IBEC researchers generate mini-kidneys vascularized from stem cells

Researchers from the IBEC have created, for the first time, 3D organoid cultures from pluripotent stem cells, which resemble human embryonic kidney tissue during the second trimester of pregnancy.

Using biomaterials that mimic the embryonic microenvironment, researchers have also achieved mini-kidneys with relevant features for immediate use in renal disease modeling.
A study published today in Nature Materials reports how researchers from IBEC have created organoids, or mini-organs, that resemble the human embryonic kidney, and how these 3D cultures mimic essential aspects during the formation of the kidney, such as distribution, functionality and specific organization of cells.

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Large-scale curvature sensing by directional actin flow drives cellular migration mode switching

Cell migration is an essential biological process that drives tissue and organ formation during embryo development, and also helps protect the body through immune response and wound healing mechanisms. The shape changes necessary for cell migration depends on dynamic organization and force generation from the cell’s internal actomyosin cytoskeleton, which is made up of structural actin filaments and contractile myosin motor proteins.

Reorganization of these components enables two mechanisms of cell migration.

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3D bioprinted robots

IBEC’s Smart Nano-Bio-Devices group – the institute’s experts in micro- and nanorobots – have used 3D bioprinting to produce ‘biorobots’ made of biological elements such as muscle tissue.

These bio-inspired soft robotic devices could offer many more capabilities for movement and performance – such as real-time bio-sensing, self-organization, adaptability, or self-healing – than existing systems, which use solely artificial materials.

“Bio-inspired soft robotics is an exciting new discipline, as it may help us overcome the limitations of traditional robotic systems, such as flexibility, responsiveness and adaptability,” says Samuel Sanchez, group leader at IBEC and ICREA research professor.

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Two promising avenues in the fight against antibiotic resistance

IBEC’s Bacterial infections: antimicrobial therapies group have published two papers offering new hope in the urgent search for antimicrobials.

“We desperately need antimicrobials,” says Eduard Torrents. “Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to human health today, and the time is fast approaching when routine procedures will be much more risky.”
Not only have some common infections or illnesses become resistant to the antibiotics usually used to treat them, a really pressing medical problem now is the rapid rise of ‘superbugs’ or multidrug-resistant bacteria, which are immune to almost all of the antibiotics that are currently available.

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Proteins can transfer electrons at a distance

Collaborating IBEC groups have published a study in Nature Communications that reveals that electron transfer can take place while a protein is approaching its partner site, and not only when the proteins are engaged, as was previously thought.

The results open up a new way of thinking about how proteins interact, and can have implications in a better understanding of many processes – such as photosynthesis, respiration and detoxification – in which electron transfer plays an important role.

The relocation of an electron from one chemical entity to another – electron transfer (ET) – doesn’t happen passively: electrons are carried individually by redox proteins.

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Is the bottom-up approach enough to understand a whole system?

An opinion piece by IBEC group leader Xavier Trepat has appeared in the News and Views section of the current issue of Nature, which is devoted to ‘Bottom-up biology’.

In his piece ‘Bottom does not explain top’, Xavier argues that understanding how complex biological structures – or even entire cells – are built can only provide a certain amount of insight into how biological systems function at higher levels of organization. There are many variables such as density, or even pathologies suffered by the subject, that affect cell behavior at the mesoscale – that is, at the longer, more ‘system-level’ scale than that of the individual components of an organism. Cells in a group, for example, can sense or respond to external stimuli that an individual cell cannot identify.

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IBEC celebrates COPD breakthroughs on World COPD Day

IBEC’s Biomedical Signal Processing and Interpretation (BIOSPIN) group have published a paper with King’s College London that offers new techniques to monitor COPD patients by non-invasive methods.

COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – is a progressive lung condition with no cure in which the patient’s airways become narrowed. Together with other mechanical abnormalities, airways obstruction increases the load on the respiratory muscles. This, in combination with respiratory muscle weakness in COPD patients, increases load-capacity imbalance and contributes to breathlessness. The IBEC group’s paper elucidates a new way of assessing inspiratory muscle function using mechanomyography, a non-invasive measure of muscle vibration associated with muscle contraction, jointly with surface electromyography.

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IBEC researchers uncover strategy to reduce chemotherapy side effects

Researchers at IBEC and IDIBELL have developed a light-regulated molecule that could improve chemotherapy treatments by controlling the activity of anticancer agents.

Chemotherapy – the use of cytotoxic agents to kill the rapidly proliferating cells in tumors – is one of our main tools in the fight against cancer. However, its effectiveness and the body’s tolerance of it is often dramatically limited: it can affect healthy areas rather than just the cancerous ones, which causes side effects.

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Scientists discover super-stretchy cells

One of the most enviable features of superheroes is their ability to stretch their bodies beyond imaginable limits. In a study published today in Nature, scientists have discovered that our cells can do just that.

With every beat of the heart and every breath into the lungs, cells in our body are routinely subjected to extreme stretching. This stretching is even more pronounced when cells shape our organs at the embryo stage, and when they invade tissues through narrow pores during cancer metastasis – but how cells undergo such large deformations without breaking has remained a mystery until now.

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Your face is pushed forward from the back of your head

The embryonic stem cells that form faces – neural crest cells – use an unexpected mechanism to develop our facial features, according to a new UCL-led study involving IBEC researchers.

By identifying how these cells move, the researchers’ findings could help understand how facial defects, such as cleft palate and facial palsy, occur.

This newly described mechanism is likely to be found in other cell movement processes, such as cancer invasion during metastasis or wound healing, so the findings may pave the way to developing a range of new therapies for these, too.

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