Researchers shed new light on predicting spinal disc degeneration

The misery of lower back pain is, unfortunately, all too familiar to many people. Now researchers have taken a big step towards understanding one of the most common and debilitating complaints in the industrialized world, with results that could help to predict the onset of disc degeneration.

Back pain is closely related to ageing of the discs in the spine, a process characterized by a series of changes in their structure and function, but until now the chain of events that converts normal disc ageing into degenerative disease has not been properly understood.

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Identifying an essential interaction for epilepsy

Scientists at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) describe a major step towards the understanding of epilepsy in a paper published in Molecular Biology of the Cell.

In the study, the researchers shed new light on the importance of a neuronal protein known as PrPc, which performs a number of physiological functions in many neural processes. When mutated or misfolded, the pathogenic form of the protein, PrPsc, induces progressive conditions that affect the brain and nervous system, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and BSE, while in epilepsy it appears that the healthy protein plays a preventative role.

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Plithotaxis: how crowds of cells find their way

First measurements of forces driving collective cell migration unveil new principle in biology

Processes like tissue regeneration and cancer metastasis rely on groups of cells moving long distances without losing their cohesiveness, but how they do this has remained unknown. Now researchers from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and Harvard University have solved the mystery and unveiled a brand new phenomenon in biology.

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Opening new doors to combat bacterial infections

We may be several steps closer to understanding one of the major pathologies that affects sufferers of cystic fibrosis, thanks to Senior researcher Eduard Torrents of IBEC’s Microbial biotechnology and host-pathogen interaction group.

In a study published this week in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal Infection and Immunity, Eduard and his collaborator in Stockholm, Britt-Marie Sjöberg, looked at DNA synthesis in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterial infection that is a frequent complication in many people with cystic fibrosis, and a common cause of death in those patients.

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Smelling by minispectrometer provides fast determination of wine origin

Wine fraud is a growing problem, with experts estimating that up to 10% of the wines offered to consumers in some European countries are of a lesser quality than the label claims.

It’s an issue that affects everyone from expert collectors to average consumers, and is such a concern in some countries that drastic measures have been taken: the Italian Carabinieri Corps, for instance, has educated 25 of their officers as sommeliers.

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We’re made of glass, say scientists

People can be brittle, transparent, shattered, or have a heart of glass. Now these attributes seem all the more appropriate following a discovery by researchers that migrating cells in our bodies behave in a remarkably similar way to glass when it is heated and cooled.

In a study published in PNAS, researcher Xavier Trepat from Barcelona’s Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia and his collaborators have been looking at collective cell migration, which occurs in our tissue for good or bad: during embryonic development or wound healing, for example, but on the other hand in cancer invasion.

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Electromechanics at the nanoscale

Flick a switch, turn a knob or pull a lever and you’re operating an electromechanical device, albeit a complex one. Now an IBEC researcher and his collaborators have broken new ground with a proven concept for the first such electronic component to operate using just a single-molecule electrical contact.

In a study published in Nature Nanotechnology, Ismael Díez Pérez, a researcher in IBEC’s Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches group, and Prof. Nongjian Tao from Arizona State University describe their success in attempting to find a way to simulate the same electromechanical effects achieved on conventional electronics but in a single-molecule device that allows the accurate mechanical control of the current flow.

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MySpine: a virtual spine for a real problem

EU-funded project aims to improve treatment and prognosis of spinal diseases

Lower back pain is not only miserable and debilitating for the 25% of the population who suffer from it at some point during their lives, but it also has a detrimental effect on society and the economy. The problem costs the EU €7000 per inhabitant per year, and is one of the major causes of long-term absences from work.

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Beating the regeneration blockers

IBEC researchers shed light on inhibitory molecules in neuroregeneration

It’s known that the development of neuronal diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease is connected with the levels of myelin – an insulating substance around nerve fibres – in the body, although the actual causes of these conditions remain unknown.

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