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«Congratulations, Maria João!», by Maria Rosário Almeida

On May 26th the International Society of Amyloidosis (ISA) distinguished Maria João Saraiva with the III ISA Merlini Award for the excellence of her career in research on amyloidosis. The prize was awarded during the opening session of the XIX International Symposium on Amyloidosis (ISA 2024) held at Mayo Civic Center, Rochester Minesota, USA. Dr. Schonland president of ISA, introduced the prize and congratulated Maria João for her career. Dr. Giampaolo Merlini summarized the curriculum of Maria João Saraiva emphasizing her research but also giving some personal details namely referring her appreciation of music and playing the piano, another “passion”. The acceptance of the Prize included a conference presented by Maria João Saraiva where she referred the most important contributions of her research group for the knowledge of TTR amyloidosis indicating almost all students and collaborators. 

During graduation in Biology (FCUP), Maria João contacted Dr. Corino de Andrade to find some research project in neurosciences and he proposed her to study the disease he had described some years before: “A peculiar form of amyloidosis with peripheral neuropathy” (ou Paramiloidose).    Very little was known about the ethyology of the disease only that the amyloid deposits were mainly composed by a a protein named prealbumin (latter designated as transthyretin – TTR).  Maria João embraced that project in the scope of a PhD project and characterized the biochemical alteration associated with the most frequent form of the disease - TTR V30M. The project was mainly developed under the supervision of Dr. Dewitt Goodman, at Columbia University, NY, USA.

She continued her scientific work establishing a research group, Molecular Neurobiology Group, that contributed to the knowledge of TTR amyloidosis, variants structure, function and pathogenicity. In addition, pathology studies in parallel with cellular and molecular studies developed by her students and in collaboration with other national and international research groups, contributed to the knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of amyloid toxicity. Several biomarkers associated with the disease were also found and tested in mouse models expressing TTR variants. These animal models became extremely important as biological tools for the study and test of pharmacologic therapeutic candidates in collaboration with pharma companies. The most recent studies aimed to understand the role of the immune system in the pathology allowing the association of two new biomarkers of inflammation with the disease. 

Along her career Maria João supervised many PhD and Post docs and contributed to spread all this knowledge through scientific publications (more than 300), seminars, participations in congresses and collaborations with other renowned scientists. She received several national awards namely the Gulbenkian Prize for Science and the Medal of National Merit for Science. Now, the international community of amyloidosis, ISA, acknowledged the scientific excellence of Maria Joao contributions with this award in the third edition of the prize.

Congratulations Maria João and thanks for your work! 

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