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Stefanie Wculek and Xavier Rovira (Credits: IRB Barcelona / IBEC).

Stefanie Wculek and Xavier Rovira receive an ERC Starting Grant

‘MyTissue’ project, led by Stefanie Wculek, IRB Barcelona junior group leader, and the ‘SpaceClones’ project, which will be led and developed at IBEC by Xavier Rovira Clavé, researcher at the Stanford School of Medicine, have been selected  for funding in the Starting Grant call from the European Research Council (ERC). These grants support cutting-edge research and help researchers at the beginning of their careers to launch their own projects, form their teams and pursue their best ideas.

The ‘MyTissue’ project, led by Dr. Stefanie Wculek, has secured €1.5 M of funding from the ERC to study how dendritic cells and neutrophils adapt to different tissues, organs and physiological conditions, especially in the context of ageing. The project aims to uncover the adaptation mechanisms that allow these bone marrow-derived cells to function effectively in the diverse environments they face in homing tissues. In addition, the research will address how the ageing process alters this interaction, compromising the immune response and leading to an impaired defence system.

Dendritic cells and neutrophils exert their function in almost all body tissues, but it is not clear if the effect of ageing on their performance also varies from one tissue to another. Given these considerations, the project will examine a variety of tissues, such as skin and lung (barrier tissues), liver and adipose tissue (examples of metabolic tissues), and spleen and lymph nodes (immune system tissues).

“Understanding the tissue-dependent variety of these immune system troopers in both young and aged organs will enable us to devise a map for potential interventions to improve their function in the elderly,” says Dr. Wculek.

Wculek joined IRB Barcelona in March this year to head the Innate Immune Biology Lab. The research group studies the adaptation mechanisms of immune cells to different environments and conditions and how they become dysfunctional during ageing and cancer and thus hamper immune responses and generate low-level tissue inflammation. The ERC Starting Grant will allow the lab, which currently comprises five researchers, to expand through the appointment of two postdoctoral researchers and a lab technician.
For further information: IRB Barcelona website [+]

The ‘SpaceClones’ project, proposed by Dr. Xavier Rovira Clavé for development at IBEC, has been granted an extraordinary allocation of 2.5 million euros over five years. Its objective is to develop high-throughput and spatial perturbation assays to obtain causal understanding on how cancer cell clones spatially organize to drive solid tumour development.

To address the challenges in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind clonal behaviors in tumors, the project employs an innovative approach that combines highly-multiplexed imaging, in vitro and in vivo tumour models, cell engineering, super-resolution microscopy, combinatorial low-volume liquid handling, and algorithms for deconstruction of spatial patterns.

Dr. Rovira Clavé, researcher at the Stanford School of Medicine, leads this ambitious project promising to shed light on the complexity of tumor evolution. He has extensive experience in the development and application of high-throughput, single-cell, and multiplexed imaging assays, as well as data analysis tools to elucidate molecular pathways contributing to cancer and infectious diseases.

The project’s originality and novelty have enabled it to secure extraordinary funding of an additional €1 million, in addition to the standard €1.5 million from the call, to acquire a state-of-the-art Multiplexed Ion Beam Imaging microscope system at the international forefront. This acquisition will enable IBEC, in collaboration with other planned additions, to establish a unique high-resolution platform for the analysis and characterization of metabolites at the single-cell level.
For further information: IBEC website [+]