EMBL Barcelona

EMBL Barcelona will be located in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB). PHOTO: Ferran Mateo/PRBB

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) has announced that they will be opening a new laboratory in Barcelona to study tissue biology and disease modelling. The facility will be the first new outpost for EMBL in 18 years.

This announcement has been received very positively within Spain, where scientific funding has seen several cuts over the last few years.

“Barcelona is already one of the hottest spots in biomedicine in Europe,” said Joan Guinovart, Director of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona. With this new investment from EMBL and the Spanish government, the research community hopes to maintain the city’s reputation for biomedical innovation.

EMBL, headquartered in Heidelburg, Germany, currently maintains several individual facilities throughout Europe. There are labs focused on structural biology in Hamburg, Germany and Grenoble, France, a bioinformatics lab in Hinxton, UK, and a mouse biology laboratory in Monterotondo, Italy which was opened in 1999. The organisation is backed by 22 member states but remains dissociated from the European Union.

The new Barcelona branch will host 6 to 8 research groups and is currently in the process of recruiting a director to head the project. It will be housed at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) to study how cells organise and interact with one another at a tissue level.

“For a long time, tissue was not possible to study with molecular biology; now it is becoming possible, thanks to the development of new imaging techniques,” said Jan Ellenberg, Head of EMBL’s Cell Biology & Biophysics Unit.

This laboratory is an idea that has grown out of a joint research unit EMBL established at PRBB with Barcelona’s Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), who were combining computational biology with genomics and proteomics to investigate complex biological systems. The successes that team found have convinced the member states of EMBL to invest in a full scale laboratory in Barcelona, backed by the universities and research institutions already in the area.

The new facility will be primarily funded by EMBL themselves, who have committed €16M (£13.6M, $17M) to the project across the first five years. As a member state, Spain already contributes €9M (£7.6M, $9.6M) a year to EMBL, accounting for 8.5% of their total annual budget, but they have offered an additional €6M (£5.1M, $6.4M) until 2021. The Catalan government have agreed to cover the cost of rent and maintenance for the lab (roughly €400,000 per annum).

“This opens great opportunities scientifically for CRG. It’s a nice way to grow critical mass in the field,” said Luis Serrano, CRG Director and leader of the EMBL-CRG collaboration. “One of the biggest frontiers in biology is trying to understand organ functioning, [both] from an intellectual and medical point of view.”