Programa de Biologia Estructural

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Mª Belén Bañeres
Mª Belén Bañeres Secretary

Technical advances in structural biology are making it possible to visualize on the atomic scale biological processes we have never seen before.
Óscar Llorca

The Structural Biology Programme (SBP) is currently composed of 1 Senior Group, 4 Junior Groups and 4 Units. Two of these Junior Groups joined the Programme just recently, at the end of 2019, to reinforce the computational studies applied to cancer research.

The goals of SBP are two-fold. One the one hand, we aim to provide mechanistic insights at the molecular level of proteins and macromolecular complexes that contribute to cancer progression. A better understanding of how these macromolecules work, together with knowledge of their three-dimensional structures, provide information to guide the design of new strategies against cancer. The groups at SBP are currently focused on the study of protein kinases as well as complexes involved in the DNA damage response. A special emphasis has been placed on setting up high-resolution cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) methods, a powerful technique for high-resolution structural characterisation of individual molecules that is reshaping biomedical research. On the other hand, two Junior Groups with expertise in computational cancer genomics and computational oncology and the bioinformatics Unit apply advanced computational methods to better understand and target tumours.

Recent milestones and major achievements

It has been roughly three years since the Structural Biology Programme was restructured to incorporate 3 new Groups and high-resolution cryo-EM technologies. 2019 was the year when these changes were firmly consolidated. The new cryo-EM microscope was installed; we also set up all the computational resources and methodologies essential for high-resolution image processing. The new Groups are fully operational having published remarkable results in Nature, ACS Chemical Biology, Journal of the American Chemical Society and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. In addition, the on-going activity of the Units contributed to the research conducted at CNIO, resulting in publications in Nucleic Acids Research, Journal of Experimental Medicine, Bioinformatics and Cancer Cell, among other journals. During 2019, the Groups and Units at SBP also secured access for data collection, based on competitive applications, to the eBIC Biological Cryo-Imaging – Diamond Light Source (UK) and the ALBA synchrotron Light Source (Spain).

In 2019, SBP was deeply engaged in organising scientific meetings. Groups and Units at SBP participated in the organisation of four meetings: two CNIO “la Caixa” Frontiers Meetings (on ‘Structural and Molecular Biology of the DNA Damage Response’ and ‘Heterogeneity and Evolution in Cancer’), the ‘CCP-EM High Resolution EM Model Building and Validation Workshop’ and the ‘Workshop in Advances in the R2TP/URI-Prefoldin Complex in Cancer’. These meetings were an excellent opportunity to discuss the latest advances in these areas, but also to advertise the good science performed at SBP and the CNIO as a whole. In addition, excellent speakers were invited to our seminar series on topics connecting Structural Biology and cancer research.

Finally, 2 new Groups, led by Solip Park and by Geoff Macintyre respectively, recently joined the CNIO to strengthen computational science in SBP. They will combine high- throughput technologies, big data and computational modelling to characterise the complexity of tumours and to develop better diagnostic and therapeutic tools for personalised medicine.