Hospital del Mar Research Institute Hospital del Mar Research Institute

Scientific research in a woman's voice

The trajectory of scientific research at IMIM and the Hospital del Mar would be incomplete without the contribution, both yesterday and today, of women researchers who have left their own mark on its history. Recovering the memory of women researchers is today, more than ever, an exercise in responsibility and a vindication of the fundamental role that women scientists have played and continue to play in an environment that has traditionally been strongly masculinised. One of the key figures in female research during the first period of IMIM's biography was Dr. Clara Roy, a pioneer of research at the Hospital, always in the shadow of her teacher, Dr. Amadeo Foz.

Over the years, and especially since the restoration of democracy, women have played an increasingly decisive role in both research and management. 

Below are eight representative profiles of women researchers and managers who visualise the areas of research and operation of IMIM. This is in recognition of all the women who, in one way or another, make it possible for science to contribute to improving people's health.


"Dr. Clara Roy will be remembered for her exemplary work. The history of Spanish microbiology will always remember her. The memory of this great teacher is indelibly etched in the minds of those of us who were fortunate enough to be her students." Dr. Jordi Camí

Dr. Clara Roy Avenosa was a Catalan scientist who pioneered clinical
microbiology research in Spain
. She worked closely with Dr. Amadeo Foz, a leading figure in scientific research at Hospital del Mar between 1950 and 1984, together with his colleague Dr. Jordi Gras. She graduated in Medicine from the University of Barcelona in 1956, and one year later she began to collaborate with Dr. Foz at Hospital del Mar. Her doctoral thesis was supervised by Dr. Foz himself, and over the years she became his main collaborator. In fact, the expertise and legacy of microbiology research at Hospital del Mar cannot be understood without the contribution, which has often gone unnoticed, of Dr. Clara Roy.

L'any 1976 va introduir a Espanya l'estudi de les betalactamases, considerada una eina avançada per a l'anàlisi i seguiment de la resistència bacteriana als antibiòtics, àmbit d'estudi en el qual va ser una autoritat. L'any 1985 va esdevenir professora titular de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, a Bellaterra, on ja col·laborava des que es va fundar a finals de la dècada de 1960 sota el guiatge del Dr. Foz. La docència universitària i  la recerca científica a l'Hospital del Mar, van protagonitzar la trajectòria professional d'una investigadora capdavantera que ha estat reconeguda, de manera unànime, tant pels seus alumnes com pels seus companys de professió.

In 1976, she introduced the study of beta-lactamases into Spain. This was considered an advanced tool for analysing and monitoring bacterial resistance to antibiotics, a field of study in which she was a leading authority. In 1985, she became a full professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, in Bellaterra, an institute she had been involved with since its foundation at the end of the 1960s under the guidance of Dr. Foz. University teaching, together with scientific research at Hospital del Mar, played a key role in the professional career of this leading researcher who was unanimously acclaimed by both her students and her colleagues

"Health research is the first step towards improving the health of the population. Preventing disease is a double win: for both the individual and the health system".

Dr. Maribel Covas led the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition research group at the IMIM between 1995 and 2013. She was previously head of the Biochemistry Laboratory and coordinator of the Clinical Analysis
Laboratories at Hospital del Mar and Hospital de l'Esperança. Her work focuses on nutrition and factors that protect against cardiovascular disease, specifically the Mediterranean diet, olive oil and wine. She is a
leading researcher and has coordinated several national and international projects.

She has lectured at the University of Barcelona's Faculties of Pharmacy, Medicine and the School of Nursing, as well as at the University of Panama. She has been honoured several times, notably receiving the 2009
Carlos Martí Heinnenberg award from the Danone Institute for her scientific research into nutrition, and the 2018 International Nuts and Dried Fruit Council award for excellence in research. She was principal
investigator in the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition team at the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation's Centre for Networked Biomedical Research (CIBEROBN) between 2004 and 2013.

"Today's medicine is a continuously evolving multidisciplinary science that cannot be understood without the collaboration of qualified professionals from other areas of knowledge as well as the involvement of patients and society, who provide their
data and biological samples, as these are essential for many basic and clinical research projects aimed at preventing diseases and improving people's health".

Dr. Montserrat Torà, a doctor specialising in Clinical Analysis, began her work at Hospital de l'Esperança in 1979. In 1990, she joined the IMIM's Cellular and Molecular Biology research unit as a researcher, and later became a lecturer at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She is involved in several projects on pancreatic, bladder and lung cancer.

In 2001, she became the director of Scientific-Technical Services at the IMIM and set up the department that brings together all the biomedical research support services, an initiative that was a major step forward in
improving research at the IMIM.

In 2009, she became the Scientific Director of MARBiobanc,  responsible for managing human biological samples destined for research, in line with current ethical and legal requirements. She was on the Steering Committee for the National Biobanks Platform of the Carlos III Health Institute and is a well-known figure in the national biobank scene.

"Throughout my career, one of my goals has been to facilitate a transition from the concept of addiction as a social problem, associated with an image of a delinquent individual, with clear negative, almost criminal connotations, to that of addiction as a disease of the central nervous system, with repercussions for
the family and society, but above all for the addict themselves, the sufferer"

Dr. Marta Torrens joined the Hospital del Mar in 1988 and dedicated her professional career to psychiatry, specifically substance addiction. In 1998, she headed up the IMIM's Addiction Research group and focused on studying the assessment and treatment of addiction to substances such as opiates, alcohol, cocaine, and so on, as well as diagnosing and treating the presence of other psychiatric disorders (Dual Pathology), and the gender perspective in addiction.

