This year, the Santa Casa Neuroscience Awards, granted by the Misericórdia de Lisboa, distinguished research on regenerative therapies for spinal cord injuries with stem cell proteins and the treatment of Alzheimer's disease with a compound that acts on the brain.
The study led by Maria José Diógenes, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon (FMUL) and Researcher at the Institute of Molecular Medicine (iMM), was awarded the Mantero Belard Prize, with an amount of 200 thousand euros. It finances the scientific or clinical research of neurodegenerative diseases associated with ageing, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
The Neuropharmacologist had already been awarded this prize in previous years.
We spoke with the Professor, in order to understand the importance of this prize for her research:
What does this prize intend to highlight in your research?
Maria José Diógenes: In recent years, our team has been dedicated to finding new therapeutic targets for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. We found a new therapeutic target and developed a new compound. We started the first successful preclinical trials. We have proven the compound's efficacy in vitro (cultured neurons), ex vivo (hippocampal slices and sympathetic terminals) and also in an in vivo pilot study with an animal model of the disease. This prize will enable the in-depth study of the compound's characteristics (pharmacokinetics and toxicity) in order to choose the correct therapeutic regimens to develop complete efficacy studies both in vivo, in animal models, and, for example, in vivo in cell structures composed of human cells (organoids). We will also research ways to monitor the therapeutic effect so that it is possible to adjust the dose from patient to patient.
To what extent does this award strengthen research?
Maria José Diógenes: This funding is crucial for us to continue to develop the compound we designed, in the hope that it will one day reach Alzheimer's patients. This award will enable students who are working on this project to produce quality doctoral theses. We are all very excited about the future, despite the huge sense of responsibility.
After a period when you became a mother for the 3rd time, going through a period of lockdown with 3 daughters at home, what does it mean to win this prize?
Maria José Diógenes: Perseverance and focus is what kept us hopeful and motivated as a research team. Personally, it's an immense joy. Similar to what it was like to be a mother in the middle of a pandemic, this prize was another Light. It is good to have proof that it is possible to reconcile an intense and happy family life with a demanding and happy professional life.