Mel and Laura won (another edition of) the Sant Jordi contest, organized by the INc-UAB communication department.
The contest consisted on creating drawings, comics and poems to disseminate neuroscience content.
Mel, Andrea, and Laura were at the Cajal Conferences last week. Held in Sant Feliu de Guíxols, the conferences were an excellent opportunity to meet other people working in the field around Spain.
Mel and Laura presented a poster, and Andrea gave an oral presentation on how synapses can be altered in Leigh Syndrome.
They also went kayaking and partied, and we are so jealous we don’t even want to listen to their anecdotes.
We have great news! The European Research Council awarded Albert with a Proof of Concept grant to work on ResisCHIP, a kit we are developing to quickly detect antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
AMR causes over 700.000 deaths each year and is associated to reduced quality of life, increased hospitalization periods and medical costs. Hence, developing fast diagnostic methods to identify the optimal treatment is key to effectively fight AMR and increase survival rates of patients encountering life-threatening infections. So far, diagnostics rely on bacterial cultures, leading to slow turnaround times, which are linked to the preventive administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics, often inefficient and leading to worse disease outcomes and spread of AMR. Novel approaches such as DNA PCR-based diagnostic panels or next generation sequencing methods have been recently proposed to address this issue. However, they are target a limited number of pathogens and genes or require expensive equipment and highly-trained personnel. Furthermore, they require a culture step to reach detection levels, usually lasting a few hours, that can be critical for serious conditions.
Recently, using technology derived from ERC StG and PoC grants, we designed a method to concentrate, purify, and isolate bacterial RNA in just 5 minutes. With this grant, we seek to develop and validate these tools, combined with a rapid RNA chip array with single-molecule resolution, to provide a culture-free, fast, and highly sensitive alternative to bacterial infection diagnostics from direct blood samples.
Once developed, ResisCHIP will provide a tailor-made diagnostic kit with the capacity to identify thousands of genes and pathogens from a blood sample in less than 2 hours, allowing the rapid selection of the best treatment, improving AMR stewardess, and becoming a significant breakthrough in AMR diagnostics.
We are veeery happy to announce we have received a 3-year grant from the Spanish Research Agency, to study the molecular determinants of neuronal death in mitochondrial disease. We want to understand the role of the immune system in mitochondrial disease, both in animal models and in human samples, and thanks to this grant we will work to figure it out. We also received a fellowship for a PhD student, so, hopefully, Quintanalab will grow soon 😊
A science dissemination contest was organized at our research institute for Sant Jordi. Laura Sánchez won the first prize with this amazing masterpiece, which shows our lab and the things you can find in it! She rocks!
We have received a Proof of Concept UAB grant to transfer our mito-based technology to develop a diagnostic kit for bacteria resistance. The project, which is a collaboration with Hospital Parc Taulí, will consist of creating a fast and highly sensitive approach to detect antimicrobial resistance (AMR), based on checking the expression of different resistance genes. The development of this disruptive methodology could represent a significant step forward in the fight against AMR, allowing clinicians to find a precise antibiotic for each case 👩🔬🦠💪👏
These grants are supported by the Secretaria d’Universitats i Recerca of the Departament d’Empresa i Coneixement de la Generalitat de Catalunya and are funded by the Fons Europeu de Desenvolupament Regional (FEDER).
As the new year begins, we would like to look back to 2020 for a last minute. It was a tough year, but the scientific community got two amazing new doctors!
Pati defended her PhD, ESTUDIO DEL PERFIL TRADUCCIONAL CITOSÓLICO Y MITOCONDRIAL DE POBLACIONES NEURONALES SUSCEPTIBLES A LA DEFICIENCIA DEL COMPLEJO I MITOCONDRIAL, in December, giving an excellent presentation that led to a very interesting discussion.
And Pablo defended his thesis, GLUTAMATERGIC VESTIBULAR NEURONS SUSTAIN MOTION-INDUCED AUTONOMIC AND AVERSIVE RESPONSES, online in July. He did a super-great job as well, it was a great presentation with a very nice discussion. Look at him holding his little baby:
We are veeeery proud of them, and wish all the best for their scientific careers! We already have their pictures on our hall of fame:
We have big good news at Quintanalab.
Everything was adequately celebrated with pizza last Friday:
We are very happy!
Albert and Eli participated in an international study published in Nature, which describes the processes occurring in the hippocampal neurons to create long-lasting memories.
Long-term memory is a brain mechanism that allows us to encode and retain an almost unlimited amount of information throughout our lifetime. Key proteins that activate protein synthesis, such as the eIF2 initiation factor, are involved in the process.
In this study, coordinated by McGill University (Montreal, Canada), they observed that eIF2 is involved in the formation of new long duration memories through its activity in two types of neurons in the hippocampus: excitatory neurons and neurons expressing somatostatin, a group of inhibitory neurons.
