Interview with David Posada. PI of Evolutionary Genomics group.

Doctor in Zoology, Full Professor of Genetics at the University of Vigo and coordinator of the Evolutionary Genomics Group (XB5) for CINBIO, David Posada González is the only Galician researcher to be awarded a Consolidator Grant, given by the European Research Council (ERC) in 2013. In 2003 he received a Ramón y Cajal grant, and in 2007 a Starting Grant, also given by the ERC. In addition, he is regarded as an ISI Highly Cited Researcher, according to Thomson Reuters, since 2003.

 

One of the lines of research of your group was awarded a Consolidator Grant by the ERC and it focuses on the creation of a theoretical and methodological framework allowing better comprehension of the evolution of carcinogenic tumour cells. What results do you hope to find in this area?

PHYLOCANCER is an ambitious 5 year project with 2 clear objectives: on one hand, to fine tune techniques for the study of individual genomes in tumour cells, and the development of bioinformatic methodologies for the mass analysis of genomic data. On the other, the generation of knowledge about evolutionary parameters in the life of a tumour, its history and how its characteristics develop (metastasis, growth rate, etc.) in each individual patient.

 

The results of PHYLOCANCER will offer new computational tools to the scientific community for the mass analysis of genomic data, and information about the evolutionary history of cancer, which could contribute to future improvements in fully personalized diagnosis and prognosis for patients with all tumour types.

 

This is a multidisciplinary study in which we collaborate with various regional hospitals (Hospital Álvaro Cunqueiro and Meixoeiro de Vigo and USC Hospital University Complex, Santiago de Compostela), and the focus is on two types of cancer: colorectal  cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

 

In addition to being given a Consolidator Grant for your PHYLOCANCER project, in 2007 the ERC awarded you a Starting Grant for the PHYLOGENOM project. What was the subject matter of the project and what are the main conclusions you drew from it?

PHYLOGENOM is based on the development of a general methodology for genome evolution in any type of sexual organism, those which produce offspring from reproduction between a male and female. This project offered us the chance to develop scientific knowledge about the evolution of DNA in this type of organism, but above all methodological tools to measure it and characterize it statistically.

 

Bioinformatics is a key aspect of your group and of the research projects you carry out. In this context you have developed a number of open to use applications for the scientific community. Which of them would you highlight for its value?

Bioinformatics has been key for the evolution and relevance of our research group. We have developed multiple techniques and methodologies which are today used by scientists all over the world in their data analysis routines but I would perhaps higlight ModelTest, which I developed in 1998 during my phD, and whose descriptive article, with more than 20,000 citations, is one of the top 100 most cited articles of all time, according to “Nature” journal. ModelTest is a methodology which, based on biostatistical calculations, allows the best DNA evolution model to be selected for a particular set of scientific data and which has become a standard by which to justify the model used in phylogenetic research studies.

 

There are no doubts about your potential in scientific production, with more than 130 articles appearing in high impact publications, such as Nature. In addition, you are recognized as an ISI Highly Cited Researcher. How do you assess your position nationally and internationally? What other indicator about your group would you highlight?

This recognition obviously makes us a group of excellence internationally, but it also means that the methodologies that we develop are useful and facilitate research all over the world.

 

This prestige on an international level means that regionally we are one of the best placed to attract international talent. In our group you can find researchers from Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, etc…

 

In addition, another of the key aspects of our group is its cross-disciplinary nature. This enriches our lines of research immensely with many different complementary perspectives, such as knowledge in chemistry, biology and informatics.

 

Beyond the multidisciplinary environment and the ease of synergies between research groups, what advantages does CINBIO offer as a group? And what about for you as a researcher?

Without doubt, CINBIO is an ecosystem which strengthens the establishment of synergies and collaborations between complementary research groups, allowing our projects to be more global and more comprehensive, tackling the same issue from different angles.

 

CINBIO is also an opportunity to access cutting-edge technologies and generate a knowledge “biocluster”, which joins the capacities of different groups together and makes us all more competitive internationally and allows us to take on more challenging and more complete projects.

Interview with Francisco Javier Rodríguez Berrocal. Molecular Biomarkers.

 

Francisco Javier Rodríguez Berrocal is a Full Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and secretary of the department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Immunology at the University of Vigo. In addition, he is also Principal Investigator for CINBIO’s Molecular Biomarkers group (BB1).

The BB1 group is multidisciplinary and it contains three different teams: Protein Biochemistry, Glycoproteomics, and Human Genetics. Despite this spread, they share a common aim: to find new genetic, proteic or glycidic markers, with the view of their potential application to various human pathologies.

What are the main lines of research being worked on, both individually and as a whole?

