Thursday, February 5, 2009

Theatre and science!!

Building up on the previous social activities at the park, a theatre group has just been created at the PRBB. For now we are getting started, doing exercises to let go our bodies, to increase trust in our colleagues, etc. Soon we will do some lessons of interpretation and finally we will prepare a theatre play to present during this year’s PRBB Open Day (which will be on the 6th of June – note it down!).

The piece we will interpret that has already been represented, driven by the Museum of Natural Sciences. It is about Darwin and the Oxford evolution debate. We have the same director who has directed the play previously and she is the one teaching us. Her name is Verónica, she is from Chile and she’s good!

We are rehearsing every Tuesday from 6 to 8pm at the inner square offices (the same offices, incidentally, in which PRBB residents can also enjoy choir rehearsal on Mondays and capoeira lessons on Thursdays!).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

“The world is ours””

This is an interview with Dr. Paco Real, who used to be at the IMIM-Hospital del Mar. This interview appeared in the second issue of El·lipse, which by now you must already know is the PRBB's monthly newspaper.


Dr. Real was born in Barcelona, he studied medicine at the UAB in Bellaterra and worked at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York for 7 years. From there he moved back to Barcelona, nearly 20 years ago, to coordinate what today is the Research Unit in Cell and Molecular Biology at IMIM. He studies the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic and bladder cancer, he is a professor at UPF and the father of an 8-year old girl, and he loves music and reading.

How did you end up doing research?

When I was 12 I had a neighbour on the third floor who was an immunologist. He used to talk about “-bulines” and I always wondered what the first nine letters, “immunoglo“, which I could never hear properly, meant… When I discovered it, I studied medicine at the UAB in order to do research in immunology. Later, while receiving lessons at the Hospital de Sant Pau, I met two excellent doctors who made me become also interested in clinical medicine. Actually, I was very fortunate in having two real mentors, one in the hospital (César Díaz) and one in the lab (José Luis Rodríguez); most people have none. They both offered me their time and knowledge, and I will never forget that…

Then you left to New York...
Here it was very difficult to do research and practise medicine at the same time, so I rejected my resident medical post and I left to the US. There I was doing my PhD in cancer immunology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital, and at the same time I could undertake clinical activity.

You came back to Barcelona to join the IMIM in 1988 – why?
Because I did not want to spend all my life thinking that perhaps one day I should come back home. I was still young, and I decided to give myself 4 years to see if I could make things work out for me here. On January 6, 1992, exactly four years later, I started adding and substracting, and the final result was positive; and so here I am.

How was coming back?
They were very interesting years. IMIM had existed for years, but it had stopped working for years, too! We had to do several reorganizations and we got great help from both the people who were already at IMIM and the new arrivals. The situation has now changed a lot; the PRBB was something completely unimaginable back then. On the ‘Three Kings’s day’ in which I arrived back to Barcelona I could have never thought of asking for such a present!

But you stopped practising medicine?
At the beginning I did some work at the Hospital del Mar, but I don’t anymore. But every time I see a doctor talking to a patient I am very jealous. And my research is completely conditioned by my medical education. When I do research, I think of diseases, not molecules.

And you have also stopped doing bench work…
When I am here that’s the case, yes, the group has grown a lot and it requires lots of time. To do some experiments, I have left on a sabbatical a couple of times, to France and to the US. It’s a humility lesson that every scientist should do; you see how experiments don’t work out and then you understand your poor PhD students.

What is the best and the worst of being a scientist?
The best, that you are free and have no limits. The worst… that you are the limit! But then you can always collaborate.

What would you be if you were not a scientist?

I can see myself doing many different things, but I think I would like to be a bookseller of the type that don’t exist anymore, those that read a lot of books and discuss them with their customers…

Which has been the best moment of your scientific life?
It hasn’t arrived yet (I hope!); it’s always tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Studying the effect of drugs in humans

The clinical research group in human pharmacology and neurosciences of the pharmacology unit at IMIM-Hospital del Mar, directed by Magí Farré, has been studying both the physiologic and mental effects of drugs of abuse, such as ecstasy (MDMA) or cannabis, for more than 20 years.

They do cardiovascular and motor activity performance studies, as well as arterial pressure measurements and blood analyses to learn about the pharmacokinetics of drugs; how they are metabolized and distributed, etc. The mental effects are studied through questionnaires and behaviour studies, as well as by PET (positron emission tomography) and FMR (functional magnetic resonance) of the brain. These are done at the IAT, located also at the PRBB. The unit, which has 12 beds on their premises, also does phase I and II clinical trials to check the efficiency and tolerance of new drugs.

All the studies must follow a clinical assay protocol, which can take between 5 and 12 months to be accepted by the local Ethics Committee for Clinical Research and by the Spanish Drug Agency. The studies must also be double-blind: neither the patient nor the scientist knows whether the patient is taking a drug or a placebo. According to Farré, there are often surprises that exemplify the important role played by the mind. For example, in a study done years ago by Jordi Camí, founder of this laboratory and currently the director of the PRBB, it was demonstrated that the manipulation of the expectations – to think you are taking a drug when you are not, or the other way around – was as important than the real effect of the drug.

Some of the current studies of the laboratory, which can last from one single day to a whole year, are about the effects of recreational drugs in the inhibition of the metabolism of medications. Other studies are about how some genetic mutations can make the drugs affect us in different ways, or about the different effects of ecstasy in men and women. According to Farré, the most important contribution of the group has been in the ecstasy field, in which they have done things that had never been done before. Another characteristic of the group, nearly unique in the world, is that pretty much all the research process is done in humans; the substances are administered in humans and their effects, the drugs concentration and their metabolites in different biological fluids are measured.

The clinical assays laboratory, apart from their own studies, also offers services to third parties, including pharmaceutical companies such as GSK (GlaxoSmithKline). They also collaborate with the psychiatry and drug addiction service of the Hospital del Mar, and with Jaume Marrugat, director of the research program on inflammatory and cardiovascular processes. With him they do studies about nutrition, such as the effects of the antioxidants in olive oil or wine.