Where Ideas Grow

Young i3S researcher win in iMED Conference 14.0 innovation contest

Inês Claro, a student of the Masters in Biochemistry at the Faculty of Sciences and ICBAS, who is also  carrying out research at the i3S, recently won a prize of a thousand euros for the best poster at the Innovate Competition of the Astrazeneca Foundation, for her work in improvement of mRNA vaccines for SARS-CoV-2.

Named “iCoV2PLUS – Increased Production Levels Universal Sequence as an asset for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines”, the work presented by Inês Claro was developed in the i3S research group “Gene Regulation”, under the guidance of researchers Isabel Pereira-Castro and Alexandra Moreira, and was funded by the Gilead Genesis Program.

Inês Claro explained that the work “consists of the application of a non-coding sequence - iPLUS - discovered by our research group, to try to improve the characteristics of mRNA vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, namely the production of the Spike protein. In fact, we demonstrated that the presence of an iPLUS variant downstream of the Spike protein coding region promotes an increase in its mRNA levels and in its protein production, in two different cellular models”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed for a rapid growth of mRNA vaccine technology, recalls the young researcher, but she adds that “as a recent technology, all possible improvements are important to increase the effectiveness of immunization and to make its use more generalized, which is our main objective with this project”.

This innovation contest, which was part of the iMED Conference 14.0 (held in October in Lisbon), is aimed at young researchers and aims to help the winner to continue their research project. Inês Claro says this award “will contribute to our future objective: to test Spike mRNA containing our sequence as a vaccine for the immunization of mice against SARS-CoV-2, in order to evaluate the performance of these vaccines in vivo with the addition of iPLUS”.

Winning this award “was extremely gratifying and I have to thank my supervisors for all the support, without it I would not have been able to win”.