The three groups are working on the use and development of biological molecules as diagnostic, prognostic and disease monitoring markers in both humans and animals. We apply them to a wide range of diseases, from prevalent diseases such as cancer to rarer diseases such as ciliopathies.

How do you articulate the cross-disciplinary aspect of the group? In what way does working allow that in your day to day research? Could you give an example of the most transverse project in which all three teams participate?

By having a basic common goal, which is our joint work with biomarkers. Each group has a Lead Researcher and I am coordinator for the whole group (BB1). In day to day functioning we share biochemical techniques and equipment. For instance, methylation studies are particularly important and can be applied to various projects.

With regard to results transfer, you have a remarkable track record to date. What milestones would you highlight in this area? 

We have been producing research contracts for companies such as CZVeterinaria for the past number of years, and we put together a high number of reports every year to facilitate the diagnosis of ciliopathies in different hospitals. The three groups have all obtained patents, and 5 out of 6 senior researchers in the group are shareholders in the INBIOGAL spin-off company (Biological Research of Galicia).

Meanwhile, the group has had numerous collaborations with research groups both nationally and internationally. Which of these collaborations would you highlight in particular?

I think our collaboration with research groups from Barcelona, Alicante and the Canary Islands is one of the most important we have been involved in. In this project we developed an Applied Research Program for cancer diagnosis, lasting 5 years and funded by the Asociación Española Contra El Cáncer with 1.200.000 €.

What would you say are the main milestones that you have reached as a group on an international level? 

We do not have a specific relevance on an international level, but the group’s track record both in publications and in projects, contracts and patents, has led to 3 of the 6 senior researchers being made Full University Professors, and 2 have obtained the accreditation allowing them to become one.

CINBIO is a multidisciplinary ecosystem which you have been a part of since its beginnings. Which of CINBIO’s strengths would you highlight? To what extent does it help your competitiveness as a research group?

On the one hand, CINBIO is a “melting pot”, where groups offer new ideas and methods to projects that we have all been developing for years. On the other hand, it gives us much more visibility, and the possibility of obtaining aid together, aid to which individually we would not have access.

 

 

Interview with Jacobo de Uña-Álvarez, PI for SIDOR, Statistical Inference, Decision and Operational Research group

 

“We have a very high degree of internationalization, with collaborators in prestigious institutions from all five continents”

Jacobo de Uña-Álvarez, Ph.D in Mathematics, coordinates SIDOR (Statistical Inference, Decision and Operative Research group); a group created in 1998 at the University of Vigo which specialises in statistic models and methods. With a team made up of more than 30 researchers, SIDOR has been recognised as a Competitive Reference Research Group by the Xunta de Galicia since 2008.

What are the group’s main lines of research and what differences in approach do you have in comparison to similar groups? What are your main added values as a research group? (e.g. cross-disciplinary aspects of the group, established collaboration networks, etc.)

SIDOR group carries out basic research in the field of Statistics and Operations Research. Within biostatistics, our main lines of research are: survival analysis and multi-state models; the evaluation of diagnostic and prognostic tests; regression and prediction in high dimensional data and omic data; and multiple comparison methods.

SIDOR is the only research group with these capabilities in the south of Galicia.  Besides carrying out basic research in Mathematics and developing statistical software, it is a group that collaborates with researchers from many diverse fields (Medicine, Biology, Engineering, Economics…). We have a high degree of internationalization, with collaborators in prestigious institutions from all five continents. To demonstrate this, we have just organised the Annual Conference of the International Society for Clinical Biostatistics in Vigo for more than 600 professionals in this field from all over the world.

High-quality, rapid analysis of large arrays of data is one of the challenges of the future faced by fields such as biomedicine and economics. In what way does your group contribute to optimising these highly complex analytical processes?

Nowadays, mass data storage is a reality. This fact has generated some interesting questions about the storage, management and use of this kind of data. Statistical techniques and models make possible to identify patterns or unique characteristics within that huge cloud. High dimensional data and Big Data have led to the appearance of new lines of basic research in Mathematical Statistics, such as inference techniques in the ‘small n, large p’ context, which refers to situations where many variables measured in a small sample of individuals. SIDOR has developed solutions in this context during the last years. It is an exciting moment for methodological research.

In this respect, what are the most significant applications of your research results? What social and / or economic benefits (either currently or in the future) does it offer to society / industry?

Applications are diverse given that Statistics is transversal science. Specific examples include applications in health, such as the identification of markers for cancer or for the progression of HIV; the detection of alterations in regions of DNA from sequencing experiments, which is of great interest in the study of various pathologies. In other fields, such as economics and engineering for example, SIDOR group has favoured the overall progress of knowledge through the development and application of the appropriate statistical models.

