Pere Roca winner of EBSA Young Investigator’s Prize

Pere Roca-Cusachs

Pere Roca-Cusachs, group leader at IBEC and assistant professor at the University of Barcelona, has won the 2019 Young Investigator Prize for his contributions to the field of mechanobiology. The award is given by the European Biophysical Societies Association (EBSA).

EBSA association grants this prize every two years. The last winner of the prize was Philipp Kukura from the University of Oxford in the UK in 2017. The prize recognises an investigator across Europe who has defended his thesis 12 years ago or less and awards him with 2000€ and a medal as well as be expected to contribute an article to the European Biophysics Journal. The decision of the winning researcher is made by the Executive Committee based on scientific excellence, leadership and creativity.

The award ceremony will take place in Madrid during the 12th EBSA 10th ICBP-IUPAP European Biophysics Congress from 20-24 of July. During the congress, Pere will be giving a lecture and receive his Young Investigator’s Prize.

The European Biophysical Societies Association was formed in 1984 as a non-profit making organisation, with the objectives “to advance and disseminate knowledge of the principles, recent developments and applications of biophysics, and to foster the exchange of scientific information among European biophysicists and biophysicists in general”. It is composed of the Biophysical Societies in the European area and is managed by an Executive Committee. EBSA is associated with the international organizations International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) and Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE) and owns the European Biophysics Journal.

Mechanobiology of Cancer Summer School 2019

The MECHANO·CONTROL consortium, led by several research institutions across Europe, is launching a Summer School that will be taking place between 17-20 of September 2019 at the Eco Resort in La Cerdanya. The aim of the summer school is to provide training on mechanobiology, and specifically its application to breast cancer. This school will include lectures as well as practical workshops in different techniques and disciplines, ranging from modelling to biomechanics to cancer biology.

There will be scientific sessions in the morning, mixing 6 keynote speakers with 18 short talks selected from abstract submissions by junior scientists attending the school. In the afternoon, there will be 2-3-hour practical workshops, given by scientists from the MECHANO·CONTROL consortium. The course will also include leisure activities.

Attendance to the Summer School is open to all students, post-docs, and professionals interested, although priority will be given to junior scientists (up to post-doctoral stage).

Soon, we will be launching the Mechanobiology of Cancer Summer School 2019 website, where you will find more information about the activities that will be held during the summer school, information on how to register, and the deadlines both for the registration and abstract submission.

The 6 confirmed speakers who will attend the summer school are:

  • Marija Plodinec (University Hospital Basel)
  • Andrew Ewald (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)
  • Peter Friedl (Radboud University Nijmegen)
  • Guillaume Salbreux (Francis Crick Institute)
  • Christina Scheel (Institute of Stem Cell Research, Helmholtz Center Munich)
  • Buzz Baum (Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at UCL)

Also, all MECHANO·CONTROL consortium members will be attending the summer school and will be giving some of the workshops: Aránzazu del Campo (Leibniz-Institut für Neue Materialien, INM), Sergi Garcia-Manyes (King’s College London, KCL), Pere Roca-Cusachs and Xavier Trepat (Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, IBEC), Patrick Derksen and Johan de Rooij (University Medical Center Utrecht, UMCU), Marino Arroyo (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, UPC) and the companies NovioCell and Mind the Byte.

Consortium members at Saarbrücken meeting

Preliminary list of workshop topics:

  • Hydrogel mechanics
  • Design of tuneable gels
  • Biomechanical modelling
  • Breast cancer biology
  • Single molecule mechanics
  • Drug discovery


TheMECHANO·CONTROL project is focused on the mechanical control of biological function.Mechanical forces transmitted through specific molecular bonds drive biological function, and their understanding and control holds an uncharted potential in oncology, regenerative medicine and biomaterial design.

