Where Ideas Grow

PARSUK supports immunotherapy project between Portugal and the United Kingdom

Researcher  Ângela Fernandes, from the «Immunology, Cancer & Glycomedicine» group, recently won a bilateral research grant worth three thousand euros jointly awarded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), the British Embassy Lisbon - UK Science and Innovation Network, and the Portuguese Association of Researchers and Students in the United Kingdom (PARSUK). This grant will allow the researcher to work on a new therapeutic strategy to be applied in autoimmune diseases and, in the future, in cancer.

The project, explains the researcher, aims to “unveil the impact of regulatory T lymphocytes that present changes in sugar chains in the regulation of the immune response in autoimmune diseases”. In particular, adds  Ângela Fernandes, “we are going to study the impact of reprogramming the glycosylation of regulatory T cells in a specific autoimmune disease that is Myasthenia Gravis (MG)”.

MG affects neuromuscular junctions, leading to generalized muscle weakness and fatigue, with consequent chronic and gradual restriction of patients' daily functions, which can lead to death. “Our preliminary data demonstrated that regulatory T cells from patients with MG have an altered sugar composition, characterized by deficits in specific glycan structures, when compared to regulatory T cells from healthy individuals. This evidence formed the basis of this project, which has the participation of the Neurology service of the Centro Hospitalar e Universitário do Porto and the collaboration of the Department of Clinical Neurology of the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, in which we planned to reprogram the glycosylation of T cells regulators anticipating the control of the immune response”, explains  Ângela Fernandes.

The results from with this project “will be crucial to clarify the impact of glycans in the modulation of the activities of regulatory T cells in autoimmunity and propose the reprogramming of these cells as a potential therapeutic strategy to control and prevent autoimmune diseases and even, on a different spectrum, cancer”.

This project, led by researcher Ângela Fernandes, will be developed in the «Immunology, Cancer & Glycomedicine» group, led by Prof. Salomé Pinho, in collaboration with neurologist Maria Isabel Leite, from the Department of Clinical Neurology at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK. This funding will allow the researcher to access a large number of human samples from patients with MG available at the John Radcliffe Hospital and characterize their glycan profile. “It will also strengthen the relations/collaborations between the two institutions involved”.

For  Angela Fernandes, winning this grant “represents not only the appreciation and recognition of the scientific research of our research group at i3S, but also the importance and impact of the study in the area of ​​autoimmunity”. As a junior researcher, she says, “the opportunity to lead this innovative research project with a multidisciplinary and international team represents an extremely motivating challenge and a driving force for the next steps in my scientific career“.