Barcelona consolidates position as world leader in epigenetics and cancer research

  • B·Debate is bringing together the top 5 Catalan research centers in epigenetics and top global experts in the epigenetics of cancer for the second year in a row

  • This latest edition of the conferences focuses on acetylation, one of the most frequent epigenetic mechanisms in gene expression

  • In Catalonia, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer at some point in their lives



Barcelona, 26 September 2014 – On 1 and 2 October, national and international experts in epigenetics and cancer will meet for the second year in a row at CaixaForum Barcelona, invited by B·Debate and the Epigenetics and Cancer Biology Program (PEBC) at Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), to debate the latest advances in these fields of research.

This edition of the conferences commemorates the 50th anniversary of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that revolutionized knowledge, leading to the discovery of new levels of cell regulation that can explain diseases such as cancer. This line of research promises great breakthroughs in early diagnosis and treatment of many different diseases, including cancer. The pharmaceutical industry is already testing some of the first clinical applications of this knowledge.

In Catalonia, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will probably develop cancer at some point in their lives, according to the latest data from the Government of Catalonia. Currently more than 20,000 men and 14,000 women have cancer. The most common types among men are prostate, lung and colorectal cancer; while among women they are breast, cervical and colorectal cancer.


Not everything has been written

The genome is life’s instruction manual. Except for mutations, genetic information is the same in all people. However, in 1964, researchers V.G. Allfrey, R. Faulkner and A.E. Mirsky described chemical modifications to the genome that are key to understanding other cell processes. “That paper opened up a whole new field of biology,” explains Alejandro Vaquero, PEBC researcher and scientific leader of the latest B·Debate.

These three researchers showed that cells are regulated on a level that hadn’t been described previously: “This level of cell regulation is above genetic information and opens up a whole world of possibilities,” says Vaquero.

These alterations impact human health, but they can also be used as therapeutic targets by researchers looking for new early diagnosis methods and more effective treatments for diseases like cancer.

Until the mid 20th century, cancer was attributed to anomalies in the genes themselves, but more recent research shows how some types of cancer can be explained by changes in the way these genes are expressed and not the genetic information they contain. These changes are the result of epigenetic mechanisms, which affect gene activity and have consequences that may be lasting and, even, hereditary. These modifications may be induced by factors including pollution, food and lifestyle.


What are histones and why do they acetylate?

Histones are proteins essential to storing and organizing DNA in the nucleus of the cell, which contains all of the information of a living being.

Genetic instructions lead this process, but we now know that a person’s environment also plays a highly significant role. One of the epigenetic mechanisms that influences gene expression is the acetylation process. An estimated 80% to 90% of all human proteins can suffer modifications of this type. “A large part of the proteins in our body will be modified and acetylation is one of the most common processes,” explains Vaquero.

Acetylation was the first epigenetic mechanism to be described, but there are others like methylation that also influence gene regulation and are passed down from generation to generation. The conferences will focus on these molecular mechanisms and their impact on genetic regulation, particularly with regard to disease in order to find new strategies for early diagnosis and more effective treatment.


B·Debate International Center for Scientific Debate Barcelona is an initiative promoted by Biocat and the “la Caixa” Foundation in order to seek answers and solutions to the challenges and needs facing society in the life sciences through top-notch international scientific events.

Barcelona Conferences on Epigenetics and Cancer: 50 years of histone acetylation is the second in a series of conferences that will take place in Barcelona between 2013 and 2017, which aspire to become a global benchmark in this field. The scientific director for the second edition is Alejandro Vaquero (PEBC-IDIBELL).


Noteworthy participants in the B·Debate include:

(Available for interviews during lunch or coffee breaks).

  • Alejandro Vaquero: Scientific leader of this B·Debate and head of the chromatin biology group at PEBC-IDIBELL. His research focuses on understanding the role these modifications play in maintaining the integrity of the genome in response to various different stress factors.
  • Esteban Ballestar: head researcher in the chromatin and disease group at PEBC-IDIBELL. He has worked at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States and at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO).
  • Manel Esteller: Director of the PEBC at IDIBELL and head of the cancer epigenetics group. One of the top experts in the world in cancer and epigenetic mechanisms, like methylation. He also collaborates regularly with several media outlets.
  • Bryan Turner: Professor at the University of Birmingham Institute for Biomedical Research (United Kingdom) and head of the chromatin and gene expression group. His research uses mice, zebrafish and fruit flies as animal models.
  • Eric Verdin: Associate Director of the Gladstone Institutes - University of California, San Francisco (United States). He has published more than 180 scientific papers from 10 patents. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS).



Núria Jar

Press Office. B·Debate

T. +34 696 79 25 37 @BDebate


Irene Roch

Communication Department. ”la Caixa” Foundation

Irene Roch: 93 404 60 27 / 669 457 094 /