01 Apr 2020

Six "la Caixa" Foundation Junior Leadership awarded to CCU, IGC and ITQB researchers

“la Caixa” Foundation Junior Leadership call, an internationally competitive call aiming to attract and maintain internationally competitive researchers of any nationality to Portugal and Spain.

Six

“la Caixa” Foundation Junior Leadership call, an internationally competitive call aiming to attract and maintain internationally competitive researchers of any nationality to Portugal and Spain, has awarded six fellowships to researchers of 6 nationalities working at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU), ITQB and IGC.

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The six awarded researchers (Top left to bottom right): Andrada Ianus (CCU),Roel Klein Wolterink (CCU), Esha Madan (CCU), Adrien Jouary (CCU), Pedro Matos Pereira (ITQB), H. Barriga (IGC)

Awarded projects at Champalimaud

Four researchers from Champalimaud Research (CR) were awarded prestigious and competitive “la Caixa” Junior Leadership Fellowships. Their ambitious projects include developing means for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, Identifying tumor-promoting mechanisms and novel therapies for breast cancer, characterizing the interaction between the immune and nervous systems and creating tools for understanding how the brain generates action.

Andrada Ianus, a researcher at the Preclinical MRI Lab at CR, will dedicate her fellowship to developing an MRI method for detecting the early neural signatures of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). As microscopic alterations in the brain of AD patients can happen as early as decades before symptoms arise, she believes that developing a non-invasive method to detect these early changes is “a crucial step for early diagnosis and a better understanding of the disease.”

Another project that targets human health is that of Roel Klein Wolterink, a researcher at the Immunophysiology Lab at CR. His project follows up on groundbreaking results from the lab, which describe previously unknown interactions between the immune and nervous systems. In his project, Wolterink plans to develop and implement broad-range systems to measure and further characterize these neuroimmune interactions. According to Wolterink, this innovative frontier project is a “stepping stone towards a long-lasting impact in neuroimmunology and beyond.”

The project of Esha Madan, Visiting Faculty affiliated with the Cell Fitness Lab at CR, will focus on identifying molecular pathways involved in the formation and growth of breast cancer, with the goal of using that knowledge for the development of novel means of diagnosis and treatment. Specifically, Madan will utilize a recently discovered tumor-suppressive microRNA axis to explore potential therapeutic approaches for advanced breast cancer lesions, as well as for hunting for new biomarkers for the demtection of breast cancer at very early stages. Overall, Madan’s main objectives are “to understand the existing causes of cancer, find early detection biomarkers and develop therapies to combat late-stage metastatic breast cancer disease”.

Finally, Adrien Jouary, who works jointly with two labs at CR – the Vision to Action Lab and the Theoretical Neuroscience Lab – will record and analyze in great detail the natural behavior of zebrafish, as well as the simultaneous activity of thousands of neurons. According to Jouary, “how the dynamics of the 80 000 neurons that make up the entire zebrafish brain give rise to natural behavior, remains an unsolved question. This approach will provide the computational tools to understand how neurons coordinate their activity to control fine sequences of movements, and to break-through our understanding of the brain activity.”

Awarded project at ITQB

At ITQB NOVA, Pedro Matos Pereira, from the Bacterial Cell Biology Lab, led by Mariana G. Pinho, received an Incoming grant to devise robust and easy to use tools for molecule testing and characterization of clinical isolates to fight bacterial infections, using Staphylococcus aureus as a model. In Europe, the burden with bacterial infections is equivalent to influenza, HIV/Aids and Tuberculosis combined. Besides antibiotic resistance, an important factor is the capacity of bacterial pathogens to “hide” inside our cells (both immune and non-immune cells) by becoming slow-growing or dormant. This helps bacteria escape from antibiotic treatment and from identification by our immune system. “I want to understand how bacterial pathogens, especially persisters, manage to “hide” inside our cells and the mechanisms our cells use to identify them”, says Matos Pereira. This work should have broad implications on our understanding of bacterial infection/persistence and on how autonomous immune recognition influences the success of treatment outcomes. The knowledge gained and the interdisciplinary approaches developed will be applicable to other bacterial pathogens and in the development of new therapy options to tackle the challenges of bacterial infections.

Awarded project at IGC

H. Barriga, head of the Mechanisms of Morphogenesis research group at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), received an Incoming Fellowship, to study in deeper detail the collective cell migration (CCM) – coordinated motion of cell-clusters – an essential process for embryogenesis, tissue repair, and cancer metastasis. Until now, the understanding about mechanical cues in CCM, particularly in vivo, remains less studied. To tackle this, Elias will work across 3 scales: tissue, cellular and sub-cellular scale. The project will reveal details of the long-range mechanical interactions between tissues and provide sensor and effector molecules of these otherwise, understudied biophysical cues. To the researcher, “results have the potential to broaden our knowledge about the biophysics of cancer and birth defects-pathologies, with a major social relevance, and normally studied from a biochemical approach.”

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About la Caixa Junior Leadership Fellowships
The Postdoctoral Junior Leader fellowships programme is aimed at hiring excellent researchers, of any nationality, who wish to continue their research career in Spain or Portugal. The objectives of this programme are to foster high-quality, innovative research in Spain and Portugal and to support the best scientific talent by providing them with an attractive, competitive environment in which to conduct excellent research.