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i3S project gets international funding

A project focused on the development of new therapies for people with spinal cord injuries, led by Mónica Sousa, was recently funded by the prestigious international foundation Wings for Life. This research focuses on the study of an African mouse species that has an extraordinary regenerative capacity that does not exist in any other vertebrate animal.

Entitled Identification and Modulation of the Mechanisms Responsible for Functional Recovery and Axonal Regeneration in the Spinal Cord of Acomys, the project was the result of a collaboration between i3S and the Biomedical Research Center of the University of Algarve (CBMR), one of the few institutions in the world breeding this species of African rat (Acomys cahirinus) in the laboratory.

Although the project was already awarded €200.000 the Melo e Castro Prize at the end of 2019 by Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, Mónica Sousa says this additional funding from Wings for Life will allow the financing from other areas that were not covered, namely "reinforcing human resources and making changes to the vivariums of the University of Algarve and i3S, in order to keep this species in optimized conditions. We will now receive 86 thousand euros with the possibility of another 100 thousand euros after an evaluation in the second year". This work, explains Mónica Sousa, "focuses on the study of molecular and cellular mechanisms that lead to Acomys cahirinus having an enormous regenerative capacity, to the point of walking again after a complete spinal cord injury. Something that doesn't happen in any other adult vertebrate animal». The researcher stresses that this team found that the African mouse «is able to regenerate and recover motor function after a spinal cord injury” and the goal now “is to use the knowledge acquired with this mammal and adapt it to man offering new therapeutic opportunities for human patients with spinal cord injury". According to the i3S researcher, the African rat Acomys cahirinus "represents an asset in research, since it is an animal model much closer to humans. Especially when compared with the zebrafish, which is also known for its regenerative capacity of tissues and organs". The «Wings for Life» Foundation aims to find a cure for spinal cord injury. In this sense, it promotes an annual worldwide race (the «Wings for Life Run») and with the money raised in this race it finances clinical trials and preclinical and basic research all over the world. The Scientific Council, reviewers, and «Wings for Life» award winners include leading clinicians and researchers in this field, who have contributed essential discoveries to current knowledge about nervous system regeneration. Therefore, researcher Mónica Sousa feels «an enormous honor to be distinguished by a foundation to which people who contribute so much and inspire the work of my group».