MECHANO·CONTROL proposes to address this challenge by building an interdisciplinary research community with the aim of understanding and controlling cellular mechanics from the molecular to the organism scale. At all stages and scales of the project, it will integrate experimental data with multi-scale computational modelling to establish the rules driving biological response to mechanics and adhesion. With this approach, it aims to explore novel therapeutic approaches beyond the current paradigm in breast cancer treatment. If the partners can understand cancer biomechanics from the single molecule to the whole organ scale, they’ll be able to control mechanical forces to restore healthy cell behaviour and inhibit tumor progression.

Beyond breast cancer, the general principles targeted with this technology will have high applicability in oncology, regenerative medicine, biomaterials and many other biological processes and diseases.

MECHANO·CONTROL is a project funded by the European Commission, within the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) proactive program.

Cadherin mechanotransduction in leader-follower cell specification during collective migration

A review article by Antoine A. Khalil and Johan de Rooij from UMC Utrecht have appeared in the Experimental Cell Research section of Elsevier

Collective invasion drives the spread of multicellular cancer groups, into the normal tissue surrounding several epithelial tumors. Collective invasion recapitulates various aspects of the multicellular organization and collective migration that take place during normal development and repair. Collective migration starts with the specification of leader cells in which a polarized, migratory phenotype is established.

Leader cells initiate and organize the migration of follower cells, to allow the group of cells to move as a cohesive and polarized unit. Leader-follower specification is essential for coordinated and directional collective movement. Forces exerted by cohesive cells represent key signals that dictate multicellular coordination and directionality. Physical forces originate from the contraction of the actomyosin cytoskeleton, which is linked between cells via cadherin-based cell-cell junctions.

The cadherin complex senses and transduces fluctuations in forces into biochemical signals that regulate processes like cell proliferation, motility and polarity. With cadherin junctions being maintained in most collective movements the cadherin complex is ideally positioned to integrate mechanical information into the organization of collective cell migration. Here we discuss the potential roles of cadherin mechanotransduction in the diverse aspects of leader versus follower cell specification during collective migration and neoplastic invasion.

Khalil, A.A., Experimental Cell Research,

Noviocell BV (NCELL)

Short name: NCELL
Full name: Noviocell BV
Address: Reinier Postlaan 2, 6525 GC Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Principal investigator/contact: Juliette van den Dolder

Noviocell BV is an early stage medical technology company, established in Nijmegen in 2015, that focuses on the development of the first ever synthetic solution for 3D cell culturing, opening up entirely new avenues in a range of applications, ranging from 3D cell culture to regenerative medicine. Noviocell will build upon its proprietary polyisocyanopeptide (PIC) hydrogels and develop them into easy-to-use solutions for biomedical researchers, biotech and pharma industry and clinicians. Noviocell BV will commercialise its proprietary disruptive technology, the PIC hydrogel, incorporated in different products. These products have the potential to:

• Revolutionise the field of stem cell biology research by providing the first synthetic, reversible thermosensitive hydrogel for 3D stem cell culturing that can be modified to meet the needs of every cell type and of every researcher (products for research purposes)

• Accelerate large-scale translational research and provide high-throughput assays for industrial use (products for pre-clinical validation)

• Accelerate personalised medicine by establishing disease-specific 3D cell culture models for drug screening and treatment stratification (products for drug screening)

• Transform the arena of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine by providing the first hydrogel produced according to GMP standards that can be used for a range of tissues and cell types (products for clinical use)

Team Leader, Dr. Juliette van den Dolder has gained large experience in Life Sciences business and academic research. She has worked at Life Science biotech companies as Product Manager, Manager Marketing & Sales and Member of a company Management Team. She has gained particular expertise in cell biology / stem cell research markets. Furthermore, she has worked as an academic stem cell researcher at different universities. She received her PhD in Medical Sciences and her STW-VENI award in 2003, both with as title Engineered Bone. She has worked with international authorities on stem cell/ biomaterial research. She has published more than 30 papers in international scientific journals like PNAS and Tissue Engineering.

She will manage the project and will work on establishing the marketing plan (WP1/4).


