New Home for an Exciting Field

(May 2nd, 2017) The European Molecular Biology Laboratory is on the brink of opening a new research site dedicated to tissue biology and disease modelling in Barcelona. EMBL’s Director General, Iain Mattaj, shared details of this brand new venture with your Lab Times reporter.

EMBL’s latest site will be housed within the existing Barcelona Biomedical Research Park and will focus on investigating the finer aspects of tissue biology and disease modelling. Errors in how ‘cells arrange themselves and interact at the tissue level’ could hold the key to better understanding conditions like cancer, diseases of the immune system and birth defects.

“Tissue biology and disease modelling is an exciting field, where we expect breakthroughs in fundamental research and also in terms of future medical applications. There is a lot of development in particular in the area of live imaging but also regarding organoids. We also chose tissue biology and disease modelling as the focus for our new site because there are many topics which are related and could act synergistically with EMBL's strategy and strengths in other areas, such as cell biology and biophysics, developmental biology, genome biology and bioinformatics,” explains Iain Mattaj.

Barcelona was a very natural choice to host this endeavour as Mattaj describes, “Barcelona has very strong universities and scientific institutes with complementary expertise that we look forward to collaborating with. Our long-standing partner, the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), for example, is one of the world’s leading centres in fundamental biomedical sciences. In addition, next door to the EMBL Barcelona site in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park is a research hospital, which will enable direct links to clinical research. The Spanish and Catalonian governments as well as the CRG have been outstandingly supportive and cooperative in developing the detailed scientific plan for the site, working on a host site agreement and discussing the site’s space and infrastructure.”

This upcoming EMBL site has been in the planning for a substantial amount of time now. “Official discussion in EMBL’s governing body, EMBL Council, started in 2011. But Spain hosting an EMBL site has been on my mind almost from my first days as Director General of EMBL. When I first visited the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness in Madrid at the end of 2005, it was already very clear that they were keen to develop deeper links with us, up to and including hosting an EMBL site. The EMBL site in Barcelona is expected to begin operations in autumn of 2017,” reveals the Director General.

Now, if you happen to be a scientist interested in pushing the envelope with challenging research in the realms of tissue biology and disease modelling, and are looking to move to a vibrant city in the near future, EMBL Barcelona might just prove to be the professional destination for you. The EMBL is currently on the lookout for staff members.

Mattaj shares, “We are in the process of appointing a Head of EMBL Barcelona and expect to be able to make an announcement about this within the next month. After that, we will be recruiting a Head of Core Facility, who will lead the provision of state-of-the-art imaging techniques for scientists studying tissues and organs. Thereafter, we will gradually grow to a total of eight labs (including the core facility). Researchers for EMBL Barcelona will be recruited internationally, through our central job applications and PhD and Postdoctoral programmes. We will apply the same criteria as for all other EMBL recruitment; above all scientific excellence. Similarly to our other sites, we particularly encourage early-career scientists to apply to build up their own labs at EMBL.”

The EMBL is synonymous with innovative fundamental research, and the Barcelona site promises to provide its investigators with all the technical expertise and equipment to facilitate this very goal. This will be primarily achieved via the on-site Core Facility. “The Core Facility at EMBL Barcelona will provide access to cutting-edge technologies, and support for scientists studying tissues and organs. Our model for Core Facilities is that they should adapt to researchers’ needs and to developments in the field – this is already how facilities at other EMBL sites work and we expect that to be the case in Barcelona, too,” elucidates Mattaj.

The interest in the establishment of this new site is palpable within the scientific community and the Director General absolutely shares this enthusiasm, “We’re very excited about EMBL Barcelona as tissue biology is a field that’s going through a tremendous expansion right now and where a number of impressive applications are coming within reach. And because it complements other areas where we have established expertise, there will be a lot of ground for cross-fertilisation and collaboration that could truly bring about interesting results.”

In case you are wondering if EMBL has other expansions in the pipeline, this is unfortunately not the case. “This is the first new site that EMBL is to open in almost 20 years. At present, there are no plans to open other sites,” states Iain Mattaj. This, of course, does not in any way mean that the EMBL will not diversify its interests in the pursuit of pioneering research. “In terms of the science that's carried out at EMBL, we actually constantly adapt and pursue new directions. Much of this refocussing is done gradually as research groups leave and new PIs are recruited. The EMBL site close to Rome in Italy, for example, is gradually being refocussed from general mouse biology to research on neurobiology and epigenetics,” explains EMBL’s Director General.

Latika Bhonsle

Photos(2): Ferran Mateo/PRBB

Last Changes: 05.22.2017