What is the goup’s view and experience regarding processes related to technology transfer?

Members of SIDOR have participated in various patents. However, the group’s vocation is that of contributing to knowledge progress accessible to everyone. Most of our statistical software is developed in the free environment R.

We do understand, however, that companies have restrictions regarding the communication of results. SIDOR’s researchers participate in various national and European projects (H2020) with partners from the business world and we work together perfectly.

What are the main achievements of the group in its nearly 20-year research history? What are the challenges for the future as a research group? 

Without any doubt, the main achievement is the transformation from what SIDOR was in 1998, a small group of Ph.Ds in Mathematics, into an established Statistics and Operations Research group which generates knowledge of the very highest level. This task has represented a great responsability, but also a great honour.

We have consolidated a fantastic postgraduate training product: a Master Degree in Statistical Techniques and a Doctorate Program in Statistics and Operational Research. We also collaborate in offering statistics courses as part of many other degree courses.

We have also managed to secure funding for research at a both national and international level, and the group is world-renowned for its quality. The main challenge for the future is to remain aware of the needs that are being generated by the changing society in which we live, so we can continue offering a useful service and preserve the fantastic research environment which has been a key element of the group since its origins. Thanks to the professional and human quality of our team, the researchers recruited by the group have adapted themselves extraordinarily well to our work dynamic.

What does CINBIO offer to a group like yours in terms of maximising potential and international relevance?

SIDOR’s potential and its degree of internationalisation are already quite high. We view SIDOR’s participation in CINBIO as a chance to make a qualitative leap forward in knowledge transfer to the field of biomedicine. All of us must now make a joint effort to ensure that CINBIO becomes much more than just the sum of its parts.

Besides your participation in CINBIO, what other relevant networks or consortiums are you actively participating in?

SIDOR participates in the Spanish Network for Mathematics and Industry (Math-in), whose aim is to promote mathematical knowledge transfer to industry. Some of its members are also part of the Technological Institute for Industrial Mathematics (ITMATI), a Galician consortium which promotes the interaction between the academia and the private companies in the field of mathematics.

 

Interview with Florentino Fernández Riverola, PI of the Next Generation Computer Systems Group (SING)

We have the capability to take on complex problems and work in teams in which the coordination of professionals belonging to different fields of knowledge is essential

 Florentino Fdez-Riverola has a doctorate in Computer Engineering and is a member of the Department of Informatics at the University of Vigo, where he heads the Next Generation Computer Systems Group (SING), a multidisciplinary group which focuses on the research and development of new computer applications and methodologies.

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Interview with PI Jorge Pérez-Juste, and postdoctoral researcher Gustavo Bodelon from the Colloid Chemistry Group

“The quality and impact of our scientific output is our main endorsement as an elite research group”

The Colloid Chemistry Group was formed in 1996 not long after the opening of the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vigo.

The group is currently integrated into the CINBIO Biomedical Research Centre and is made up of 10 researchers, most of whom have a background in chemistry. The Principal Investigators are Jorge Pérez-Juste and Isabel Pastoriza and their research focuses on the synthesis, characterization and application of metal nanoparticles.

Meanwhile, Gustavo Bodelon, molecular biologist and postdoctoral researcher, offers a biological viewpoint to the group and his research is focused on plasmonic colloidal particles and their application in diagnostics and biodetection.

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Interview with José Tubío, PI of the Mobile Genomics group.

“The study of genome mobility in oncogenic processes will revolutionise future diagnosis and treatment of cancer”

José Tubío has been part of the University of Vigo since 2016 and is one of the most important CINBIO researchers. With a background in Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology, he is a member of the International Cancer Genome Consortium and a recipient of an ERC Starting Grant. He currently leads the Mobile Genomics research group from which he coordinates research dealing with how certain sequences of DNA or tumour cells are mobilised and then cause the development of different types of cancer. Along with the Phylogenomics group led by David Posada, they set up the Evogenomics research group that currently has a team of around 20 people. 9 of the members from Evogenomics are part of the Mobile Genomics team. This multidisciplinary group is made up of bioinformaticians, mathematicians, pathologists, which provides a balance between the computational and the molecular biology areas.

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Interview with José Luis Legido, PI of the Applied Physics 2 Group

Professor José Luis Legido is one of the 9 PIs of the Applied Physics 2 group at CINBIO and is  also chairman of the Galician Thermal Peloid Society. Legido is in charge of a line of research focused on monitoring bacteria growth using microcalorimetric techniques, in which the effects of drugs on the bacteria are analysed. As a result of this research he has published eleven scientific articles, one book, three completed theses and one international patent in collaboration with the Vigo Hospital Complex.

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