Mind the Byte (MTB)

Short name: MTB
Full name: Mind the Byte, SL
Address: Baldiri Reixac, 4-8 08028 Barcelona (Spain)

Principal investigator/contact: Dr. Alfons Nonell-Canals

Mind the Byte is a five-years-old Spanish SME specializing in Computational Chemistry applied to Drug Discovery. It applies different computational techniques in order to help companies and researchers in their first steps of pharmaceuticals and drugs developing. It is a dual company, since it offers both custom services and software as a service a service (SaaS) in the field of computational chemistry. It is a very innovative SME, which is also involved in European R&D projects within the FP7 and H2020 programmes. Its research lines are focused on own-development algorithms and also on drug discovery (including small and macromolecules).

CEO, Nonell-Canals, Alfons  is a Computational Chemist. He holds a PhD in Computational and Theoretical Chemistry from the Rovira i Virgili University (2008). During his post-doc thesis, he worked in computational drug design, developing new software to modify compounds; and in manipulation of big amounts of chemical and medical data. On 2011, he founded Mind the Byte and now he is boths CEO and supervisor of all scientific activities.

Sanchez-Martinez, Melchor is a Computational Chemist. He holds a PhD in Computational and Theoretical Chemistry from the University of Barcelona (2014). Furthermore, he holds a BSc in Biotechnology from University of Vic (2009), a MSc in Biophysics from University of Barcelona (2010) and a MSc in Computational and Theoretical Chemistry from Rovira i Virgili University (2011). He is Computational Chemist at Mind the Byte since November 2014. He has experience in molecular modelling, physic-chemistry and medical chemistry at computational level, computational biochemistry and biophysics, drug discovery and bioinformatics (especially structural bioinformatics). He has also a great experience in programing and managing data bases of non-correlated data.

Universitair Medisch Centrum UTRECHT (UMCU)

Short name: UMCU
Full name: Universitair Medisch Centrum UTRECHT 
Address: Heidelberglaan 100, 3584CX Utrecht, Netherlands
Principal investigator/contact: Dr. Johan de Rooij

The University Medical Center Utrecht is a public healthcare organization, the Center for Molecular Medicine is a division within this organization that houses a number of research labs that conduct fundamental cancer research. Within the Oncology area, the Department of Pathology focuses on breast and colon cancer. Fundamental research, mouse models and preclinical intervention studies form the basis for breast cancer research, led by Prof Paul J. van Diest and Dr. Patrick Derksen.

Team Leader, Dr. Johan de Rooij received his PhD from Utrecht University in 2000, where he identified a family of Guanine-nucleotide Exchange Factors, among which the cAMP-target Epac. Based on this work, a start-up pharmaceutical company, Semaia, was founded, where he was employed from 2000-2002. In the meantime Johan was awarded a fellowship from the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF) to study the balance between cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion during malignant transformation at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla (USA) (2002-2005). In 2005 he returned to the Netherlands to continue this line of research at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and moved in 2008 to the Hubrecht Institute to become a junior group leader and expand his work on the regulation and mechanics of cell adhesion. In 2014, He moved to the University Medical Center Utrecht where his research group investigates the biophysical regulation of morphogenesis and tumor transformation using the novel organoid technology. Johan has published 46 SCI-indexed journal papers and has an h-index of 27 and >4500 citations (according to Web of Science). His key discoveries are:

• Epac, a novel target for the second messenger cAMP (De Rooij et al, Nature, 1998)

• 007, an Epac selective cAMP analog widely used in research labs (De Rooij et al, Nature Cell Biology 2003)

• Mechical regulation of metastatic cell behaviour in 2D culture (De Rooij et al, JCB 2005)

• E-cadherin is a mechanosensor (Le Duc et al, JCB 2010)

• Cell-cell adhesion stability is controlled by mechanical activation of vinculin (Huveneers et al, JCB 2012)

