Hospital del Mar Research Institute Hospital del Mar Research Institute


25/06/2020 - General information

IMIM participates in the Disc4All Project, an innovative training network of the European Commission

It is one of the ten projects selected in Catalonia as Innovative Training Network (ITN) Marie Sklodowska-Curie

Dr. Ferran Sanz, Dra. Laura Furlong and Dr. Baldo Oliva of the IMIM Biomedical Informatics Research Program, participate in the Disc4All project: Training network to advance integrated computational simulations in translational medicine, applied to intervertebral disc degeneration, coordinated by Jérôme Noailly, principal investigator in the Biomechanics and Mechanobiology research area at BCN MedTech of UPF. It  is one of the ten selected projects in Catalonia as an Innovative Training Network (ITN) Marie Sklodowska-Curie, in the European Commission's ITN MSC Actions call.

The European innovative training networks (ITN) aim to train a new generation of researchers in their early stages who are creative, enterprising and innovative, capable of dealing with the challenges of the future and turn knowledge and ideas into products and services with an economic and a social benefit. ITN programmes within the framework of the European Commission's Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions support joint competitive programmes for training in research or joint doctorates. These programmes will be implemented by partnerships of universities, research centres, businesses, SMEs and other stakeholders in Europe and the rest of the world.

As part of this project, Dr. Sanz, Dra. Furlong and Dr. Oliva will train young researchers in the tools available to analyze genomic data (DisGeNET) and comorbidities (comoRbidity). DisGeNET is a public knowledge management platform that offers information on genes and genomic variants associated with human diseases, which is obtained by integrating data from more than a dozen public resources and the scientific literature It contains one of the most comprehensive collections of genes and variants associated with human diseases that is currently available. On the other hand comoRbidity, is a program designed to provide a systematic and complete analysis of the comorbidities of the disease from both a clinical and molecular perspective.

Disc4All aims to integrate available data and computational simulations on back pain caused by intervertebral disc degeneration with a multidisciplinary translational medicine approach. On the one hand, the unique population cohort data from Twins UK (King's College London) and from the Northern Finland Birth Cohorts (University of Oulu) will be exploited to generate matching sets of molecular profiles and specific intervertebral disc phenotype. On the other hand, cell and organ culture laboratory experiments will be used to pinpoint the most likely relationships among molecular profiles and cell microenvironments. Computer simulations will integrate these population and experimental data, to predict the cell microenvironments through multiscale modelling, and to extract the causality between the emergence of specific molecular activity and specific intervertebral disc phenotypes.Finally, data mining and artificial intelligence techniques will generate interpretable correlation models between measurable clinical data and unmeasurable, but predicted, key regulators of cell and molecular activities. The final output shall be identification of rational patient-specific maps of concurring risk factors.

Source: UPF

Lumbar back pain is the largest cause of morbidity worldwide, but there is controversy as to its specific cause, which involves poor treatment options and prognoses. The degeneration of the intervertebral disc is the leading unique cause of back pain in middle-aged adults and, in general, among the active population; but the effect of the interactions among genetic, biochemical, mechanical, social and psychological factors, is not sufficiently known.

"Although there is a great deal of clinical and experimental evidence related to intervertebral disc degeneration, it has not yet been possible to integrate the degenerative processes and risk factors that come from these data on a holistic and rational map of interactions. Achieving this map would be a huge step forward for preventing and more sustainably treating chronic lumbar back pain, which affects the quality of life of many people. Hence, we need to create cross-cutting professional skills that current training programmes fail to address", says the Disc4All project coordinator, Jérôme Noailly.

To carry it out, researchers are needed in the initial stage who can work beyond the boundaries of traditional disciplines, integrating experimental and computational approaches to understand and manage complex multifactorial disorders.

With a consortium of 11 beneficiaries, complemented by eight partner organizations, Disc4All aims to address this problem through the collaborative experience of physicians; physicists and computational biologists; geneticists; computer scientists; cell and molecular biologists; microbiologists; bioinformaticians; and industrial partners

Translational research applied to multifactorial disorders

The network will promote the interdisciplinary training of 15 predoctoral researchers in data processing and integration; experimental and theoretical/computer modelling; the development of computer algorithms; the generation of tools; and platforms of models and simulations for the transparent integration of primary data for clinical interpretation improved by models and simulations.

Besides, Disc4All will provide additional training in dissemination; project management; research integrity; ethics; regulation; policy; business strategy; and patient commitment and public engagement.

The results of Disc4All will provide a new generation of professionals with international mobility equipped with a set of unique capabilities for developing careers in translational research applied to multifactorial disorders.

The work necessary to build the successful proposal Disc4All has received financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation through the European Research (Europa Investigación) grant programme (EUIN2017-89399).

Reference project:

Disc4All: Training network to advance integrated computational simulations in translational medicine, applied to intervertebral disc degeneration. Innovative Training Network (ITN) Marie Sklodowska-Curie, European Training Network (ETN) category, in the European Commission's ITN MSC Actions call.

Project coordinator: Jérôme Noailly (UPF) UPF funding: €501,809.76 Consortium funding: €3,996,776.52


Pompeu Fabra University (ES), InSilicoTrials (IT), Barcelona Supercomputing Center (ES), Oulun Yliopisto (FI), Galgo Medical SL (ES), King's College London (UK), Sheffield Hallam University (UK), Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) (ES), University of Bern (CH), ProATonce Ltd (GR), Université de Liège (BE).

Partner organizations:

Catalan Agency for Health Quality and Evaluation (ES), Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd (FI), Plexalis Ltd (UK), Virtual Physiological Human Institute (BE), QUAES Foundation (ES), National Technical University of Athens (GR), University of Barcelona (UB), Rochester Institute of Technology (USA)

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