Spanish government and EMBL sign agreement for new site dedicated to tissue biology and disease modelling

mouse-pncreasThe internal structure of a mouse pancreas, imaged with a SPIM microscope like those that will be used at EMBL Barcelona. IMAGE: Ahlgren, Mayer & Swoger/CRG

At a ceremony in Barcelona today, EMBL and the Spanish government, represented by the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (MINECO), signed an agreement for a new EMBL site to be hosted in the city. Also present were the Catalan Government, represented by the Ministry of Business and Knowledge, and the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), which have supported this initiative from the very beginning. EMBL Barcelona will be located on the campus of the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), and researchers at the site will explore how tissues and organs function and develop, and how preventing failures in those processes may help to tackle disease. Alongside cutting-edge research, the site will house state-of-the-art imaging facilities, making pioneering technologies available to scientists worldwide.

“Tissue biology and disease modelling is an exciting field, where we expect breakthroughs in fundamental research and also in terms of future medical applications. EMBL Barcelona will be in a unique position to lead those advances,” says EMBL Director General Iain Mattaj. “The site will be one of the few places in the world where scientists can access state-of-the-art microscopy and modelling technologies specifically designed for studying tissues.”

Scientists at EMBL Barcelona will tackle key challenges around human health. Many health issues like cancer, diseases of the immune system and birth defects involve flaws in how cells arrange themselves and interact at the tissue level. Research  in tissue biology raises the exciting prospect of being able to control, make and heal tissues and organs – approaches that could provide new means of treating such conditions.

Researchers at EMBL’s new site will work in a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary and international environment, benefiting from the institute’s long-lasting relationship with the CRG, an international biomedical research institute based at the PRBB, and the close collaboration with other institutes on campus, as well as opportunities across EMBL sites and with other partners throughout Europe and beyond.

EMBL  is  an  intergovernmental   organization   supported  by more than 20 member states. The first new EMBL site to be established in almost 20 years, EMBL Barcelona will  be the institute’s 6th site – after Heidelberg (Germany), Hamburg (Germany), Grenoble (France), Hinxton (UK) and Monterotondo (Italy). It is expected to begin operations in autumn 2017.

What is tissue biology?

This post was originally published on EMBL News.


SPIM image of developing mouse head. © Comai, Mayer & Swoger/CRG


OPTiSPIM image of a developing mouse eye. © Comai, Mayer & Swoger/CRG


SPIM imaging of the internal structure of a mouse pancreas. © Ahlgren, Mayer & Swoger/CRG

Photos of PRBB:

Photos of PRBB:

© Ferran Mateo/PRBB


© Ferran Mateo/PRBB


© Ferran Mateo/PRBB


© Ferran Mateo/PRBB


© Ferran Mateo/PRBB

What is Tissue Biology?

How does your heart beat? Why does the liver heal better than the brain? How did the bones in your leg grow to support your weight? Scientists working on tissue biology strive to answer questions like these. To do so, they combine many different perspectives. They look at how cells interact with each other and respond to their surroundings. They analyse the shape of cells. They probe chain reactions between molecules. They investigate the genes involved. And they trace the connections between these scales, unveiling how tissues develop, work, regenerate and heal.

Often, this involves developing new approaches and technologies. For instance, to track cells and molecules in a living tissue you need specially-designed technology. Microscopes developed for looking at single cells, or small groups of cells, will not be ideal. And technologies like CT scans, developed to look at a whole body part or even a whole organism, won't give you the necessary detail.  To fill this gap, scientists have designed non-invasive techniques like single-plane illumination microscopy (SPIM). With SPIM microscopes, researchers can record living tissues and organs in detail, by shining a thin light sheet on them, one layer of cells at a time. The technique enabled EMBL scientists to see a fish embryo’s beating heart for the first time, for example.

Similarly, if your experiments are to shed light on how cells interact in 3D, simply growing cells on a lab dish may not suffice. So scientists studying tissue biology are using and driving developments such as organoids – tiny balls of cells that act like miniaturised versions of an organ.

What is a tissue?

A tissue is a group of cells with a similar structure, organised to carry out specific functions. Examples of tissues: muscle, epithelial tissue (which forms your skin and the lining of your intestine). An organ like the intestine, lung or liver can contain many different types of tissues.

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