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Pere Roca-Cusachs (Photo: IBEC).

IBEC researcher Pere Roca-Cusachs awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced Grant

Pere Roca-Cusachs, group leader at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant of €2.5M for 5 years to study the biophysical processes behind the progression of cancer and other diseases. This funding, the most prestigious and competitive granted by the European Research Council, allows scientists, with a track record of significant successes over the last decade, to carry out research that can lead to breakthroughs. Roca-Cusachs is part of the select 13.2% of award-winning candidates throughout Europe from among the nearly 1,650 applications received in this call.

IBEC has seen the growth of Roca-Cusachs, who began as a Ph.D. student in early 2000 in the Cellular and Respiratory Biomechanics group led by Prof. Daniel Navajas, and after a few years in the United States, returned to IBEC to establish his own research group on Cellular and Molecular Mechanobiology.

Their project, called MechanoSynth, focuses on mechanotransduction, a process by which cells transform mechanical changes into biological responses, regulating processes such as embryonic development, tumor progression, or wound healing.

A usual mechanical change during cancer development is the stiffening of tissues, for example, which helps tumours grow faster. Thus, “with this project, the idea is to carry out cell engineering, or synthetic biology, based on this mechanotransduction process. That is, artificially programming a cell to respond to changes in stiffness and trigger a beneficial response. Like making the tissues soften and return to a normal state instead of stiffening, for example”, says Roca-Cusachs.

If the system proves to work, a future application would be a potential therapy against cancer or fibrosis, or as a diagnostic tool to detect mechanical changes.

Pere Roca-Cusachs is a member of the EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization). In 2017, he won the Ciutat de Barcelona Award, and  in 2019, the EBSA Young Investigator’s Prize. The researcher has also led and coordinated the recently concluded European project Mechano· Control, with more than 7 million euros of funding within the framework of European FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) programme.

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