New research centres open all the time. But few have the vision, ambition, and credentials of three new centres that have just opened their doors--or soon will--in southern Europe. The stem-cell-focused Centre of Regenerative Medicine of Barcelona, Spain, the Carl-Ivar Brändén Building for structural biology in Grenoble, France, and the Microsoft Research-University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology all promise a multidisciplinary and international environment for the training of young researchers and the potential for world leadership in their areas of science. While they were still finding their feet, Next Wave took a peek into the research and job opportunities they are bringing to southern Europe.

Stem Cell Research at the Centre of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona, Spain

The creation of the Centre of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMRB) reflects "a change in the Spanish public policy regarding derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells (HESC), based on a progressive evolution of the public awareness and sensibility of the Spanish [citizenry]," says CMRB Director Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte in an e-mail. A new law passed in November 2003 made stem cell research possible in Spain. A year and a half later, the government gave the go-ahead to three centres for regenerative medicine. The CMRB, based in Barcelona, is one of them.

Aerial view of the Biomedical Research Park of Barcelona, site of the Centre of Regenerative Medicine.

Photo courtesy of PRBB

According to Izpisúa Belmonte, who is also a professor at the gene expression laboratories of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, CMRB aims to become "a research centre of excellence in south Europe in the line of world-recognized institutions such as the Salk or the Whitehead institutes, where both pre- and postdoctoral researchers receive multidisciplinary training of the highest quality" in stem cell biology and cell regeneration.

CMRB has two parts: the Cell Line Bank of Barcelona, which generates and maintains embryonic stem cell lines, and the CMRB research centre, which carries out basic and applied research to design future strategies for regenerative medicine. "The centre is partially operational since July 2005 when the Stem Cell Bank of the CMRB began its activities in a temporary location. These installations will be relocated, together with the Research Centre of the CMRB, to the newly created Biomedical Research Park of Barcelona (PRBB) building starting in April 2006," says Izpisúa Belmonte. The new building is located at PRBB; CMRB researchers will benefit from the proximity of the nearby research institutes and hospitals, which will facilitate a multidisciplinary and a bench-to-the-bed approach, the director says.

"The research activities of the CMRB lie within three broad and interrelated areas," says Izpisúa Belmonte. Some of the researchers at the centre will study the differentiation of stem cells into other cell types, one group by using human embryonic stem cell biology and another by studying early embryo development. A third group will look at the molecular and cellular processes that underlie the ability of certain vertebrate species to regenerate organs. The centre will be structured around six technical platforms focusing on zebrafish transgenesis and micromanipulation, bioimaging, mouse transgenesis, flow cytometry, stem cell culture, and gene-expression analysis. Each of these areas will include state-of-the-art facilities and employ specialised staff.

"The overall structure of the CMRB includes a limited number of scientific staff. Most of the personnel will be trainees at the pre- or postdoctoral levels, [who] will conduct research within the broad areas mentioned above," says Izpisúa Belmonte. There will be several rounds of recruitment, and "specifically at this time, we are accepting applications for both junior/senior postdoctoral researchers and recent graduates wishing to enroll in our Ph.D. program as well as personnel with extensive expertise in cell culture and one expert in flow cytometry to fill in the position of manager of the flow-cytometry platform."

The centre is expected to be in full swing by the end of 2007. By that time, there should be around 70 staff. But, adds the director, "the CMRB will always welcome applications from outstanding candidates in all areas of the life sciences [who] are interested in pursuing a scientific career in stem cell biology or regeneration."

Structural Biology at the Carl-Ivar Brändén Building in Grenoble, France

The Carl-Ivar Brändén Building (CIBB), inaugurated in January this year, continues Grenoble’s tradition of pulling forces together to enhance its research capacity for structural biology.

Carl-Ivar Brändén Building, Grenoble.


The Polygone Scientifique de Grenoble is already host to three prestigious European institutes: the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), which is one of the three most powerful sources of x-ray beams in the world; the Institut Laue-Langevin , the world's most intense source of neutron beams; and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Outstation in Grenoble, which studies protein structure. These three institutes have long collaborated; in 2002, they teamed up with the nearby Institute for Structural Biology (IBS), which contributed its complementary expertise in crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, and electron and mass spectrometry to form the Partnership for Structural Biology (PSB).

