‘Fingerprinting’ nanoscale objects and viruses

IBEC’s Nanoscale Bioelectrical Characterisation group are celebrating the publication of their latest results in Nature Materials this week.

In their paper “Label-free identification of single dielectric nanoparticles and viruses with ultraweak polarization forces”, Laura Fumagalli, group leader Gabriel Gomila and their colleagues present their work on a new technique to identify nano-objects such as viruses without the need for labeling, which could offer a breakthrough for biomedical diagnostics, environmental protection and nano-electronics.

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Cells mind the gap: cell protrusions close gaps in epithelia

Epithelial tissues line cavities and the surfaces of structures throughout the body, and also form many glands. During development, injury and in various disease conditions, gaps appear in the epidermis, which have to be quickly filled in.

The timely closure of the gaps that occur in these cell layers has been studied in great detail, and two possible mechanisms have been suggested; the closure of cells like the strings of a purse over a gap, and the extension of cellular protrusions by the cells surrounding the gap, which will eventually seal it. Different molecular players have been found to be key components of these mechanisms.

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How the nose knows

The mammalian sense of smell is an excellent chemical sensing system that far outshines any man-made reproduction, so researchers have long been trying to analyze and recreate the animal olfactory system to develop artificial ‘noses’.

Now researchers at IBEC have shed new light on this highly efficient system that could allow better chemical sensing systems with important applications in such critical areas as health, security or the food industry.

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The mattress test: cells do it too

Just as people are picky about the type of mattress they want to sleep on – not too hard, but not so soft either – so are cells. In fact, the rigidity of the cellular environment is so important that it can be the determining factor of whether a stem cell will differentiate into bone or fat, for example – or whether a cell behaves normally or turns cancerous.

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A breakthrough in understanding 
age-related disease

Researchers at IBEC have made an important leap towards understanding the second most common neurodegenerative illness, Parkinson’s disease (PD), which affects around 5% of the population by age 85.

Previously, it wasn’t clear whether induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – adult cells genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell-like state, which offer an unrivalled opportunity to understand many human diseases – were able to shed any light on illnesses which are age-related.

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Developing a new solution to treat atherosclerosis

We’ve all eaten rich meals or fatty foods and joked that we can feel our ‘arteries hardening’. However, the reality of atherosclerosis – when fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the artery walls and form solid structures called plaques – is no joking matter. The consequences of this disorder can include stroke and coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death in many developed countries.

Now, a new scientific project involving IBEC and three other European research centres is set to offer a novel, minimally-invasive treatment for atherosclerosis patients, thanks to funding awarded by the European Commission.

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Shedding light on misbehaving cells

Much like a kindergarten full of unruly toddlers, the cells that contribute to the body’s crucial processes can’t always be trusted to do what you want or expect them to do. Now IBEC researchers have made an important breakthrough that could contribute to the development of therapies for spinal and neural diseases:  they’ve figured out exactly what it is that makes certain cells misbehave in particular circumstances.

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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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