Did you know that cells feel their surrounding and “communicate” with one another? Cells move and form tissues and organs, and to do so, they need to interact with each other by chemical signalling, but also by physical forces. For example, when you cut yourself, cells in the surrounding tissue apply forces to heal the damaged area, or in the same way, cancer cells apply forces to spread to other parts of the body. Luckily, here at IBEC we count on Pere Roca-Cusachs, a physicist passionate about biology and biophysics and a reference in his field: mechanobiology.
Mechano…what? Yes, you read correctly, “Mechanobiology” is an emerging field that focuses on how physical forces and changes in the mechanical properties of cells and tissues contribute to development, cell differentiation, physiology and disease. Pere Roca-Cusachs is Group Leader since 2012 of the “Cellular and Molecular Mechanobiology” group at IBEC and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Barcelona, and together with his amazing team of researchers they are focused in this very particular research field.
Being a researcher wasn’t what Pere Roca-Cusachs thought he would do for a living, in fact, fate crossed his path. He had finished his physics degree and then worked in an IT department. One day while visiting a friend at the school of Physics, he decided not to wait for the elevator and take the stairs. While going down the stairs, he came across an ad in the billboard of a department offering a PhD position in biophysics, so he thought, why not? Since then, Pere has devoted his research career to the study of cell mechanics.
Pere joined IBEC in 2005 where he did his PhD in Biophysics and during this long research career, one of his greatest achievements is their work on the molecular clutch model. And what on earth is that? (you might be wondering), it’s a scientific theory that explains how cells apply force to their surroundings, and how this then triggers molecular events that affect cell function. Thanks to the many talented members in his lab, they have published 7 scientific articles about this model.
As a group leader, he spends most of his time discussing projects with the people in the group and abroad, writing grants and papers, teaching, and doing the main task that a Principal Investigator (PI) is supposed to do: answering emails. Can you imagine answering more than 60 emails in just one day? Well, Pere is used to that at peak times, he isn’t scared of his mailbox and his 254952448267 unread emails.
Before the coronavirus apocalypse, he also used to go to scientific meetings, more than 10 a year to be precise. Now, during lockdown he has started gardening, he grows tomatoes and gives them lectures on mechanobiology, so that they grow with the correct physical forces.
To avoid obsessing too much with work he spends his spare time cooking or reading, and he also loves hiking and skiing. But we could say that what he enjoys the most is biking, he goes everywhere by bike since he was 18 years old, in fact he comes to IBEC by bike every day.
Nowadays, Pere thinks it was a good decision to not have taken the elevator, and he is happy to devote his life to research. Thanks to that, he has been awarded with many recognitions during his career. In fact, he has been recently appointed as a new member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) , a prestigious network that brings together some of the most brilliant researchers in the world, among other recognitions. At IBEC, we are very happy that Pere chose the stairs that day, you never know what you can find on the way!