Funded by PSB and the Grenoble Joseph Fourier University, the Carl-Ivar Brändén Building was created in part to house labs from the different PSB partners, which will fill half of the new building. All of the techniques offered by PSB "form part of the structural biologist's toolbox--for scientists from both academia and industry. The aim of the PSB is to … make them available in one centre with scientists … sharing the same coffee room (which is the breeding ground for new ideas and scientific collaborations!)," says Edward Mitchell, ESRF member of staff and manager of the Carl-Ivar Brändén Building, in an e-mail.

The other half of the centre will become home to the new Institute of Molecular and Structural Virology (IVMS), which builds upon a network of labs that have been working in molecular and structural virology at IBS, Joseph Fourier University, and EMBL. By bringing PSB and IVMS together, the centre intends to help build bridges between structural biology and medical applications. "There is a huge added value" to having PSB and IVMS under the same roof, says Mitchell. As he sees it, PSB will benefit from IVMS expertise in cellular biology, virus work, and their links to local institutions. IVMS will have staff based in the Grenoble University Hospital to relate their findings to patients, and "the link with IVMS gives us direct contact with the University Joseph Fourier" too, says Mitchell. As for IVMS, "they have a direct contact with [the] scientists [who] are running the facilities" for structural biology research, he says. "The closer you are, the more likely … to build collaborations."

CIBB will host between 60 and 70 people by the end of summer 2006. Because the centre was mostly created with existing groups, few new research positions have been opened. "But the dynamics of the site means that there is often the possibility of visitors coming, of [undergraduate students] having short-term contracts with us for experience. We also have a strong group of thesis students and postdoctoral fellows which we are always renewing as people move on forward in their careers," says Mitchell. Currently, the centre is looking for more funding for their research, and if they succeed, this will mean more Ph.D. and postdoc positions, adds Mitchell. Mitchell encourages young scientists to send in their CVs. "If we know you are interested, we can always keep it on file and bear it in mind for positions when they are coming up. People shouldn’t be afraid to get in touch."

For scientists seeking a multidisciplinary and international environment and the opportunity to be part of "a large group of highly experienced and enthusiastic staff scientists, postdocs, and thesis students," Mitchell reckons that CIBB is a great place to be. "There is no other centre like the Grenoble international site in the world, with a third-generation synchrotron and a high-powered neutron source and state-of-the-art laboratory facilities," he says.

Systems Biology at the Microsoft Research-University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology in Trento, Italy

Last December’s opening of the Microsoft Research-University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology is set to give a boost to computer science, systems biology, and Italian research. The University of Trento’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications had already been interacting with Microsoft Research Cambridge through bioinformatics collaborations in the past. But in February 2005, Microsoft, the Italian government, the local government, and the University of Trento decided to push the collaboration one step further by creating a joint venture: the Microsoft Research-University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology.

Microsoft Research-University of Trento Centre

The primary aim of the centre will be to develop computational tools to increase knowledge of living organisms and, in the long run, advance biotechnology and medicine. The computer science carried out at the centre will focus on mimicking the behaviour of biological systems to develop new concepts and programming languages adapted to the modelling of complex systems, says Corrado Priami, president of the centre, in an e-mail. Designing these new software tools will require expertise in computer science and mathematics, as well as the ability to work in collaboration with life scientists at other institutes.

The centre is recruiting an entirely new workforce and is currently looking for scientists of all levels, including five Ph.D. students with a background in computer science; six postdoc researchers with a background either in computer science or biology; and two Junior and Senior researchers (the latter being in charge of a group) with a background in computer science and biology or in mathematics and physics. "There will be about 30 researchers in the centre when we will be working at full capacity," says Elisabetta Nones, administration manager and executive assistant to the president of the centre, in an e-mail.

Young researchers will work in an international, multidisciplinary environment and have the opportunity to meet high-profile scientists during the conferences and seminars the centre plans to organise, says Nones. And they will have the opportunity to work on projects in collaboration with Microsoft Research Cambridge and access the Cambridge centre's expertise and facilities.

The Trento facility will also help other researchers in the area; scientists will be free to access the tools developed by the centre, provided their research is of a noncommercial nature, says Priami. And the centre's industrial connections won't interfere with the scientists' freedom to publish. "Total freedom is guaranteed by Microsoft to the researchers at the centre," says Nones.

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Elisabeth Pain is contributing editor for South and West Europe .

Elisabeth Pain is contributing editor for Europe.