Co-PI, Dr. Patrick Derksen received his PhD in 2003 on cell signaling by adhesion receptors in lymphoid malignancies (AMC Amsterdam). After a postdoc at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, he received personal awards from NWO (Veni and Vidi), which instigated his independence from 2007 onwards at the UMC Utrecht. Research in the Derksen lab has unraveled the basis for metastatic disease in lobular breast cancer, by showing that somatic inactivation of E-cadherin is causal to the p120-dependent development and progression of this disease (Cancer Cell, 2006; Disease Models and Mechanisms, 2011 and Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2011). Mechanistic insight was further provided through the identification of Wnt11 as a p120/Kaiso-dependent autocrine driver of RhoA (Disease Models and Mechanisms, 2015). Further, his group identified BMF as a novel and constitutively repressed FOXO3 target in E-cadherin deficient cells (Cell Death and Differentiation, 2016). His lab is now now are performing the final translational step by testing a novel preclinical and clinical targeted intervention strategy targeting Rock, PI3K/AKT and BCL2 in lobular breast cancer at the UMC Utrecht Mouse Cancer Clinic, of which Patrick Derksen is head.

Oncogenic FER kinase has been identified as a key prognostic factor in lymph node-negative high grade breast cancer by his group, a finding was functionally linked to integrin α6β4-depdendent control of metastasis using in vitro and in vivo models (Oncogene, 2013). Most recently his lab revealed p120 as a tumor suppressor by using conditional mouse models, cell biology and biochemistry (Cancer Research, 2013).

In short, his lab uses a unique combination of biochemistry, cell biology and mouse modeling for the clinical translation of key molecules that link aberrant cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion to cancer progression. Patrick Derksen has published 37 SCI-indexed journal papers with an average citation of 54.5, an average impact factor of 11.2 and an h-index of 21. (according to Web of Science).


King’s College London (KCL)

Short name: KCL
Full name: King’s College London
Address: Strand, WC2R 2LS, London, United Kingdom

Principal investigator/contact: Dr. Sergi Garcia Manyes

King’s College London (KCL) is one of the 20-top universities in the world. The single molecule mechanics side of the Project will be conducted in the Department of Physics and the Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics, thus guaranteeing the feasibility of the Project both from the biological side and also from the technical part, involving the single molecule experiments. The interplay between the physics and biology-led parts of the research ensures the success of the project, in line with the interdisciplinary ethos of the overall Project.

Team Leader, Dr. Sergi Garcia Manyes graduated in Chemistry from the University of Barcelona in 2000 and in 2001 he finished his MS in Analytical Chemistry. In 2005 he obtained his PhD degree from the Department of Physical Chemistry (University of Barcelona) in the group of Nanobioscience under the supervision of Prof. Fausto Sanz. From 2005-2011 he held a postdoctoral research position in the laboratory of Prof. Julio Fernandez at Columbia University in the City of New York. In 2011 he established his independent research group at King’s College London, first as a tenured Lecturer and then (2014) as a Reader in Biophysics. His laboratory focuses on the understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which individual proteins equilibrate under the effect of a constant force, which is a major challenge in modern physics, chemistry and biology. As a research output, he has published 42 SCI-indexed journal papers and has an h-index = 21, 1,296 citations (according to ISI Web of Science).


INM-Leibniz Institute for New Materials

Short name: INM
Full name: INM-Leibniz Institute for New Materials
Address: Campus D2 2, 66123 Saarbruecken, Germany
Principal investigator/contact: Prof. Dr. Aránzazu del Campo

The INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials in Saarbrücken, Germany, is an internationally leading center for materials research. It has a particular focus on interfaces phenomena related to biological materials and their exploitation in the development of innovative biomaterials and structures. INM is a scientific partner to national and international research institutions and a provider of research and development for companies throughout the world. INM has about 200 employees and is an institute of the Leibniz Association. In the context of this project, INM brings expertise in biomaterial design and characterization, photoresponsive molecular systems. INM has a strategic role in this project, providing novel light-based molecular tools for tuning cell-ECM interactions and incorporating them in different biomaterials with dynamic mechanical and topological properties. This material’s platform represents a unique tool for understanding adhesion and materials-related questions in tissue function.

