Two researchers from the BIST Community receive ERC starting grants

The European Research Council (ERC) supports two projects led by researchers in the BIST Community: The “MyTissue” project, led by Dr. Stefanie Wculek at IRB Barcelona, with the aim of revealing the needs of the immune system’s frontline troopers, and the “SpaceClones” project, headed by Dr. Xavier Rovira Clavé at IBEC to understand the clonal evolution of tumours.

Researchers Dr. Stefanie Wculek (left) and Dr. Xavier Rovira Clavé (right)

The “MyTissue” project and the “SpaceClones” project have received €1.5 M and €2.5 M, respectively, to develop their work over the coming five years. Dr. Stefanie Wculek, Junior Group Leader at the BIST centre IRB Barcelona, will focus on unveiling the mechanisms underlying the adaptation of dendritic cells and neutrophils to different tissues and organs and how this changes with ageing. Dr. Xavier Rovira Clavé, who is currently a researcher at Stanford University’s School of Medicine and will soon take up a position at the BIST centre IBEC, aims to delve deeper into the understanding of tumour clonal evolution and its impact on cancer development, as well as its response to therapies. The two projects are among 400 awarded by the ERC in this round, out of a total of 2,696 submissions.

The “MyTissue” Project

Dendritic cells and neutrophils are present in our body tissues and organs to detect harm (whether a wound, infection, or other damage) and call in the immune system’s defence and repair mechanisms. However, the effectiveness of these cells diminishes with age, leading to either excessive immune responses causing inflammation, or inadequate responses against common infections.

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, head of the Innate Immune Biology lab at IRB Barcelona.

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 “MyTissue” 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).

The “SpaceClones” Project

Tumour clonal evolution is a highly complex biological process that pertains to how cancer cells progress and transform within a tumour over time. These cancerous tumours primarily originate from genetic mutations that convert normal cells into cancer cells. As these cancer cells replicate and proliferate, they have the ability to accumulate new genetic mutations over time, leading to the diversification of cells within the tumour. Understanding this clonal evolution is crucial for designing more effective cancer therapies and predictive tools for assessing clinical outcomes.

To address the challenges in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind clonal behaviours in tumours, the “SpaceClones” 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.

Learn more:
IRB Barcelona press release
IBEC press release
ERC press release
Full list of funded projects