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Barcelona hosts the most important European conference on `Drosophila’ research
16 October 2013 — 19 October 2013
Universidad de Barcelona
From 16 to 19 October, more than 700 international scientists will attend the European Drosophila Research Conference (EDRC 2013), the most important European conference focused on basic and biomedical research that uses the fly fruit, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model system. The biennial conference, which takes place in Barcelona’s Palau de Congressos, includes 7 plenary lectures, 300 talks, 20 sessions and 400 posters. “The European scientific community has been recommending Barcelona as the host site for this conference for some years. The number of participants has nearly doubled since the last edition; that proves the attractiveness of the field and Barcelona’s powerful cluster”, affirms the organizing committee, composed of scientists from the University of Barcelona, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona). The 2011 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Jules Hoffmann, from the University of Strasbourg, will open the meeting with the plenary lecture “Innate immunity: from fly to humans”.
Hoffmann was awarded the Nobel Prize, together with Bruce A. Beutler and Ralph M. Steinman, for their discoveries on the activation of innate immunity, which has allowed scientists to develop new methods to fight disease, including the latest generation vaccines or cancer therapies based on immune system activation. Their discoveries are essential to understand the occurrence of autoimmune diseases —when an organism’s own immune system attacks itself, for example in type 1 diabetes— and to open new paths for alternative treatments.
“The article published by Hoffmann in the journal Cell fifteen years ago was one of the catalysts for current biomedical research using Drosophila to study human diseases. It is a growing tendency, which is reflected in the scientific sessions of the conference”, explains Marco Milán, ICREA researcher at IRB Barcelona and co-organizer of the conference, together with Florenci Serras (Dept. Genetics UB), Cayetano González (IRB Barcelona), Jordi Casanova (IRB Barcelona-CSIC) and Enrique Martín Blanco (CSIC).
The fly has been used to study basic biology for over one hundred years “and it is still an exceptionally good organism for this kind of research”, adds Milán. “Since Hoffmann’s discoveries, the fly has also proved to be effective for modeling diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, or drug addiction”. The sequencing of fly and human genomes has revealed that these species share 70% of genes associated to diseases. Research on Drosophila has already received six Nobel Prizes in Medicine.
Stem cells and cancer
Topics to be addressed at the conference include stem cells and cancer, which are also the theme of two out of five special workshops scheduled. Organisms need stem cells in order to repair tissues. Their dysfunction is associated with cancer and early ageing of tissues. Stem cells from Drosophila’s nervous system and gut are used to identify new genes involved in tumorgenesis.
The plenary lecture “Modeling Cancer in Drosophila”, pronounced by scientist and conference organizer, Cayetano González, ICREA researcher at IRB Barcelona and recipient of a prestigious ERC Advanced Grant, will address these studies. In 2005, González demonstrated that the abnormal division of stem cells in Drosophila’s nervous system generates malignant tumors.
Other prominent speakers
Among other prestigious scientists invited to pronounce plenary lectures, is Elisabeth Knust, director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (Dresden, Germany). Knust identified the CRB1 gene in Drosophila. This gene is also present in humans; its mutation is linked to the development of retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes blindness. Knust’s research has improved the knowledge of essential biological processes as well as helped to develop new therapies for patients affected by retina dystrophies. In addition, it is important to mention the participation of Ginés Morata, awarded the 2007 Prince of Asturias Prize for Technical and Scientific Research along with the English biologist Peter Lawrence. He is an international expert on the study of the biological architecture of Drosophila melanogaster. His research, conducted at the Centre of Molecular Biology Severo Ochoa Molecular (CBMSO) in Madrid, is also related to tumor generation and ageing.
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