“Mini-kidney” scientist joins IBEC with ERC grant

Dr. Montserrat, who is taking up a group leader position at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) this month, will study ways to generate cell and molecular resources with clinical potential for the treatment of genetic kidney diseases.

While at the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMRB), Dr. Montserrat was part of a team including researchers from Barcelona’s Hospital Clinic and led by Dr. Juan Carlos Izpisua from the Salk Institute in California who announced the first-ever creation of 3D “mini-kidneys” from human pluripotent stem cells in 2013. Until then, scientists had had limited success in producing patient kidney cells in culture, so the new study spelled a scientific revolution, facilitating the study of kidney diseases and the discovery of new drugs, and heralding a step towards the implementation of stem cell-based therapies.At IBEC, Dr. Montserrat will use her five-year ERC Starting Grant – which is awarded to young researchers showing the potential to develop “blue sky research”: ambitious, high-risk, high-gain research projects – to build on her studies of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), cell differentiation, disease modelling, gene editing and organ regeneration. Specifically, she will be aiming to develop methods to bestow induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) with the clinical potential to regenerate the kidney. In addition, she will aim to promote kidney regeneration by reactivating the endogenous molecular programmes that appear to be present in the mammalian kidney soon after birth.

Dr. Montserrat obtained her PhD in 2006, for which she studied insulin and insulin-like growth factors in muscle growth and development. She did a postdoc at the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in 2007-2008, focusing on epithelial to mesenchymal transition in the genesis and development of endometrial carcinoma, and became a Juan de la Cierva postdoctoral fellow at the CMRB from 2008. In particular, Dr. Montserrat’s research career has focused on cell somatic reprogramming, the generation of protocols for the derivation of specific specialized cells (i.e kidney progenitor cells) from pluripotent stem cells, and the molecular mechanisms driving organ regeneration in mammals.

“We’re delighted to have Nuria joining us, both for her exemplary record in stem cell research, disease modelling and organ regeneration, and for her collaborations with important international centres such as the Salk Institute, which complements and helps us develop our already interdisciplinary research environment,” says IBEC director Josep Samitier. “She can aso teach us much through her close collaborations with clinicians, such as those at Hospital Clínic, as one of IBEC’s strategic objectives is to bridge the gap between researchers and hospitals, thus enabling our research and new technologies to benefit society sooner.”