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IRB Barcelona will coordinate two FP7 European projects in biomedicine

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The second call for European projects funding in the health area of the 7th Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) has granted help to 10 international teams coordinated by Spanish teams. Seven of these coordinating teams belong to Catalan research centres and the only Catalan centre coordinating two of these international projects is the IRB Barcelona - Institute for research in Biomedicine. The teams are leaded by researchers Lluís Ribas de Pouplana and Antonio Zorzano, and are working in the development of new strategies against malaria and diabetes.

Pioneering project against diabetes

Antonio Zorzano, head of the program of Molecular Medicine of the IRB Barcelona and professor of the University of Barcelona (UB), will be the coordinator of a pioneering project to struggle against diabetes. The project Mitin is innovative because it will be the first time that biocomputing is used to obtain information about complex illnesses, fruit of a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

In particular, the goal is to identify processes that take place in the mitochondria -intracellular organelle which transforms food into energy-, and that are responsible for the resistance to insulin. The persons who suffer the one called Insulin Resistance Syndrome often show high levels of triglycerides in blood (fats) and low levels of good cholesterol. On the other hand, hypertension and obesity can be caused by the resistance to insulin. This metabolic disorder increases the risk of suffering diabetes and heart illnesses.

Zorzano counts with the collaboration of two groups of experts in systems biology. One comes from the Barcelona SuperComputing Centre, which will work on the generation of the program which will integrate all the experimental information and the second, from Finland, is a team with expertise in the technique allowing the composition of fats and fluids in the organism. Four laboratories -two from England, one from Germany and Zorzano’s- , will bring their expertise with their studies about diabetes and the resistance to insulin.

Project to develop antimalaria medicines

As far as malaria is concerned, the European Union has granted 2 millions euros to the project Mephitis, presented by an international consortium coordinated by Lluís Ribas de Pouplana’s team. He is an ICREA researcher and head of the IRB Barcelona Gene translation laboratory. The consortium, apart from Lluís Ribas team, is formed by the Barcelona Science Park Combinatorial Chemistry Unit (UQC-PCB), two groups from India, one from France, one from Italy, one from Portugal and one from Australia. The consortium has started its work officially this month of January.

Malaria is transmitted by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which lives in some female Anopheles mosquitoes. The scientific basis of the project is to understand how the protein formation in the parasite is involved in the transmission of the malaria, with the goal of finding elements inhibiting this process and being able to develop antimalaria medicines.

To date, there are among 300 and 500 million cases of malaria per year in the entire world and over a million people die of this disease, mainly in Africa and Asia.

Joan Massagué wins BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine

Joan Massagué Ph. D (Barcelona, 1953), adjunct director of IRB Barcelona IRB and Chairman of the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York, has been awarded with the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge awards in the category of Biomedicine for revealing fundamental processes behind the regulation of cell division and for having identified key genes involved in cancer and metastasis.

Massagué’s research is important because it has identified and characterised the role of the TGF-Beta protein in cell growth and division. It is a key in the normal development of organism and, when it fails, it develops pathological processes, as malformations and cancer. The jury, presided over by Torsten Wielsen, Nobel Prize winner for Physiology and Medicine, remarked that ‘Massagué’s studies have opened fundamental ways to understand genetic and cellular bases of metastasis and have a great potential for the clinical application, since 90% of the mortality associated with the cancer is due to this invasive process.’

As adjunct director of the IRB, Massagué’s mission, together with director Joan Guinovart, is to design competitive research programs, to incorporate scientific leaders in the international area and to formulate breakthroughs research policies to create a top-quality centre in biomedicine. At the same time, Massagué supervises the laboratory working on the study of cancer metastasis (Metlab), which has established strong ties with his New York laboratory.

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