Molecular Imaging for Precision Medicine

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The central theme of our work is the development of new insight and applications in chemical biology systems.

Our group’s research line is to detect, identify and validate biomarkers of disease. In particular, we focus on developing molecular imaging tools to identify abnormalities of cell metabolism in human disease and predict treatment efficacy.

In particular, we focus on Bioengineering solutions using Chemistry and Physics tools to study Biological problems. Specifically, we develop Magnetic Resonance (MR) molecular imaging methods to study the biochemical pathways in bioengineered systems and in vivo.

MR is already a well-known clinical technique in the form of 3D, non–destructive imaging of tissue and fluid composition in vivo (MRI). As a further benefit, MR spectroscopic imaging is chemically specific and can thus directly relate response of a single (or many) chemical compound to biological events in biofluids, cell suspensions in vitro, excised tissue and perfused organs ex vivo, animal models in vivo and clinical patients. The rich variety of MR experiments developed over the past decades permits quantification of metabolites concentrations, diffusion rates, perfusion, energetics and tissue oxygenation. These parameters represent a steady state fingerprint of the sample studied, which encodes physiological and pathological factors.

Our young team of passionate researchers works at the forefront of molecular imaging using a technique known as hyperpolarised MR (HP-MR), which increases the signal of MR more than 10.000 times. This dramatic increase means that we can now see molecular processes in real time, in situ, and non-invasively in a wide range of biological systems.




Irene Marco Rius | Junior Group Leader
James Eills | Postdoctoral Researcher
Marc Azagra Rodríguez | PhD Student
Alba Herrero Gómez | PhD Student
Marina Khalifa | Masters Student
Marina Lantarón Neumann | Masters Student
Lluís Mangas Florencio | Masters Student






Project Financer Subprogram IP
Analisis metabolico en tiempo real de modelos de cultivo de celulas 3d de la enfermedad del higado graso no alcoholico: organos en un chip y resonancia magnetica nuclear (2020 – 2021) MINECO Acciones Dinamización Europa Investigación/EIN2020-112209 Irene Marco
BLOC · Benchtop NMR for Lab-on-Chip (2020 – 2022) European Commission FET OPEN Irene Marco
Junior Leader Programe (2018 – 2022) Obra Social La Caixa Junior Leader Program Irene Marco


For a list of publications prior to joining IBEC, visit the Google Scholar.

Azagra, Marc, Pose, Elisa, Chiara, Francesco, Perez, Martina, Avitabile, Emma, Servitja, Joan‐Marc, Brugnara, Laura, Ramon‐Azcón, Javier, Marco‐Rius, Irene, (2022). Ammonium quantification (AQua) in human plasma by 1 H‐NMR for staging of liver fibrosis in alcohol‐related liver disease and non‐alcoholic fatty liver disease Nmr In Biomedicine

Marco-Rius I, Wright AJ, Hu De, Savic D, Miller JJ, Timm KN, Tyler D, Brindle KM, Comment A, (2021). Probing hepatic metabolism of [2-13C]dihydroxyacetone in vivo with 1H-decoupled hyperpolarized 13C-MR Magnetic Resonance Materials In Physics Biology And Medicine 34, 49-56

© 2020, The Author(s). Objectives: To enhance detection of the products of hyperpolarized [2-13C]dihydroxyacetone metabolism for assessment of three metabolic pathways in the liver in vivo. Hyperpolarized [2-13C]DHAc emerged as a promising substrate to follow gluconeogenesis, glycolysis and the glycerol pathways. However, the use of [2-13C]DHAc in vivo has not taken off because (i) the chemical shift range of [2-13C]DHAc and its metabolic products span over 144 ppm, and (ii) 1H decoupling is required to increase spectral resolution and sensitivity. While these issues are trivial for high-field vertical-bore NMR spectrometers, horizontal-bore small-animal MR scanners are seldom equipped for such experiments. Methods: Real-time hepatic metabolism of three fed mice was probed by 1H-decoupled 13C-MR following injection of hyperpolarized [2-13C]DHAc. The spectra of [2-13C]DHAc and its metabolic products were acquired in a 7 T small-animal MR scanner using three purpose-designed spectral-spatial radiofrequency pulses that excited a spatial bandwidth of 8 mm with varying spectral bandwidths and central frequencies (chemical shifts). Results: The metabolic products detected in vivo include glycerol 3-phosphate, glycerol, phosphoenolpyruvate, lactate, alanine, glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate and glucose 6-phosphate. The metabolite-to-substrate ratios were comparable to those reported previously in perfused liver. Discussion: Three metabolic pathways can be probed simultaneously in the mouse liver in vivo, in real time, using hyperpolarized DHAc.