Since 2021, she has been the state coordinator of the Research Network on the Primary Care of Addictions at the Carlos III Institute of Health. She is a regular expert collaborator in international bodies such as the United
Nations, the World Health Organisation and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs.

She has received a number of prestigious awards including the Nyswander-Dole Award, the American Association for Opiate Dependence Treatment Award, and the White Cross from the Spanish Ministry of Health
for her contribution to the National Plan on Drugs.

"Research needs people who are very well trained and who can do their jobs calmly, in a good working environment, with the necessary resources and without administrative pressure. This is what I have strived for during these years at the IMIM."

Balbina Ugena joined Hospital del Mar in 1976 as an infectious diseases, intensive care and emergency nurse. She later extended her studies to include the management and organisation of human capital, which
enabled her to become one of the leading figures in research management at the IMIM.

In 1982, she was one of the key figures in the new clinical trials area in the clinical pharmacology unit at Hospital del Mar. In 1995, she set up and developed the IMIM's human resources service in its different sections,
including health and safety at work and training, among other things. As director of management, in 2003, she coordinated IMIM's first  accreditation as a Health Research Institute, obtaining European recognition for HR Excellence in research and she actively participated in the creation of the first Nursing Research Group.

She was a member of several committees and commissions, including the Clinical Trials Committee, coordinating its organisation and restructuring it into the Clinical Research Ethics Committee and the Research Commission at Hospital del Mar, acting as technical secretary.


"Scientific research is essential for advancing knowledge and enabling us to address the health challenges facing human societies. Biology explores how living things work and, together with pharmacology, is the basis of modern medicine. Now, with knowledge of the genome, we can identify the mutations that lead to pathologies, from hereditary diseases to cancer. This allows us to make a better diagnosis and develop new treatments."

Dr Mar Albà is the first female director of an IMIM research programme. She is currently the head of the Biomedical Informatics research programme, where she leads the Evolutionary Genomics Group. She has supervised 11 doctoral theses and is the author of more than a hundred publications. In 2022, she received one of the most prestigious grants at the European level, an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council. She has been teaching bioinformatics at Pompeu Fabra University for 20 years.

She has extensive experience in developing computational tools for biomedical data analysis. Her team uses high-throughput sequencing methods to better understand the processes underlying the formation of new genes. The group also studies how cancer mutations lead to alterations in the transcriptome and proteome, and how this impacts
treatment response.

"Cancer research is our only tool for improving the life prospects of cancer patients. Action must be taken from the most basic  research to its application in clinical studies and, after that, it needs to be implemented in hospitals, so that it can reach patients. It is a pyramid that must be supported by a large base of basic research because that is where the major discoveries come from."

Dr. Anna Bigas joined the IMIM in 2009 and is dedicated to studying how stem cells that maintain different tissues in physiological conditions are generated and renewed, processes similar to those tumours use to
perpetuate themselves. She focuses on the haematopoietic system, through which blood cells are generated, and on the process of leukaemia.

She coordinates the Stem Cells and Cancer group at the IMIM, is vice-director of preclinical research at the Josep Carreras Institute, and scientific director of the Centre for Networked Biomedical Research into Cancer (CIBERONC). She is internationally renowned and a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation and various scientific societies.

She is one of the most influential women in the field of oncology. She is part of the team that is establishing the research priorities for the European Cancer Mission, with the aim of saving 3 million lives by 2030.

"Lifestyle, including a healthy diet and good dietary habits, together with regular physical activity, are key factors in the day-to-day promotion of health in children, adults and older people. These recommendations need to be made clear and  understandable to health professionals, the education system and
society as a whole, and based on scientific evidence."

Dr. Montse Fitó carries out research into the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, participating in large-scale clinical trials. She focuses on discovering new biomarkers and finding out the mechanisms
behind the risk of suffering from cardiovascular or neurodegenerative diseases, in order to make progress in therapeutic innovation.

These are the first randomised controlled clinical trials involving a lifestyle intervention for cardiovascular prevention in the world. The results have been translated into recommendations included in national and international clinical guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

She directs the Epidemiology and Public Health programme, coordinates both the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Group at the IMIM and the Spanish CIBER on the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition
(CIBERobn), and she is a member of the Permanent Board of the Catalan Nutrition Centre at the Institut d'Estudis Catalans. She is a researcher and member of the steering committee for the prestigious PREDIMED and PREDIMEDPlus trials.

"It is crucial to carry out research from a multidisciplinary
and interdisciplinary perspective, inspiring and promoting young people and researchers".

Dr. Azucena Justicia is a specialist Mental Health nurse and has a PhD in Psychiatry. Her scientific interest focuses on the development, implementation and evaluation of interventions aimed at promoting
health, early detection and interventions to improve mental healthcare. She has developed a dual career as a nurse and researcher, combining clinical-care activity with research.

In the United Kingdom, where she furthered her training at the University of Cambridge, she coordinated two projects in the field of early intervention in psychosis. She joined the IMIM in 2014, where she
actively participated in the creation of the Mental Health Research Group, investigating the impact multilevel interventions have on depression. She
currently coordinates the Healthcare Research Group in the IMIM's Epidemiology and Public Health Programme.

She is a member of several scientific societies and the European Alliance Against Depression (EAAD). She is a researcher at the Centre for Networked Biomedical Research into Mental Health (CIBERSAM) of the Carlos III Health Institute.

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