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Inês Alves wins Exploratory Scholarship from European society

Researcher Inês Alves won one of two 2024 Exploratory Research Grants, worth ten thousand euros, awarded by the European Society for Clinical Research (ESCI). The objective of the project is to find biomarkers that allow improving early diagnosis and clinical and therapeutic monitoring of patients with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.

With a higher prevalence in young women of working age (between 16 and 49 years old) – Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a debilitating autoimmune disease with a major impact on patients’ quality of life. SLE is characterized by a global loss of immunological tolerance, with the production of autoantibodies that can lead to inflammation and damage to multiple organs. Lupus nephritis (kidney inflammation) is one of the most common and serious clinical manifestations of SLE, affecting up to 60% of patients, and can progress to chronic kidney disease or end-stage renal disease (kidney failure) in around 25% of patients.

According to Inês Alves “early diagnosis and clinical and therapeutic monitoring of these patients continue to be a challenge, since there are no biomarkers capable of predicting which patients will progress to a complicated disease, so it is not possible to identify these patients and select them for more targeted therapies”.

In a previous study which Inês Alves was part of, which was done in the Immunology, Cancer & Glycomedicine group led by Salomé Pinho, the team discovered a specific (atypical) signature of glycans (sugars) on the surface of kidney cells in patients with lupus (normally found in microorganisms such as fungi and viruses), which allowed the identification of a new molecular mechanism that may contribute to the loss of immunological tolerance associated with lupus. In the study recognized by ESCI, Inês Alves aims to “clarify whether patients with lupus produce antibodies that are involved in the loss of tissue tolerance and kidney damage”.

To achieve this objective “we set out to identify the presence of specific antibodies in the blood of patients with Lupus, study the B cells responsible for their production and test the pathological effect of these antibodies, that is, verify whether they are responsible for the severity and susceptibility of the disease”.

For Inês Alves “it is a great honor to receive the ESCI 2024 Exploratory Research Grant”, as it will allow her “to test a new perspective on autoantibodies, namely exploring the presence of anti-glycan autoantibodies that form and accumulate in the pathogenesis of the disease. This will allow not only to bring a new mechanism to autoimmune diseases, but also to improve the quality of life of patients, developing a new marker for prognosis and monitoring of the disease (which is less invasive than a kidney biopsy and safer)”.

The researcher also makes a point of highlighting that this is “a truly translational project”, since, in addition to the researchers from the group led by Salomé Pinho, it also includes the participation of clinicians from the Centro Hospitalar Universitário do Porto-Hospital de Santo António and from Leiden University Medical Center to respond to a particular challenge in clinical practice - the diagnosis, prognosis and monitoring of lupus disease”.

About the European Society for Clinical Research

The European Society for Clinical Research (ESCI) awards two Exploratory Grants per year to support translational research that covers one of the society’s areas of interest and is carried out at a European institution. Applicants, whether basic or clinical researchers, must be under 40 years of age at the time of submission of the application and reside in Europe.

About Inês Alves

Graduate in Biochemistry from the University of Aveiro and PhD in Biomedicine from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto in 2022, Inês Alves is currently a postdoctoral researcher at i3S, in the Immunology, Cancer & Glycomedicine group, led by Salomé Pinho.

In 2021 she was awarded by the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) with an EMBO Scientific Exchange Grant and in 2023 she was one of the winners of the 3rd edition of the Maria de Sousa Prize, promoted by the Order of Doctors and the BIAL Foundation. The researcher is also part of the team led by Salomé Pinho that received the innovation award granted by the American association Lupus Research Alliance (LRA), worth 280 thousand euros, and the European project GlycanTrigger, also led by researcher Salomé Pinho, financed with seven million euros for the European Commission's Horizon Europe Program to study another autoimmune disease, Crohn’s Disease.

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