Team Leader, Dr. Aránzazu del Campo obtained her PhD in 2000 at the Spanish Research Council in Madrid working in polymer chemistry. After postdoctoral stays at the Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung in Mainz (Marie-Curie fellow) and at University Urbino (Italy), she built up her research group in 2005 at the Max-Planck-Institut for Metal Research in Stuttgart. In 2009 she was awarded the Minerva Grant of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and moved her group to the Max-Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz (Germany). In 2015 she was appointed Scientific Director of INM-Leibniz Institute of New Materials and Head of the Department “Dynamic Biomaterials”. She has received several awards, including the 2007 FEMS Lecturer Award for Excellence in Materials Science and Engineering”, the “2010 BMBF Innovationspreis Medizintechnik” for the application of bioinspired adhesives to the biomedical field, and the nomination of Elisabeth Schiemann Kolleg of the Max-Planck-Society in 2012 as young female leading scientist. Prof. del Campo has pioneered the use of light-controlled activation chemistries for tuning surface and bulk properties in soft matter. In the last years, she has applied these approaches to generate dynamic cellular microenvironments with tunable chemical and physical properties, entering the field of instructive biomaterials for regenerative medicine. A del Campo has published more than 100 SCI-indexed journal papers and has an h-index of 24, 2762 citations (according to Web of Science).

Technical University of Catalonia-BarcelonaTech (UPC)

Short name: UPC
Full name: Technical University of Catalonia-BarcelonaTech
Address: Carrer Jordi Girona, 31, 08034 Barcelona, Spain
Principal investigator/contact: Dr. Marino Arroyo

The UPC is the top technical university in Spain, and is a major hub in mathematical modelling and computational mechanics (with 7 ERC grants by faculty members of the UPC in these fields). It nurtures a stimulating environment and specialized educational initiatives, such as the Erasmus Mundus Master in Computational Mechanics. The UPC is located at the Barcelona Knowledge Campus (BKC), together with the Universitat de Barcelona and various international research centers including IBEC, the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre and CIMNE, where Dr. Arroyo is affiliated.

Team Leader, Dr. Marino Arroyo graduated in civil engineering at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), and then obtained a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Northwestern University in 2003. After a postdoctoral stay at Caltech with Prof. Michael Ortiz, he joined the UPC in 2005 where he is now an associate professor. He was also a long-term visitor at the Institute for the Mathematics and its Applications in Minnesota in 2005 in a thematic year on multiscale modeling in materials and macromolecules. His research combines mathematical modeling, theory, and computations to understand the small-scale mechanics of materials and biological systems. He has published 55 SCI-indexed publications in diverse fields including scientific computing, solid mechanics, soft matter, biomechanics or molecular simulation, and in journals such as Phys Rev Lett, PNAS, Nature Materials, or J Mech Phys Solids. He has an h-index of 19, and 1435 citations (according to Web of Science). He has received the ASME/BOEING Structures and Materials Award, the Zienkiewicz Young Scientist Award by ECCOMAS, and was the Timoshenko Visiting Scholar in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford. He was awarded a ERC-Starting grant in 2009 and a Consolidator grant in 2016. He has advised 7 PhD theses and 5 postdoctoral researchers.



Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC)

Short name: IBEC
Full name: Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia
Address: C. Baldiri Reixac, 10-12, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
Principal investigator/contact: Dr. Pere Roca-Cusachs

The Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC)  is a research institute covering most bioengineering fields, from basic research to medical applications, aiming to act as an international reference in this field. IBEC was established in 2005 by the Government of Catalonia, the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC) and is located at the Barcelona Science Park (PCB) sharing also facilities with the Bellvitge University Hospital (BUH). IBEC hosts around 200 researchers and technicians, which are part of its own staff or are associated to the UB, UPC and The Biomedical Research Networking centre (CIBER) or coming from different recruitment programs of research staff (e.g. ICREA and others). Within IBEC, the project will be carried out in coordination between the groups of Drs. Pere Roca-Cusachs (project coordinator) and Xavier Trepat.