Keywords: carbon-13 magnetic resonance spectroscopy, dynamic nuclear polarisation, gluconeogenesis, glycolysis, hyperpolarisation, liver, Carbon-13 magnetic resonance spectroscopy, Cycle, Dihydroxyacetone, Dynamic nuclear polarisation, Excitation, Fructose, Gluconeogenesis, Glucose, Glycolysis, Hyperpolarisation, Liver, Magnetic-resonance, Metabolism, Mri

Trueba-Santiso, A., Fernández-Verdejo, D., Marco Rius, I., Soder-Walz, J. M., Casabella, O., Vicent, T., Marco-Urrea, E., (2020). Interspecies interaction and effect of co-contaminants in an anaerobic dichloromethane-degrading culture Chemosphere 240, 124877

An anaerobic stable mixed culture dominated by bacteria belonging to the genera Dehalobacterium, Acetobacterium, Desulfovibrio, and Wolinella was used as a model to study the microbial interactions during DCM degradation. Physiological studies indicated that DCM was degraded in this mixed culture at least in a three-step process: i) fermentation of DCM to acetate and formate, ii) formate oxidation to CO2 and H2, and iii) H2/CO2 reductive acetogenesis. The 16S rRNA gene sequencing of cultures enriched with formate or H2 showed that Desulfovibrio was the dominant population followed by Acetobacterium, but sequences representing Dehalobacterium were only present in cultures amended with DCM. Nuclear magnetic resonance analyses confirmed that acetate produced from 13C-labelled DCM was marked at the methyl ([2–13C]acetate), carboxyl ([1–13C]acetate), and both ([1,2–13C]acetate) positions, which is in accordance to acetate formed by both direct DCM fermentation and H2/CO2 acetogenesis. The inhibitory effect of ten different co-contaminants frequently detected in groundwaters on DCM degradation was also investigated. Complete inhibition of DCM degradation was observed when chloroform, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, and diuron were added at 838, 400, and 107 μM, respectively. However, the inhibited cultures recovered the DCM degradation capability when transferred to fresh medium without co-contaminants. Findings derived from this work are of significant relevance to provide a better understanding of the synergistic interactions among bacteria to accomplish DCM degradation as well as to predict the effect of co-contaminants during anaerobic DCM bioremediation in groundwater. © 2019 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords: Bioremediation, Co-contaminants, Dehalobacterium, Dichloromethane, Inhibition





IBEC researchers participate in the “European Researchers’ Night”

Last Friday, September 24, the “European Researchers’ Night” took place, an event that is held on a European scale in more than 300 cities in 30 different countries. The objective of this event is to publicize the diversity of science and its impact on the daily lives of citizens in a close and inspiring way. For yet another year, IBEC has not wanted to miss it and has been present at various activities.

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The new “la Caixa” Foundation – BIST Chemical Biology Programme launches a hub in Barcelona for the design of new drugs

The “la Caixa” Foundation and BIST are creating a chemical biology programme to promote two new cutting-edge research groups at IBEC and IRB (both centres are members of BIST). The initiative aims to attract talent from the field of chemical biology, and to create an ecosystem that fosters research excellence in improving health.

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IBEC leads three new European projects

Bioengineering is a core discipline for the medicine of the future, and Europe knows that. Proof of this is that the European Union (EU) has granted during the last months the coordination of three European projects to the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) to continue combining medicine, science and technology with the aim of improving people’s health.

The first one is the BRIGHTER project that is led by Professor Elena Martínez, the head of the ‘Biomimetic Systems for Cell Engineering’ group. The EU has contributed to this initiative that will be used by the consortium partners to develop an innovative high resolution 3D bioprinting technology able to fabricate 3D cell culture substrates which could be useful to produce artificial organs in the future.

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IBEC emphasizes the role of women in science

Within the framework of the “International Day of Women and Girls in Science” the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) has brought their researchers to different Catalan schools to assert the role of women in science and promote STEAM careers to young people as an attractive vocation.

Today February 11, IBEC has joined the initiative “100tíficas” organised by the Fundació Catalana per a la Recerca i la Innovació (FCRi), in collaboration with the Department of Education of the Generalitat de Catalunya, to claim the role of women in science.

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IBEC leads a European Project to evaluate drug response in organ-on-a-chip devices

A group of researchers from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) leads the European project BLOC, an initiative led by researchers Javier Ramón and Irene Marco that seeks to evaluate the response to different drugs in metabolic diseases using organ-in-a- chip by using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). For this, the consortium will have a budget of almost 3 million euros, financed by the Horizon 2020 FET Open program.

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Five IBEC researchers awarded “la Caixa” grants at ceremony

IBEC researchers were in the limelight today at the awards ceremony for the “la Caixa” fellowships and grants for research and innovation calls.

Anna Labernadie and Irene Marco, postdocs in the Integrative Cell and Tissue Dynamics and Biosensors for bioengineering groups respectively, won fellowships under the first Junior Leader “la Caixa” call, which helps excellent researchers of any nationality who wish to continue their research career in Spanish or Portuguese territory. Anna was one of 10 postdocs to win a ‘Retaining’ grant for candidates who are already residing in the countries, and Irene was awarded one of 20 ‘Incoming’ positions for those coming from elsewhere.

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