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Raúl Rabadán, Jesús Serra Foundation ‘visiting researcher’


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Rabadán focuses on uncovering patterns of evolution in biological systems through genomic analysis

The 'Visiting Researchers’ Programme will also bring Wolfgang Weninger this year, an expert in dermatology and immunology

The ninth edition of the Visiting Researchers Programme of the Jesús Serra Foundation (from the Catalana Occidente Group) is bringing Raúl Rabadán, Professor of Systems Biology and director of the Columbia University Center for Topology of Cancer Evolution and Heterogeneity (USA), to the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) this summer. Rabadán and his team, experts in the mathematical analysis of biological data, will be spending a few months at the centre working with various groups and covering the field that connects biology with quantitative analysis. 

“Physicists have the defect or virtue of transforming everything into numbers and we make models of things. Biology is complex but the vast amount of data generated in recent years make it possible to extract robust statistical conclusions,” explains Rabadán. It is precisely in this field, which seeks to provide quantitative responses to biological questions, where this researcher from Madrid carries out his research.

After spending some time in the Theoretical Physics Division at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research), this physicist’s career took a turn during a spell working at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (USA). A new group headed by Arnold J. Levine, one of the discoverers of the p53 tumour suppressor gene, was the trigger.

“He was looking for mathematicians and physicists to provide biological data analysis as he foresaw that Biology, like many other disciplines, would become increasingly quantitative,” recalls Rabadán. “I attended a few seminars and I was excited by what they were doing. So, I started to collaborate with them and I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

Since then, he gradually changed to theoretical physics related to biological data analysis, focusing on trends in biological systems – first related to viruses and later to cancer -, a field in which he is one of the cutting-edge researchers in the world today. 

“We are at a very interesting moment,” emphasizes Rabadán. “Tools are being developed very quickly, the amount of data is increasing with each new tool that appears, and all this results in having to develop innovative ways of thinking, of formulating biological questions in such a way that they can be responded using the quantitative analysis of the data.”

During his stay, Rabadán and his team have exchanged ideas and points of view with various groups at the CNIO, an “opportunity to explore new fields that lie beyond what I am doing and expand my outlook,” he says. “The CNIO is a key international centre and it is very appealing to be able to spend time in an institution that is doing good science. One of the most beautiful aspects of science is being able to visit other centres and discover problems you didn’t know existed, or realise that problems you saw as significant are not so important.”

The Visiting Researchers Programme of the Jesús Serra Foundation, which has been in place since 2009, will also be bringing Wolfgang Weninger in autumn. He is the head of the Department of Dermatology at the Royal Prince Albert Hospital (Sydney, Australia), and he shall be working with Erwin Wagner’s Genes, Development, and Disease Group. 

Raúl Rabadán (left) with Luis Aparicio (centre) and Mykola Bordyuh (right), members of his research team./ CNIO
Raúl Rabadán (left) with Luis Aparicio (centre) and Mykola Bordyuh (right), members of his research team./ CNIO

About the CNIO
The CNIO is a Spanish public institution dedicated to the research, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. It is among the 10 leading cancer research centres in the world (Scimago Report; Nature Index) and caters for the entire R&D roadmap, from basic research to clinical tests, with a view to transferring the results obtained quickly and efficiently to the Health Care System and to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology markets. The CNIO has also generated three spin-off companies, which have also allowed patients to benefit from the centre’s developments. These data reflect the Institution’s commitment to innovation and the transfer of technology and illustrate the importance of public-private collaboration in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease. 

About the Jesús Serra Foundation
The Jesús Serra Foundation was established by the Catalana Occidente Group, bearing the name of its founder, to manage sponsorship and patronage projects, which the group has been providing for more than a century. Today, the Jesús Serra Foundation is involved in multiple projects in the fields of teaching, research, culture, sports, and social action.

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