VHIO joins a unit of biomedical proteomics led by IRB Barcelona: Towards personalized medicine

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The Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology, Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute, Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute, and the University of Barcelona were recently granted ERDF funding for the acquisition of cutting-edge technology for research in the field of proteomics.

Proteomics is the large-scale study of the proteome, defined as the complete set of proteins expressed in an organism. This technology is used identify, quantify and study the structure of proteins and their cellular interaction networks. Both, in healthy and unhealthy organisms, proteins carry out the actions dictated by genes and the potential mutations they may harbor. Therefore, proteins bear ultimate responsibility for the normal function or malfunction of all cellular processes and emerge as a useful study tool and an evident therapeutic target.

IRB Barcelona’s Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Core Facility, led by Marta Vilaseca and formed by a research team with extensive experience and expertise in this field, together with Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute (IJC), Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute (IRSJD), Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), and the University of Barcelona (UB), have been granted funding from the Catalonian Regional Government (Generalitat de Cataluña) through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for the joint acquisition of next-generation technology for the analysis of proteins.

This new equipment will enable us to get a deeper insight into the human proteome, obtain more details about proteins, and work with massive, more complex samples in a shorter time”, explains Dr. Vilaseca.

In relation to the new Unit, Dr. Francesc Canals, principal investigator of VHIO’s Laboratory of Proteomics states that “by joining this initiative, VHIO’s Laboratory of Proteomics will have access to cutting-edge proteomics technology, which will make it possible to advance in our 18-year endeavor to apply proteomics to cancer research”.

Granted by the Secretariat of Universities and Research of the Department of Business and Knowledge of the Government of Catalonia, ERDF funding is aimed at providing the scientific community with equipment and technology that boosts their scientific and technological excellence. The total cost of the project is €1.039M, 50% of which is co-financed by the ERDF Fund and the remainder 50% is assumed by the participating entities. Part of the funds contributed by IRB Barcelona correspond to a bequest that the Institute received in 2018 and intended to support research on cancer and metastasis.

Towards personalized medicine
The quantitative study of the proteome is key in the quest for diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of disease. “The application of proteomics to translational research, which we conduct in IRB Barcelona, allows to study differences at protein level between healthy and unhealthy subjects, and have a strong clinical potential”, states Francesc Posas, director of the Institute. “For this reason, this new equipment is a strategic move for us”, adds Dr Posas.

In the last months, for example, in a collaborative project led by Dr. Joan Calvet from Parc Taulí hospital where IRB Barcelona’s Unit of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics is also involved, the team of the IRB Barcelona’s Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Core Facility has been working with plasma samples from patients with COVID-19 that seeks to analyze the proteome and advance insights into the factors that determine whether a patient will have a good outcome or otherwise will develop complications.

In case of cancer, the analysis of proteins may also shed light on the mechanisms by which tumor cells migrate and metastasize to other organs, or help advance in the development of targeted immunotherapies. In medicine, proteomics allows to monitor the progress of the disease in a patient and determine the therapy from which the patient is more likely to benefit. “Proteomics is called to burst into clinical practice” affirms Vilaseca. And it is key in the advance towards personalized medicine.

Providing services to the entire scientific community
The equipment, installed in IRB Barcelona premises at Barcelona Science Park, will serve the scientific community of IRB, FIJC, FSJD, VHIO and UB, as well as researchers from other entities, including hospitals, private organizations, and research centers.

Manel Esteller, director of Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute (IJC), also an ICREA researcher and UB professor of Genetics, and Carolina De la Torre, responsible for the IRB’s Proteomics Core Facility, added that “the acquisition of this next-generation technology, thanks to ERDF support, will allow to conduct the project that IJC recently joined, an international consortium called CPTAC, The National Cancer Institute’s Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium”. This Consortium is striving to advance in the understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms of cancer through the large-scale analysis of the proteome and genome, also known as proteogenomics”.

It is expected that the equipment will be received by early 2021 and working at full capacity by 2022.