IBEC investigators show that physical forces activate genes involved in cancer

In their effort to shed light on the role that physical forces play in the body, Pere Roca-Cusachs’ group at IBEC has shown how these forces ‘switch on’ the expression of genes that may result in cancer.

Cells apply mechanical forces to their surrounding tissue, and this mechanical effect is crucial for tissue function. In diseases such as cancer or liver and lung fibrosis, tissue rigidity and mechanical forces increase, promoting the progression of the disease.

In their study published in Cell yesterday, IBEC’s researchers reveal how forces trigger the expression of certain genes by increasing the activity of a protein called YAP in the nucleus of the cell.

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IBEC researchers uncover flaws in one of the most commonly used bacterial strain in laboratories

Eduard Torrents’ group at IBEC has published some important findings that could lead to a change in common experimental protocol.

Along with their collaborators at Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron and in the Department de Genètica i Microbiologia of the UAB, Eduard and PhD student Anna Crespo reveal in Scientific Reports today that the most-used laboratory strain of bacteria may not be the reliable reference tool for testing new antibiotic treatments that it was previously thought to be.

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Microswimmers use ‘good’ bacteria to target harmful biofilms

A paper by IBEC’s Smart nano-bio-devices group addresses the problem of biofilms, the “microbe cities” that enhance cell-to-cell communication for bacteria, allowing infection to thrive and increasing the chances of evading the immune system. In the body, they can be found in a wide variety of microbial infections, such as in the lungs of cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients.

Biofilm colonies are usually resistant to antibiotics and require targeted methods of removal. One method uses nanoparticles as carriers for antibiotic delivery, where they randomly circulate in fluid until they make contact with the infected areas. These are not very effective, however, as they need to be able to get much closer to the biofilm.

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An effective strategy for the targeted delivery of new antimalarials

Xavier Fernàndez Busquets’ joint IBEC-ISGlobal Nanomalaria group has moved a step closer to the validation of immunoliposomes as a vehicle for antimalarial drugs by showing that they increase the efficacy of lipohilic (poorly soluble) compounds in a mouse model of malaria.

The results, published in Biomaterials, suggest that this strategy could be used for the treatment of severe malaria.

Most antimalarial drugs currently in the pipeline are poorly soluble in water, and high amounts are needed to ensure their efficacy, particularly in cases of severe malaria.

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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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