In parallel and autonomously, the reduction of eIF2 bound to a phosphorus molecule (phosphorylated) in these two subpopulations is enough to increase protein synthesis, strengthen connections between neurons, and improve long-term memory.
“To study these effects, we used a technique we had developed, that showed that the changes in the excitatory neurons during learning are similar to those observed by genetically preventing eIF2a phosphorylation in these neurons”, explains Eli. This is important because it validated the genetic model and allowed identifying the changes that learning produces at a transcriptional level.
“The existence of two autonomous processes for memory consolidation mediated by the non-phosphorylated form of eIF2a may respond to an evolutionary advantage in ensuring and regulating the duration of a given memory”, says Albert.
The study is the first to analyze separately the role of excitatory and inhibitory neurons in the hippocampus in the consolidation of these types of memories, and helps to understand the creation and maintenance of memories phenomenon, which continues to belargely unknown.
We are very happy to announce we have been selected to receive a grant from La Caixa Foundation to investigate new therapies for mitochondrial disease! It has been a very competitive process, in which only 8 projects were selected out over 150 proposals, so we have some cava in the fridge!
Our project will focus on studying the alterations that occur in a specific area of the brain, the basal ganglia, in mitochondrial pathologies. We suspect that these alterations are caused by signals initiated in the mitochondria that drive cells to their death. Thanks to the funding from La Caixa Foundation (500,000 euros in 3 years), we will investigate how to reverse these signals and look for new therapies.
What was last Saturday’s day number? Yes, it was the 4th of July. What happens on every 4th of July? Yes, we celebrate a BBQ to commemorate the United States’ Independence Declaration. O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light… You can tell we miss Seattle 😀
We went to El Bosc Tancat, in Cerdanyola, with our cars full of hot dogs, burgers (+ veggie burgers), chorizo, chicken, omelettes, beers, and a bit of sadness, as it was Fab’s farewell as well.
Marco and Adan were the BBQ chefs, and Fab was in charge of them having enough drinks. They did an excellent job, as the food was de-li-ci-ous. Isabella brought this almost-non-alcoholic potion they drink in Serbia, rakija, to help the food disintegrate in the guts.
After the lunch, we gave Fab some presents, such as a magnific apron he is committed to wear every time he cooks Spanish food:
Then, some dared into the swimmingpool to have an afternoon bath and show how tanned they got during lock-down:
What a pleasure to be part of this group of amazing people! <3
The UAB communications team made a super cool video about our research in Leigh Syndrome (thank you very much!). Yay! Albert is almost a star!
We will never be tired of spreading the word in mitochondrial diseases and explain the research we are carrying out in the lab:
At the beginning of the month, the Institut de Neurociències celebrated its 7th Scientific Conferences, and we were -obviously- there!
The event was held in Sant Feliu de Guíxols, by the sea, in the nicest hotel, and gathered together more than 120 students and institute members.
Albert was the conference coordinator and worked very hard for everything to be perfect.
There were more than 30 talks, poster sessions and time for having fun, as well:
(Please, take your time to observe this picture of the costume contest, don’t miss any details…)
Several members of the group participated in the conferences: Elisenda gave a talk on the first day regarding new techniques we are using, Patrizia explained the research she is currently carrying out, and Emma chaired a scientific session. Also, Andrea, Laura, Pablo, Pati and Patrizia presented a poster.
On the fun side, Abel organized an amazing trivia game, on the first night, that Laura’s team won. Pablo’s team won the costume contest, dressing as Disney characters; and Albert and Eli won the partying contest, almost closing the disco.
They were great days with great people! Already looking forward next year’s edition!
We are very glad to announce that our MitoCBD project has been selected for a CaixaImpulse grant.
MitoCBD consists in investigating the use of Cannabidiol (CBD), a substance obtained from the cannabis plant, for the treatment of mitochondrial disease.
It has been proved that CBD has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, and it was also found to restore deficits and prolong life expectancy in a mitochondrial disease model.
The aim of this project is to test the effectiveness of the CBD in other preclinical models of mitochondrial disease, with the final objective of finding a treatment for these devastating rare diseases.
There has only been 21 projects selected from all around the UE, so we are veeeery happy that MitoCBD is one of them!
We published our first preprint last week. For those who aren’t familiarized, a preprint is a study to be published in a Journal, that has not been reviewed yet. The aim is to make the results available as soon as possible so Science can advance faster. We are very excited about it, and very happy because it has been featured by the preprint platform Biorxiv for reaching the top 5% altmetric score within their first days after releasing it; and it has also been selected as one of the ERC Research results of the week! So cool!
But what is it about?
As you may know, dysfunctions of the mitochondrial energy-generating machinery cause a series of usually fatal diseases collectively known as mitochondrial disease. In this disease, high energy-requiring organs, like the brain, are especially affected, showing many severe symptoms such as motor alterations, respiratory deficits or epilepsy that, in many cases, can be fatal. Hence, our group is driven to better understand these pathologies, with the overarching goal of finding effective therapies to treat them.
