Highlights

Every year, a committee of experts sits down with a tough job to do: from among all ICREA publications, they must find a handful that stand out from all the others. This is indeed a challenge. The debates are sometimes heated and always difficult but, in the end, a shortlist of  the most outstanding publications of the year is produced. No prize is awarded, and the only additional acknowledge is the honour of being chosen and highlighted by ICREA. Each piece has something unique about it, whether it be a particularly elegant solution, the huge impact it has in the media or the sheer fascination it generates as a truly new idea. For whatever the reason, these are the best of the best and, as such, we are proud to share them here.

LIST OF SCIENTIFIC HIGHLIGHTS

Format: yyyy
  • The Profit Paradox (2021)

    Eeckhout, Jan (UPF)

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    The Profit Paradox

    In an era of technological progress and easy communication, it might seem reasonable to assume that the world’s working people have never had it so good. But wages are stagnant and prices are rising, so that everything from a bottle of beer to a prosthetic hip costs more. Economist Jan Eeckhout shows how this is due to a small number of companies exploiting an unbridled rise in market power—the ability to set prices higher than they could in a properly functioning competitive marketplace. Drawing on his own groundbreaking research and telling the stories of common workers throughout, he demonstrates how market power has suffocated the world of work, and how, without better mechanisms to ensure competition, it could lead to disastrous market corrections and political turmoil.

    The Profit Paradox describes how, over the past forty years, a handful of companies have reaped most of the rewards of technological advancements—acquiring rivals, securing huge profits, and creating brutally unequal outcomes for workers. Instead of passing on the benefits of better technologies to consumers through lower prices, these “superstar” companies leverage new technologies to charge even higher prices. The consequences are already immense, from unnecessarily high prices for virtually everything, to fewer startups that can compete, to rising inequality and stagnating wages for most workers and severely limited social mobility.

    A provocative investigation into how market power hurts average working people, The Profit Paradox also offers concrete solutions about how to fix the problem it and restore a healthy economy.

  • The Completion of the Latin Talmud Edition  (2021)

    Fidora Riera, Alexander (UAB)

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    The Completion of the Latin Talmud Edition 

    In the midst of a turbulent trial against the Talmud in Paris, during the 1240s a group of Christian scholars set out to prepare a Latin translation of large parts of the Talmud, the so-called Extractions of the Talmud, which have come down to us in two versions. After publishing the first of these two versions in 2019, the LATTAL group, led by Alexander Fidora, has now completed the critical edition of the second version, based on the analysis and transcription of four medieval manuscripts. The long-awaited edition and study of this monumental corpus is a landmark in the study of Christian-Jewish relations during the Middle Ages, as it was the basis for the final condemnation of Rabbinic Judaism in 1248.

    As with the first version, this second edition is accompanied by an English introduction and comprehensive indexes. Altogether, the two volumes, which conclude the edition of the Latin Talmud, funded by the ERC and the MICINN, add up to more than 1,300 pages.

  • Crossing paths to drug resistance (2021)

    Gabaldón Estevan, Toni (BSC-CNS)

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    Crossing paths to drug resistance

    It is estimated that 80% of women will suffer from vaginal candidiasis at least once in their lives. In addition to superficial infections, which can be oral or vaginal and do not usually have a serious prognosis, fungi of the Candida  genus can cause systemic diseases in immunocompromised individuals and these are fatal in 40% of cases. Drugs are available to treat these conditions, but doctors are increasingly encountering varieties of fungi that have developed resistance to treatments, thus making candida infection a serious global health problem. In this work, Gabaldón and co-workers have studied the resistance mechanisms developed by the species Candida glabrata upon exposure to various drugs and have identified eight genes that, when mutated, are responsible for allowing the fungus to adapt and survive treatment. To date, only half of these genes were known as candidates to confer drug resistance.

    To perform this study, the researchers cultured independent populations of the fungus Candida glabrata and administered a variety of drugs available on the market that have different mechanisms of action. They then analysed the resistance developed and the genomes of the distinct populations to correlate the mechanisms with the genetic differences.The strains that have been generated in this work, which combine resistance to several drugs, can serve as a study model in the search for new treatments. In addition to resistance to the treatment administered, the researchers observed that exposure to one particular drug (fluconazol) also caused resistance to another type of drug (equinocandina) in 50% of the cases, although these populations had never been exposed to the second drug.

