Where Ideas grow

i3S researcher is awarded a grant by ESCMID

Researcher Maria João Azevedo, who is developing part of her work at i3S, was recently awarded a grant from the European Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID). The objective of the project is to characterize the oral and intestinal microbiome of pregnant women, to evaluate the transmission profile between mother and child up to six months of age, and to understand the impact of obesity, gestational diabetes, and maternal arterial hypertension in this process.

The PhD student, whose work is being supervised by researchers Benedita Sampaio-Maia (i3S and Faculty of Dental Medicine, University of Porto - FMDUP), Carla Ramalho (i3S and Faculty of Medicine, University of Porto - FMUP) and Egija Zaura (Academic Center for Dentistry Amsterdam - ACTA), is among 15 scientists from Europe funded by ESCMID. These awards, worth 20 thousand euros, have the main objective of supporting young European scientists who are carrying out excellent research in the fields of clinical microbiology and infectious diseases.

Entitled “Maternal mycobiome dysbiosis and its influence on the mycobiome of the child” the project led by researcher Maria João Azevedo intends to study the human mycobiome in more depth, that is, the fungal component of the human body’s ecosystems. The mycobiome is a structural part of the microbiome, capable of influencing the physiology and metabolism of human beings, as well as the development and functioning of their immune system. The project will be developed with samples and clinical data obtained within the cohort of the projects “OralBioBorn - The oral microbiome throughout the first year of life and the influence of maternal factors in the acquisition of the oral microbiome of the newborn in a Portuguese population” (which is the researcher’s PhD thesis project) and “PERIMYR - Cardiac reshaping and ‘recovery’ in pregnancy as a model for understanding the mechanisms of cardiovascular disease”.

This project, explains Maria João Azevedo, “will be a pioneer in the evaluation of the transmissibility of oral and intestinal mycobioma between mother-child pairs in a Portuguese population, as well as in its association with maternal cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. It is a topic that has been little studied, although fungal infections are frequent during pregnancy and childhood”. Thus, she continues, “we hope to clarify the mechanisms of transmission, colonization and fungal maturation during childhood, to understand the role of the fungal microbial component in children's health and the impact of obesity, gestational diabetes and arterial hypertension in the early transmission of mycobioma”. Since these results will be integrated into the results of the OralBioBorn project “this study will also provide valuable information on the interactions between bacteria and fungi in mother-child pairs, in health and in illness”.

The recruitment of the cohort of participants, explains Maria João Azevedo, “is taking place at the Centro Hospitalar Universitário de São João, Matosinhos’ Local Health Unit, ACES Maia-Valongo and ACES Porto Oriental, as well as online through the projects website”. The necessary samples, namely saliva and feces of the pregnant/future mother and child, “are being collected at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto and their processing will be performed at i3S. The fungal analysis will be carried out by traditional methods of culture in i3S and by sequencing a new generation in ACTA, which results from the partnership of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam”.

This ESCMID scholarship, stresses Maria João Azevedo, “represents the international recognition and appreciation of scientific research that I, my advisors, and the research groups to which I belong - Nephrology & Infectious Diseases R&D (i3S) and Preventive Dentistry (ACTA) - we exercise in the area of the human microbiome in health and disease and, in particular, in the human mycobioma”. Our objective with the project financed by ESCMID, clarifies the researcher, “is to increase the literacy about the human mycobioma and, consequently, to provide resources to diagnose and identify the risk of illness since childhood. The results of this project will make it possible to identify potential fungal targets associated with cardiometabolic diseases, which can later be manipulated early and preventively”. The ESCMID Research Grant “offers us the possibility to contribute to an improvement in maternal and child health, as well as to improve the clinical practice of health professionals”.

Although research in the microbiome area has grown exponentially in the last 15 years, the human mycobioma remains little explored. In this sense, underlines the Portuguese researcher, this scholarship also represents the “opportunity to develop innovative and challenging translational research, which will fill gaps and deepen scientific knowledge in the field of mycology”.