This time, we focused on Leigh Syndrome, the most common presentation of mitochondrial disease with a predominant affectation of the central nervous system, particularly in two brain areas, the brainstem (that controls all basic functions that keep us alive) and the basal ganglia, involved in refining motor coordination. We knew that one protein in the mitochondria is critical in this disease: the Complex I subunit NDUFS4, because animal models lacking this subunit in all their cells reproduce the classical signs of Leigh Syndrome described before. However, there were some pressing questions remaining: do symptoms appear due to all cells in the body not working properly, or some specific cells are responsible for them?
To study this, we selectively inactivate NDUFS4 in three neuronal populations we suspected could be key, and keep NDUFS4 working in all other cells in the body. Observing what symptoms remained we could know the role of these neurons in the brain alterations these patients suffer.
What we found was that the inactivation of this subunit in a certain kind of excitatory neurons (the fancy-scientist name is vlgut2-expression glutamatergic neurons) caused brainstem inflammation, motor and respiratory deficits, and early death; and that its inactivation in inhibitory (GABAergic neurons) led to basal ganglia inflammation, severe refractory epileptic seizures and premature death.
Bottom line, these results are very important to contribute understand the underlying cellular mechanisms of mitochondrial disease in general, and Leigh Syndrome in particular, as we have identified which specific neurons are behind the brain lesions observed in this pathology and their specific contribution to the symptoms. Therefore, now we have new knowledge to try to identify which cellular aspects are failing in those cells so we can start to envisage different methods to correct them.
Last week, the Quintana lab attended the 1st European PhD and Postdoc Symposium held in the beautiful, Pompeian Style, Palauet Casades in Barcelona, Spain. The international event was possible through the ENABLE (European Academy for Biomedical Science) initiative, part of the European Union Horizon 2020, for young researchers in Life Sciences. It was a very successful initiative with more than 250 participants of 26 different countries.
The 3-day symposium was (amazingly!!) organized by PhD students and Postdocs from four European centers, and was aimed at promoting excellence in the Biomedical Sciences in Europe as well as at fostering collaborations with industry and engagement with society. In addition to the outstanding scientific lectures, we could benefit from the top-level Masterclasses given by established researchers as well as the informal Career Chats with professionals, to learn about different career paths outside the bench. We also enjoyed the interesting Workshops on useful topics such as “Setting Goals & Time Management”, “Intellectual Property” or “Science Communication and Public engagement”.
It has been a very inspiring event… and Pati and Pablo could also show our latest research advances!!
Now the torch has been passed…we are looking forward the next vibrant ENABLE symposium in Copenhagen 2018!!
Wow! what a busy time this past year has been!
Many (good) things and (good) news to explain! New members, new papers, exciting science… here you are a picture of the lab just before summer break!
First of all, we are glad to announce three! new additions to the lab: Kelsey, Fabien and Patrizia. (disclaimer: they have already been with us for some months, but hey, I told you we have been really busy!)
Kelsey Montgomery has re-joined the lab as a part-time research technician/MSc student (Bioinformatics). She graduated (BSc. Genetics) from the University of Georgia (2013) and worked at Seattle Genetics (2013-2015) before joining the Quintana lab in Seattle (2015). We are excited to have her with us again on the other side of the pond!
Fabien Menardy (aka Fab) has joined the lab as a postdoctoral fellow and is our resident optogenetics/in vivo electrophysiology expert. Fabien graduated (PhD Neurosciences) from the University of Paris Sud (2012) under the supervision of Dr. Catherine del Negro, where he worked on elucidating neural responses involved in zebra finch vocal communication signaling. After obtaining his PhD, he joined the lab of Dr. Daniela Popa and Dr. Clément Lena, at the École Normal Supérieure, Institut de Biologie (Paris), as a postdoctoral researcher (2013-2016) where he focused on understanding the role of the cerebellum in Parkinson’s Disease. He is now interested in understanding the electrophysiological alterations (and their implications in circuit signal processing) in neurons with mitochondrial dysfunction.
Patrizia Bianchi joined the lab as a postdoctoral fellow and is an expert in mitochondrial dynamics. Patrizia graduated (PhD Biomedicine) from the Universitat de Barcelona (2016) under the supervision of Dr. Aurora Pujol (IDIBELL), where she worked on elucidated the alterations in mitochondrial dynamics in X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy. She is now focusing on characterizing the underlying deficits in mitochondrial dynamics in animal models of Leigh Syndrome.
We are glad to have such talented scientists in the lab!
Last, but not least, and even though there will be other posts providing brief summaries, we are glad to have had two articles recently accepted! Hooray!
Here you are the links, for those interested:
Will keep you updated!!