  • White paper on astrocytes in diseases of the central nervous system (2021)

    Galea, Elena (UAB)

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    White paper on astrocytes in diseases of the central nervous system

    Astrocytes are a type of cell in the central nervous system (CNS) with homeostatic and computational roles in neural circuits. Hypertrophy of astrocytes was recognized in the mid XIXth century as an almost universal sign of CNS pathology, and the term ‘reactive astrocytes’ was coined to describe astrocytic remodeling in response to pathologic conditions. In the decade of the 90s of the XXth century, the study of reactive astrocytes exploded as part of the so-called ‘neuroinflammation’ in CNS pathologies; however, thirty years later the field is stagnated. There are no therapies derived from research on ‘inflammatory’ astrocytes, data from highly influential studies cannot be reproduced, and, importantly, astrocyte experts do not agree on basic issues including what reactive astrocytes are. A few of us capitalized on this discontent by fostering a necessary debate. The result is a working consensus of 80+ authors on reactive astrocytes. We take positions on controversies regarding the impact of astrocytes in CNS diseases, we discuss nomenclature, provide definitions, and we outline a systematic approach to unraveling the contribution of astrocytes to disorders of the CNS aging. This article is expected to inform clinical thinking and research on astrocytes and to promote the development of astrocyte-based biomarkers and therapies.

  • Complete coupling of light to optical surface excitations (2021)

    García de Abajo, Francisco Javier (ICFO)

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    Complete coupling of light to optical surface excitations

    Confining optical modes well below the size determined by the light wavelength at the same frequency is beneficial for the design of compact and efficient optical devices because light concentration impacts the electromagnetic energy density, the ability of light to interact with analytes in sensors, and the nonlinear response of materials in all-optical light modulators. However, such confinement comes at the prize that coupling of propagating light to those modes is made more inefficient because of the mismatch with the light wavelength. Light coupling in and out of confined modes is in fact a major pending problem that limits the practical applicability of the optical confinement strategy in nanophotonics.

    Small scatterers are commonly employed to assist light coupling because they allow targeting designated spatial regions in space, matching the area occupied by the confined modes. However, when those scatterers are placed close to the materials supporting the optical modes, the coupling is reduced by losses introduced through the coupling itself, acting as a loss channel. In this work, we have proposed the use of small scatterers placed at a suitable distance from a surface supporting optical modes as a strategy to realize complete optical coupling into such optical modes. By employing lossless, resonant scatterers such as silica particles supporting dipolar Mie resonances, and illuminating the system with focused light, we demonstrate through rigorous theory the possibility of achieving complete optical coupling, provided the angular profile of the incident light is appropriately shaped, and the surface-scatterer distance is fixed to satisfy the so-called critical coupling conditions.

    The solution here proposed to solve the in and out optical coupling problem has general applicability in nanophotonics and provides a viable route toward the design of compact optical devices in which suitably engineered optical scatterers are used to funnel light into the surface modes of a planar surface, where they can be used for optical sensing or signal processing, and eventually coupled out into propagating light following the same scheme.

  • New breast cancer precision medicine approach to prevent metastasis: from bench to bedside (2021)

    Gomis, Roger (IRB Barcelona)

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    New breast cancer precision medicine approach to prevent metastasis: from bench to bedside

    Currently, bisphosphonates are not regulatory approved for its use in adjuvant treatment of early-stage breast cancer patients. However, they are recommended in the ASCO/ESMO guidance for clinical practice for adjuvant treatment of breast cancer of postmenopausal patients.

     

    The results from this study show that, independent of menopausal status, patients with MAF-negative (non-amplified) tumors treated with Clodronate had a longer survival than untreated patients (HROS= 0·59, (95% CI 0·37–0·93), p=0·02), whereas patients who had MAF-positive tumors had no benefit. The risk of death at 5 years in MAF-negative patients was reduced by 41% with clodronate adjuvant treatment. MAF-negative patients who benefited from clodronate adjuvant treatment in this study represented around 80% of all breast cancer patients.

     

    Our results indicate that the clinical benefit of adjuvant clodronate use is restricted to MAF-negative patients. The assessment of MAF status has the potential to become an objective approach to selection of breast cancer patients for adjuvant clodronate treatment, improving the clinical outcome of the patients.

     

    The MAF gene amplification acts like an orchestra conductor, activating and blocking a large number of genes, and it plays a key role in breast cancer metastasis, particularly in the spread to the bone. It regulates processes such as cell survival, the initiation of metastasis, metabolic rewiring, and also adhesion to cells from the bone marrow, and the formation of osteoclasts, a cell types responsible for remodeling bone.

    The MAF test is developed by Inbiomotion, a spin-off from IRB Barcelona and ICREA, the test has been successfully assayed in two clinical trials, involving a total of 6,500 patients.