Interview with África González, Director of CINBIO

We spoke to Africa González to find out first hand what CINBIO is, its potential and what it represents for the field of biomedics regionally, nationally and internationally.

CINBIO was born out the necessity for research groups and a commitment by the University of Vigo to develop the field of biomedicine. In this sense, CINBIO’s key differential with regard to other centres with similar characteristics, is its multidisciplinary nature.

 

“What characterises CINBIO is that it has very strong multidisciplinary research groups, which work in unison and have the capacity to share synergies and resources”

 CINBIO is made up of nearly 200 researchers of the highest level who belong to different knowledge areas (Medicine, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Biostatistics, Bioinformatics).

There are 13 groups in total which are set out into 5 main research areas: Cancer, Immunity and Inflammation, Neuroscience, Biohealth and Active Aging and Obesity and Metabolic Diseases; and three transversal ones: Bioinformatics, Biostatistics and Innovation) diagnosis, prevention and therapy).

CINBIO has a building which includes six modules with separate areas for each group and multiple areas for common use, so researchers from different groups are integrated and create synergies between them. There are also spaces for socialising in which researchers can have a chat while enjoying a coffee.

 Among the most innovative technologies at CINBIO, the most outstanding one is the Orbitrap Elite mass spectrometer system for undertaking large-scale proteomic studies. Indeed, the CINBIO is one of the few centres in Spain to have this system. Furthermore, they carry out mass sequencing, for both genome and transcriptome, while the cytometry unit has a cell sorter cytometer, that makes cell isolation possible. In addition, the CINBIO is situated close to the cutting-edge technology available at CACTI of the University of Vigo.

CINBIO also has a very innovative BSL-3 laboratory to work with level 3 pathogen cultures, which need very strict safety measures, as well as a bio-experimentation service for carrying out pre-clinical trials. 

CINBIO has been set up through funding obtained from national and European public infrastructure calls for proposals; the most significant project funding being that for BIOCAPS from the EU’s 7th FP , together with the support from the University of Vigo and the Xunta de Galicia. Recently the Ministry of Culture, Education and University Organisation of the Xunta de Galica awarded the CINBIO designation as a Singular Research Centre (2016-2019) , which means the centre will receive a significant economic stimulus in the next three years.

 

What research projects have been carried out by CINBIO researchers?

 On an international level, during 2016 CINBIO researchers have worked on 8 European projects, the most noteworthy being the ERC Consolidator Grant to Dr David Posada from the Filocancer and Computational Genomics group which was awarded the highest status for an ERC Consolidator project (€2 million), and the BIOCAPS institutional project (2013-2016), which more received than €4.6 million in funding.

In 2017, a new project will commence involving the ERC Starting Grant of Dr. José M. Castro Tubio also working in the  Filocancer and Computational Genomics group. The avalaible funding for this project is €1.5 million. Funding from international calls for proposals constitutes 17.8% of the total.

 

“CINBIO has two ERC researchers: David Posada, with an ERC Consolidator Grant and José M. Castro Tubio, with an ERC Starting Grant”

On a national level CINBIO researchers have carried out 29 projects, 6 of which began this year. The main source of income for national projects is the National R&D+i Plan. Funding obtained from national calls for proposal constitutes 67.4% of total funding.

Regarding regional funding obtained, CINBIO researchers have carried out 8 autonomous region projects. This funding makes up 17,8% of the total.

Prof. África González-Fernández explained that, in addition to competitive sources of funding, the CINBIO promotes external funding from private foundations, associations and companies, for financing both research projects and scientific dissemination activities.

 

Moreover, as a consequence of the synergies and the excellence way that the groups complement each other, joint internal projects are being developed and supported. Currently, to give two examples, there are internal projects involving the areas of Immunology and Physical Chemistry or between Organic Chemistry and Endocrinology for the synthesis of drugs for endocrine diseases.

 

 Top-level Scientific Production Output

Scientific output is another of CINBIO’s strengths: its groups have generated a total of 149 articles in 2016; of which , 143 were scientfic articles and 6 were book chapters. Among these scientific publications should be highlighted those  accepted by high impact journals, including Nature Materials, Nature Review Genetics, Systemic Biology, Nanoletter, J. Am. Chem.Soc., Annals of Rheumatic diseases.

CINBIO has important researchers with significant scientific output. For example, Dr David Posada, a Highly Cited Researcher (ISI), while and Dr. Isabel Pastoriza has a H-index of 51, making her one of the highest-impact researchers nationwide in the field of Physical Chemistry.

 

CINBIO, a centre with strong potential for evaluating and transferring results to society

 CINBIO and the Office of Technology Transfer of Research Results at the University of Vigo collaborate to evaluate the possibilities of transferring the results of its research groups to society. For this purpuse, there is a technological catalogue for the different groups at the centre, which is periodically updated and improved .

During 2016, 20 R&D and Technological Service Contracts were handled, 17 of which were finalised during that year, with 12 companies participating.

 When asked about what CINBIO offers companies, Prof. González-Fernández replied that “CINBIO gives companies access to modern laboratories with sophisticated equipment and expert staff.” She also stated that “its geographical location in the south of Galicia facilitates access to other companies in the biotechnology sector.”

We should not forget the role that CINBIO plays at regional level, offering strength both clinically and in research, whilst also further enabling knowledge transfer to southern Galicia. Moreover, CINBIO has close links to the nearby business environment, for example, among others, with companies such as Lonza, CZ Veterinaria.

 

“CINBIO gives companies access to modern laboratories with sophisticated equipment and expert staff”, stressed África González.

CINBIO’s potential is clearly apparent bearing in mind that, from 2008 until now, 5 spin-off companies have been promoted by CINBIO groups: Inbiogal S.L. (2008), NanoImmunotech (2009), Peloides termales S.L. (2009), FG2 Energy Control (2012) and Nanofaber (2015).

 

CINBIO and its strong commitment to the recruitment and retention of research talent

Among the activities to attract academic talent by the University of Vigo, calls for proposals in all fields have been opened  to attract research talent, aimed at established PhDs with remarkable records, and with the potential to attract excellent science funding (such as Ramon y Cajal or ERC grants). Similarly, there is another call for proposals to recruit 2 researchers who have already been awarded an ERC Grant. 

For its part, the CINBIO plans to carry out complementary actions to attract the best researchers in the field of biomedicine, through exclusive calls for proposals within its scientific field. In this context, the fundamental aim is the consolidation and retention of recruited talent, specifically dealing with the need for actions that promote researchers’ stability, both in their capacity as teachers and in their research work.

Asked about where she sees CINBIO in the next 5 years, Prof. González-Fernández believes the centre will be too small by them, as many researchers are interested in working at the facilities, and there is a considerable amount of ongoing activity. She added that CINBIO will continue growing, with ever closer collaborations with other national and international centres.

 

Prof. Africa González-Fernández, hails from Madrid and currently resides near Vigo. She was awarded her MD and PhD in Medicine, before specialising in Immunology at the Puerta de Hierro, Hospital in Madrid. Subsequently, she moved to Cambridge, UK, to work with Nobel Prize Winner César Milstein at the Medical Research Council, the benchmark research centre. Prof. González-Fernández is currently in charge of the CINBIO, Biomedical Research Centre, Vigo, recognised as the “Singular Research Centre in Galicia (2016-2019).  She is the Immunology group leader and President of the Spanish Immunology Society.