Cell collisions reveal a new type of wave

Researchers at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) have observed, for the first time, mechanical waves that form after collisions between cellular tissues.

After a collision, cells are pushed and deformed into waves that travel at a speed of three millimeters a day. This unexpected behavior defies what we know about cellular dynamics, and could be relevant to understand embryonic development or metastasis.

Mechanical waves – such as seismic waves, sound, or waves in the sea – are a phenomenon easily explained by the laws of physics: when two particles collide, a wave travels through the surrounding material.

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A new model sheds light on cell migration

IBEC’s Nanobioengineering group have made important inroads in mechanobiology by creating an in vitro model of the extracellular matrix that shows how this environment works with protein complex actomyosin – the essential substance that allows muscle to contract – to direct the movement of cells.

The group’s paper, which appears in Advanced Functional Materials this week, sheds light on cell migration, which is essential for many biological processes such as embryonic development and wound healing when things are going right, and cancer progression when things go wrong.

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Nanoscale imaging method shows electron transfer pathways

An IBEC group has developed a new imaging method that can characterize the conductance of single molecules, shedding light on the molecular mechanisms behind biological processes such as respiration, photosynthesis and repair.

Publishing in the journal Small, the Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches group describe a new way to observe conduction pathways in redox proteins and complexes – in which the transfer of electrons causes a change in oxidation – at the nanoscale.

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IBEC research features in ChemComm’s “Emerging Investigators” issue

IBEC junior group leader Lorenzo Albertazzi is a contributor to the 2017 edition of ChemComm Emerging Investigators, which is published annually by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry.

Now in its seventh year, the special issue showcases research carried out by internationally recognised, up-and-coming scientists in the early stages of their independent careers, and who are making outstanding contributions to their respective fields.

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Micro-swimmers that remove disease-causing bacteria from water

IBEC researchers, together with their collaborators from the Max Planck for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, have engineered tiny robots that can remove disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli, from water.

Contaminated drinking water is a persistent public health problem that can cause potentially life-threatening illnesses when proper treatment isn’t available, as in many areas of the world. It can be disinfected with chlorine or other disinfectants, but some hardy bacteria and other microorganisms stick around and can be hard to remove. Sometimes, the byproducts of these disinfectants can be harmful to human health as well.

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IBEC at the forefront of research in mechanobiology

Today three IBEC group leaders – Pere Roca-Cusachs, Vito Conte and Xavier Trepat – consolidate the institute’s leadership in mechanobiology by publishing a review of the field in Nature Cell Biology.

Their paper, “Quantifying forces in cell biology”, summarizes a wide range of sensors and sensing methods able to quantify the forces generated by cells. During the last two decades, advances in our understanding of these mechanisms have allowed researchers to find out more about cell-generated forces at different scales, ranging from molecular forces – how a protein domain folds – to long-range supra-cellular force patterns such as the ones that govern wound healing or collective cell migration.

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Non-invasive analysis technique contributes to a better understanding of COPD

Some research published in PLOS ONE represents a new step towards translating IBEC’s basic research – specifically the novel signal processing and interpretation algorithms developed by Raimon Jané’s group – to clinical applications in hospitals.

The group collaborated with the Hospital del Mar-IMIM in Barcelona to tackle the current lack of instruments for assessing respiratory muscle activation during the breathing cycle in clinical conditions.

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A cellular model to help study the relationship between neurodegenerative diseases

From the cells of a patient with a rare neurodegenerative disease, Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker syndrome (GSS), researchers at IBEC have managed to generate neurons that also present parallel neurodegenerative processes unrelated to the syndrome.

The striking image on the left shows a mass of neurons derived from GSS-affected pluripotent stem cells (iPS), developed in José Antonio Del Río’s lab.

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The most efficient single-molecule diode ever made

Researchers have created the most efficient single-molecule diode ever.

Diodes are common in everyday electronic devices, in which they control the current by allowing it to flow in one direction while blocking it in the opposite direction. The researchers, working at the University of Barcelona (UB) and IBEC, have created one of just 1 nanometer in size with a rectification ratio – the ratio of the current that flows in one direction compared to the other – several orders of magnitude higher than previously.

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Screening improvements for asthma and obstructive pulmonary disease patients

Some IBEC research published in PlosOne offers a step towards better screening of patients with asthma and other sufferers of obstructive pulmonary diseases.

The new integrated approach to continuous adventitious respiratory sound (CAS) analysis, developed by Raimon Jané’s Biomedical Signal Processing and Interpretation group within the framework of IBEC’s Joint Research Unit with the Institut d’Investigació Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP), improves assessment in the clinic.

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