aim is to integrate all these findings to build a groundbreaking model of how the brain, mind and body prepare women to face the challenges of motherhood.

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