Archive | February 2016

European Code Against Cancer. 12 ways to reduce your cancer risk

Manolis Kogevinas, Codirector of CREAL, one of the centres within the PRBB, has written this post recently in the “Health is Global” blog about how external factors play a major role in most cancers. He also talks about the new edition of the European Code Against Cancer, published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)  and addressed to all European citizens.


If you want to know more about the European Code against Cancer and the workings behind it, you can read the interview to Joachim Schüz, head of the environment and radiation section at the IARC and one of the principal investigators involved in its updating. He visited the PRBB a few months ago, and you will find the interview here, in page 4 of the Ellipse newspaper – the monthly publication at the PRBB.

Enjoy it!




Bad times, slimmer children?

On January 21, Judit Vall Castelló from the Centre for Research in Health and Economics (Pompeu Fabra University) gave a conference at the PRBB invited by the CREAL. She talked about her last study on the effect of business cycle conditions on children’s weight.

She explained that the majority of the research connecting recessions with body-weight has so far focused on adults or babies. In adults, most of the literature finds a link between better economy and weight increase, which would suggest that recessions are “good” for adult’s health. But, is it the same for children?


Spain is one of the ten countries of the OECD with a higher prevalence of infant overweight – about 25% of children aged 5 to 17.  Children’s obesity rates represent an important public policy issue as a number of short-term adverse effects and risks have been associated with obesity in the early stages of life. For example, obese children have a greater risk of being bullied and they are more likely to stay obese into adulthood, therefore having a higher probability of suffering certain chronic diseases later in life.

The relationship between the business cycle conditions and children’s weight is not in the political agenda of Spanish politicians, it’s an unexplored topic on the scientific literature about children, and it has relevant consequences in the short and long-term. These were the main motivations for Vall Castello’s research.

Her team used data from 8 waves (1987-2012) of the Spanish National Health Survey. The pooled sample contained 37,562 observations of children between the ages of 2 and 15 years old.

She explained to an attentive audience how their strategy takes advantage of the variation in the unemployment rate across regions and survey years to look for potential effects. They used the regional unemployment rate as a proxy for the business cycle phase at the local level.

The researchers found that an increase in the unemployment rate is associated with lower obesity incidence, especially for children under 6 years old and over 12 years old – similarly to what was known in adults. A decrease in obesity is actually good news, but what happens to the other extreme of the population, the ones that were already underweight when the economy was good?

They found that negative economic conditions increased the prevalence of infant underweight, particularly for those under 6. So, an increase in the unemployment rate shifts the entire weight distribution to the left, decreasing the probability of suffering obesity and overweight but at the same time increasing the probability of being underweight for children under 6 and children over 12.

fotookbad times

There is a positive correlation between unemployement and the prevalence of infant underweight

Vall Castello was also interested in the possible channels through which the economy could be impacting infant underweight and obesity, such as changes in the nutritional composition of the children’s diet or in the frequency of exercise.

Their results suggest that an increase in the local unemployment rate may be linked to a decrease in the probability of following a Mediterranean Diet, which is considered as one of the healthiest dietary options. More worryingly, this negative correlation was most significant for children under 6 years old.

Since compulsory education starts at age 6 in Spain – and, for most children, it includes lunch at school – this research seems to point out just how important it is to ensure that all children, regardless of their parents’ economic situation, have at least one balanced meal a day, and the key role schools play in this.

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A report by Mari Carmen Cebrián 

Get it right, keep it clean, make a record

Keeping detailed records of your research and taking the right decisions when analysing your data is easier said than done. Yet, despite its importance, researchers often receive no formal training in these and other issues key to scientific integrity.

The PRBB Good Scientific Practice Working Group – formed by members of all the centres at the park, including myself – run a survey at the PRBB last year in which improper record keeping was the most relevant (mis)behaviour identified by scientists at the park, with over 40% of the 521 respondents saying they had “sometimes or often” noticed it.  Several surveys (Martinson BC et al. Scientists behaving badly. Nature 2005; 435:737-8) from around the world show this is not unusual – so the group decided to tackle this seemingly general problem in its first action campaign since it was created at the end of 2014.

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A series of activities were organized for the week starting on the 25th of January.

The BIG QUIZ were a series of questions regarding data recording and managing that invited scientists to discuss amongst themselves in the restaurant or the lifts, and to record their opinion via the Good Scientific Practice website.

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The questions were posted via Twitter as well as in posters around the building during the whole week. More than 285 people visited the website during that time, with between 70 and 120 replies to each of the questions.

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Without really aiming at answering those questions – rather, in any case, at opening new ones – three special workshops were held during the week. These were aimed at slightly different audiences, as a way of trying to cater for the great variety of science that takes place at the PRBB, and the different needs of each field.


Keeping the data record straight in the lab” – aimed at people working on wet labs – had Lola Mulero from the CMRB explaining the audience her centres’ system to keep track of the more than 100 experiments they deal with in parallel. This was followed by an open discussion on do’s and dont’s of a good lab notebook, and the seminar ended with a look to the future with the last talk focusing on the CRG’s pilot experiment of using electronic notebooks such as Onenote.

In silico data tsunami: will you survive?” was the suggestive title of the second workshop. It was led by Cedric Notredame from the CRG, who set the ground for the following discussions on reproducibility, traceability and sharing in computational data with a statement (“Science is about being able to measure something in a reproducible way”), a question (What to do with the growing amount of unused – but potentially useful for others – data we are producing?) and a reference to the #data#parasites recent controversy. Three short talks followed about the importance of metadata, how to ensure your experiments are reproducible, and the specific challenges of creating software for clinical applications. At the end of the workshop, group discussions took place on several open questions and ideas were put together with Ivo Gut, director of the CNAG, as the host.

The last workshop “Managing data in human research” gave some tips about how to create and maintain reliable and secure databases with human data and tackled the issues of privacy, anonymisation and data protection, before going on to the second, interactive part. This consisted of three case studies that made the audience think twice about the issues at hand when designing a study or the huge problem they could face if their data manager left without warning – just at the tip of the iceberg of problems would be finding the final version of a document/analysis/experiment amongst the files called “final”, finalv2”, “supefinal”, “final_draft”, “final_MM”,…20160128_141549

All three workshops were well attended, with over 60 people in each, and the feedback from the assistants was positive. You can see the presentations for all the seminars here.

The aim was achieved: to raise awareness about the intricacies and difficulties of proper record keeping and data management and to discuss with colleagues about possible solutions.

And the next challenge was set for the PRBB Good Scientific Practice working group. Watch this space for more upcoming activities!



The ERC recognises the excellence of PRBB researchers

European_Research_Council_logo.svgThe research group of Biomedical Genomics from the Research Programme on Biomedical Informatics (GRIB), led by Núria López-Bigas, has been awarded an European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant. These grants are aimed at the development of innovative and excellent projects conducted by young postdoctoral researchers of a consolidated career between 7 and 12 years. The project that received the ERC, named “NONCODRIVERS” aims at identifying mutations involved in tumour development in non-coding regions. It is set to start in 2016 and to last for five years. You can read more about this here.

nuria l bigas

Núria López-Bigas, PI at the GRIB (UPF-IMIM)

The ERC AcademiaNet Cover Teaser EN.1570463.jpg.1570468has also recognized the work of another female researcher from the PRBB, Josefa González, a PI at the IBE. She has been nominated to join AcademiaNet, an expert database for outstanding female academics. It was created in 2010 with the aim of raising the visibility of exceptional women in science and increasing their number in leadership positions.

Congratulations to both of them!


Josefa González, PI at the IBE (UPF-CSIC)




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