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Structural Biology Programme

Director: Óscar Llorca

The objective of the Structural Biology and Biocomputing Programme is the mechanistic understanding of key cancer related molecular systems. The Programme was designed to combine computational and structural approaches, and to collaborate with the CNIO Basic and Translational Research activities.

Our 3 main research goals are to:

  • RReconstruct the structural details of protein complexes that are active in cancer and related processes.
  • Predict the consequences of cancer related alterations; we are focusing on alterations of compensatory nature (co-evolutionary related mutations) as well as those affecting alterative splicing patterns.
  • Contribute to the analysis of cancer epigenomic and genomic information as part of international genome projects.

Currently the Programme includes 3 Research Groups and 6 Core Units that provide support to the CNIO's research activities.

Following the recommendations of the CNIO’s External Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), resulting from the 2015 review of the Structural Biology and Biocomputing Programme, we started the process of recruiting additional Groups for the Programme. The selection of candidates for two Junior Group Leader positions was carried out with the help of an ad-hoc external and an internal selection committee. Six outstanding candidates were invited to visit the CNIO, defend their work and have a discussion with the corresponding committees. Finally, two candidates were selected covering the areas of biochemistry-structural biology and electron microscopy - protein complexes. These two new Groups will start their work at the CNIO in the first part of 2017. Once these Groups are consolidated, the plan is to re-evaluate the possibility of hiring a senior crystallographer as recommended by the SAB.

On the computational side, the Programme has seen the departure of the Heads of the Bioinformatics and the National Bioinformatics Institute (INB-ISCIII) Units; they have since been replaced by Salvador Capella, as Head of the INB-ISCIII/ ELIXIR Unit, and by Fátima Al-shahrour, who will coordinate the Bioinformatics Unit and absorb the activities of the previous Translational Bioinformatics Unit.

Of particular relevance for the CNIO’s activities in Computational Biology, was the finalisation of the negotiation with the Ministerio de Energía, Turismo y Agenda Digital for the implementation of a biological text mining platform in the framework of the 'Plan de Impulso de las Tecnologías del Lenguaje'. Within the CNIO structure, this activity will fall under and be developed by a new 'Text Mining' Unit headed by Martin Krallinger. This Unit will start operations at the beginning of 2017.

Despite these positive developments, the CNIO still needs to reinforce the computational side of the Programme; particularly, research related to the Experimental Therapeutics Programme as well as Computational Cancer Genomics needs to be further strengthened.