Interview with Núria Torras: postdoctoral researcher at IBEC

Brighter is a European Project that brings together different academic and industrial partners to develop a new 3D bioprinting technology able to produce human tissues at high speed and with high spatial resolution. This innovative technology is based on light-sheet lithography and an original top-down approach.

Núria Torras is a post-doctoral researcher in the frame of Brighter Project at IBEC, at the Biomimetic Systems for Cell Engineering Laboratory led by Elena Martínez. She is an engineer with a lot of experience on micro and nanoworlds, and on polymer sciences. Now she decided to add the prefix “bio” to her profession, and she is applying all her knowhow to develop new tools for the fabrication of biomimetic 3D in vitro models using 3D bioprinting techniques. Don’t miss the interview where she explains more details about her professional experience and the video where we can see a bit of her workdays at IBEC. Enjoy it!

Can you describe yourself in a couple of lines?

My name is Núria Torras Andrés and I am a woman engineer! I was born in Terrassa, a city nearby Barcelona, with a large tradition in textile engineering. Since I was a child, I was more interested in mechanisms and puzzles rather than dolls, so I decided to become an engineer. Later, I studied a master focused on the micro and nanoworld and during my PhD, I combined my mechanical background with polymer sciences to develop polymer-based MOEMS for tactile applications. For my postdoctoral research I decided to expand my research horizons and focus my career to bioengineering field, always keeping in mind the applicability and the technical point of view. So now I am focused on developing tools compatible with standard cell culture conditions, for the fabrication of biomimetic 3D in vitro models using 3D bioprinting techniques.

What is your role within Brighter?

Within the Brighter project, I am helping on the technical coordination of the project and co-leading, together with Dr. Elena Martinez, one of the work packages, the WP3, which is committed to the demonstration of the light-sheet bioprinting.

Could you tell us a little bit about the concrete work you’re involved in inside Brighter project?

Basically, I work close to our PhD student, Angella Cirulli, on the validation and later characterization of the different polymer formulations developed by Cellendes, taking into account the light-sheet characteristics (e.g. energy dosages, wavelength and exposure times). Mainly, our validation work consists in two different parts: first, we analyse the materials in terms of photocrosslinking and mechanical performance (their suitability to be properly photopolymerized using our light-sheet system), and later, we validate them as cell culture candidates, embedding cells within and seeding others on top. Then, the cell cultures are followed several days applying different culture conditions. During this period, we perform different assays to check the cellular viability and check the expression of the main cellular markers via immunofluorescence.

What are you currently working on?

These months, I am working on the design and validation of a setup for the fabrication of stiffness-varying substrates using light-sheet photopolymerization energy. By means on a single-light irradiation and movable photomasks, we manage to create the first substrates with stiffness gradients. Now we are validating the setup and the photocrosslinking parameters measuring by AFM the resulting gradients.

What are the expected results?

The aim of these experiments is to proof that it is possible to obtain, via photopolymerization, samples with different crosslinking densities (i.e. stiffnesses). Once validated these substrates (2D) we will translate this knowledge to our 3D skin model using light-sheet system. In this way, we could create differentiated microenvironments within the same sample to better mimic the most representative cellular niches present in human skin.

What is the expected impact of the work you’re doing?

As Brighter technology is really novel, all the work packages are essential, and we should work close as a team. Our work in IBEC (WP3), can be considered as an intermediate stage, and basically consists in providing feedback to all other partners to reach their objectives, being the connection between the development and improvement of the different polymer formulations (WP2), the upgrade of the Light-sheet system functionalities (WP1) and the later cellular studies with relevant skin stem cells (WP4). So, we should be periodically in contact to discuss the main achievements and issues, providing solutions and alternatives.

How do you feel about being a part of this European Project?

One of the best things in research is that one has the opportunity to meet people form different nationalities and scientific disciplines, working together with a common goal. I really appreciate the chance I have of being part of Brighter project and work close to such extraordinary team. Every meeting and discussion we have is a new opportunity to learn and enlarge my knowledge while sharing experiences and good time. Also, it is a way of learning other working and organization methodologies, and for personal growing as well. Unfortunately, the pandemics has had a negative impact on this part of the project, limiting our communication to online meetings. I hope we can recover face-to-face sessions soon!