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Science & Society | News | L’Óreal For Women in Science Award granted to ICVS scientist

L’Óreal For Women in Science Award granted to ICVS scientist

Isabel Veiga, researcher with the University of Minho’s Life and  ICVS, was awarded a L’Óreal Portugal Medal of Honour at the Pavilion of Knowledge in Lisbon. The scientist will receive € 15 thousand to study the resistance mechanisms the malaria parasite acquires, leading to nearly half a million deaths per year. 

This award is the result of a partnership between L’Óreal Portugal, UNESCO and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (Foundation for Science and Technology - FCT). The L’Óreal For Women in Science Award encourages over-35 years of age Portuguese researchers with PhDs to pursue original and relevant research in the fields of health and the environment. The jury, presided by Alexandre Quintanilha, chose four winners out of 80 applicants. Other scientists being awarded alongside Isabel Veiga are Maria Inês Almeida (University of Porto), Ana Rita Marques (Gulbenkian Institute) and Patrícia Baptista (Instituto Superior Técnico). 

Malaria is transmitted by mosquito bites that carry the Plasmodium parasite. This species of mosquito is abundant in African, Asian and American tropical regions. The current treatment for the disease is through the use of artemisinin, a medicine that has reduced the malaria’s mortality rate, and won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Even so, in that same year there were 212 million new cases of malaria, especially among children under 5 years of age. One of the reasons for this is the parasite’s ability to resist the medication and undergo genetic mutations, using proteins to push the drug inside the cell preventing its action. 

Isabel Veiga’s research is crucial to anticipate the effectiveness of the therapy, and to increase its effect and action time. “If the drug begins to fail globally, there won’t be another drug to replace it”, she claims. The scientist will use genome editing technologies to assess how the parasite’s mutations and interactions lead to creating resistance to the drug. Isabel Veiga wants to go even further. She wants to create genetically modified versions of the parasite in a lab, to assess the impact of the genetic changes of developing therapeutics and to create new drugs: “Beyond the diagnostics potential, the results can help to develop molecular tools that can be used by doctors to create personalised therapies”.

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