Where Ideas Grow

PhD students with Fulbright Scholarships to study nanomedicine and cell division

Students Helena Almeida and Nelson Leça, from the doctoral programs in Biomedical Sciences and in Molecular and Cell Biology and who are carrying out research at i3S, have recently received a Fulbright Research Grant with the support of FCT which will allow them to develop part of their PhD in the United States in top laboratories in the field of nanomedicine and cell division respectively.

Helena Almeida is doing her PhD project in the “Nanomedicines and Translational Drug Delivery” group at the i3S, under the supervision of researcher José das Neves and co-supervision of researcher Bruno Sarmento and will now spend nine months in the laboratory of her co-advisor Giovanni Traverso, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

I am developing anisotropic nanoparticles, that is, with asymmetric properties, for the oral administration of insulin in the context of the treatment of type 1 diabetes”, explains Helena Almeida. The team hopes that the “insulin-loaded nanoparticles will move faster and easily cross the mucus barrier in the gut. This will facilitate interaction with intestinal tissue and lead to possible increased absorption of insulin into the bloodstream”.

This strategy, underlines the researcher, “will allow patients to benefit from a less invasive form of insulin administration, when compared to the subcutaneous injections that are currently used”. “In the laboratory of Prof. Giovanni Traverso we will carry out tests in an innovative model based on pig intestinal tissue and try to demonstrate the increase in insulin permeability through the use of anisotropic nanoparticles”.

For the student, who is now in the second year of her PhD, being able to collaborate with a prestigious research group at Harvard Medical School is “exciting and also challenging. It represents a unique opportunity to deepen knowledge in the field of nanomedicine and invest in my development, both personally and as a scientist”.

Nelson Leça, for his part, is carrying out his doctoral research work in the “Cell Division & Genomic Stability” group, under the supervision of researcher Carlos Conde. He explains that “I am studying the orientation of cell division, a fundamental process for defining and maintaining the correct architecture of cell tissues. In many types of cancer, errors in the direction of cell division are frequent, so understanding the origin of these errors is a priority in our research group”.

As part of the Fulbright Scholarship he received, Nelson Leça will develop part of his doctorate at the Morrill Science Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in the United States, in the laboratory of scientist Thomas Maresca. Over four months, explains Nelson Leça, “I will have access to new microscopy methodologies and FRET sensors that will allow me to monitor the activity levels of important proteins that regulate division orientation in real time”.

The results obtained during this period in the United States, he adds, “will generate important knowledge to better understand the causes of the disorientation of cell division in cancer and provide a well-characterized set of molecular signatures that can be used to evaluate the aggressiveness and the potential of tumor invasion”.

Furthermore, adds Nelson Leça, “I will learn a set of techniques of great relevance in my area of study and implement them in i3S. It will also be a period of personal growth that will introduce me to a scientific reality different from the one we have in Portugal. Furthermore, it will help to establish a pipeline for the exchange of talent, knowledge and technology between i3S and UMass Amherst and reinforce the intellectual, technical and human ties between Portugal and the USA”.

The Fulbright Research Scholarships with the support of FCT are intended for doctoral fellows directly financed by FCT who have foreseen or will foresee, within the scope of their training plan, carrying out research at an American university or research center.