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i3S researcher wins Pulido Valente 2020 Award

i3S researcher Sara Rocha recently won the Pulido Valente Science 2020 Prize, worth 10,000 euros. Awarded by the Professor Francisco Pulido Valente Foundation and the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), this award distinguishes the best scientific paper in the field of Biomedical Sciences published by a researcher under 35 years old.

The award-winning article is entitled “3D Cellular Architecture Affects MicroRNA and Protein Cargo of Extracellular Vesicles” was published in Advanced Science and was a pioneer in characterizing the impact and biological consequences that cellular architecture imposes on extracellular vesicles (EVs) produced by cells gastric cancer. The international team included researchers the Expression Regulation in Cancer group, led by Carla Oliveira, used a high-performance 3D model to reproduce the architecture of stomach tumors found in patients. This allowed the identification of the “messages”, specific to the 3D context, that the EVs produced by the malignant cells carry, and the consequent changes in the behavior of the cells that receive the EVs.

“We knew that gastric cancer EVs condition the behavior of tumors, but the problem has always been to be able to collect enough EVs and in experimental conditions closer to reality so that we can study them properly. For this reason, we wanted to reproduce the 3D architecture of the tumors as faithfully as possible”, explains Sara Rocha. “This 3D model allowed us not only to obtain large amounts of EVs from gastric cancer cells, but also to conclude that the three-dimensionality of the cells is essential to allocate the factors that favor tumor development and eventual dissemination in the EVs. In other words, there are several levels of information that classic 2D cell cultures do not reveal”, underlines the researcher.

Building on the results from this work and using the 3D model the team of researchers advanced to preclinical mouse models in an attempt to demonstrate the impact of the cellular architecture and of the messages transmitted by the EVs in the metastasis of gastric cancer. In the future, says Carla Oliveira, leader of the Portuguese team, “the knowledge of the impact that the messages transmitted by EVs have on the metastasis pattern will be particularly relevant in clinical practice and to advance preventive and personalized medicine”.

The awarding of this work with the Pulido Valente Ciência Prize means for the researcher “an enormous honor and responsibility”. This recognition, explains Sara Rocha, “gives us an additional motivation to continue our work, in the search for solutions that mitigate or eliminate the suffering of cancer patients. I am very grateful not only for the award of the prize, but for having the privilege of doing this work in such a stimulating environment. I hope that this contribution can trigger new questions which reveal innovative answers and with an effective clinical impact”.

This award is the second to distinguish the work of Researcher Sara Rocha and the i3S team, who in September 2020 received the prize for best oral communication at the II ENJIO- National Meeting of Young Researchers in Oncology, awarded by the Portuguese League against Cancer.