Team Leader and project coordinator, Dr. Pere Roca-Cusachs:
Dr. Roca-Cusachs completed his doctorate at the University of Barcelona in the field of Biophysics in 2007, and then carried out post-doctoral research at the lab of Prof. Michael Sheetz in Columbia University. He established his own research group in 2012 when he obtained a position as junior group leader at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC). Dr. Roca-Cusachs also holds a position as assistant professor (Professor agregat) at the University of Barcelona. The research of the group aims at unravelling the molecular mechanisms that cells use to detect and respond to mechanical stimuli like forces or tissue rigidity, triggering downstream cell responses that drive development, cancer, or wound healing. To this end, biophysical techniques like magnetic tweezers, Atomic Force Microscopy, traction microscopy, and microfabricated force sensors are combined with molecular biology and advanced optical microscopy. Using this approach, the group has recently provided several key contributions to the field that include:

• The roles of integrins α5β1 and αvβ3 as force transmitters and transducers (Roca-Cusachs et al., 2009, PNAS)

• A fundamental micro-structure that cells use to mechanically probe the environment (Ghassemi et al., 2012, PNAS)

• The role of α-actinin as a force transmitter to the matrix (Roca-Cusachs et al., 2013, PNAS)

• How integrins regulate tissue rigidity sensing (Elosegui-Artola et al., 2014, Nature Materials)

• The physical principles driving membrane response to mechanical forces (Kosmalska et al., 2015, Nature Communications)

• The biophysical molecular mechanism by which cells sense tissue rigidity and transduce it into downstream signalling (Elosegui-Artola et al., 2016, Nature Cell Biology)

As a research output, Dr. Roca-Cusachs has 22 SCI-indexed publications in journals including Science, Nature Cell Biology, Nature Materials, Nature Communications, or PNAS, an h-index of 17, and 1490 citations (according to the Web of Science). Even though Dr. Roca-Cusachs is a young researcher with a recently established laboratory, he is currently the coordinator of the Spanish Network of Excellence in Mechanobiology (MecBio), coordinating 10 research groups across Spain. This role, combined with his participation in different European projects (outgoing and returning Marie Curie Fellowships, and Innovative Training Network BIOPOL) confirms his capacity as coordinator.

Dr. Xavier Trepat obtained his doctorate at the University of Barcelona in the field of Biophysics in 2004, and then carried out post-doctoral research at Harvard University. He established his independent research group at the University of Barcelona in 2008. In 2011, he obtained an ICREA Research Position and become Group Leader of the Integrative Cell and Tissue Dynamics at IBEC. His research focuses on two major interdisciplinary lines: 1) the study of the biomechanical determinants of cell function 2) the study of the biophysical basis of cell migration and adhesion. He had developed several new micro and nanotechnologies, applying them to the study of basic biomechanical mechanisms in health and disease. Prof. Trepat’s track record in the development of technology, basic and applied science include (in all listed contributions he is first, last, and/or corresponding author):

• A stretching system to measure cellular nanomechanics (Trepat et al, Nature, 2007)
• Traction microscopy to study collective cell migration (Trepat et al, Nature Physics, 2009; Tambe et al, Nature Materials, 2011)
• Plithotaxis : a mechanism of collective cell guidance (Tambe et al, Nature Materials, 2011)
• Mechanical waves during tissue expansion (Serra-Picamal et al, Nature Physics, 2012)
• Contractile arcs during wound healing (Brugués et al, Nature Physics, 2014)
• Hydraulic fracture in living tissues (Casares et al, Nature Materials, 2015)
• Identification of the proteins that transmit forces at cell-cell junctions (Bazellières et al, Nature Cell Biology, 2015)

As a research output, Dr. Trepat has 54 SCI-indexed publications in journals including Nature, Nature Materials, Nature Physics, Nature Cell Biology or PNAS. He has an h-index of 26, and 2722 citations (according to Web of Science). Dr. Trepat is also one of the few researchers awarded with three ERC Grants: Starting Grant, Consolidator grant and ERC Proof of Concept.