Where Ideas Grow

Paula Coutinho (1941 - 2022)

Neurologist, professor and researcher, Paula Coutinho also revolutionized the field of neurogenetics in Portugal. A reference of Neurology in teaching and research at the University of Porto, Paula Coutinho died on June 11th, in Porto, aged 80 years old.

A Macieira de Cambra native, Paula Mourão do Amaral Coutinho (1941 - 2022) graduated with honors from the University of Porto's Medical School. Most of her medical career took place at Hospital Geral de Santo António, with which she was associated from 1967 to 1998: she was an intern, internist physician, specialist, attendant, and head of clinic and staff.

It was, moreover, at HGSA that she began, in August 1966 to use immunofluorescence in familial amyloid polyneuropathy (PAF), also known as paramyloidosis or “foot disease”.

She acted as clinical consultant at the Center for Paramyloidosis Studies in Porto (1975-1992), and returned to U.Porto in 1979 to take on the role of visiting professor of Neurology at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences Abel Salazar (ICBAS), remaining there until 1998.

Also at U.Porto, she integrated UnIGENe's research team since its establishment in 1992, later set up at the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMC), now part of i3S. She was also a member of the clinical team of IBMC's pioneering Center for Predictive and Preventive Genetics (CGPP).

As a researcher, Paula Coutinho specialized in the study of paramyloidosis and Machado-Joseph disease, which she helped define as a clinical entity. Inspired by such eminent figures as Corino de Andrade and João Resende, “she was the mentor and responsible for the systematic, population-based national screening of hereditary ataxias and spastic paraparesis, carried out in Portugal for more than 12 years, which led to the description of new clinical and genetic entities and which still continues to be a source of valuable information for the research of these groups of diseases”, recalls i3S, in a note of condolence signed by director Claudio Sunkel and Jorge Sequeiros, founder and director of CGPP-IBMC.

Author or co-author of dozens of papers in high-impact factor publications, with thousands of citations in the literature, Paula Coutinho won the first edition of the Bial Prize (1993) with her doctoral thesis entitled “Machado-Joseph disease: an attempt at a definition”.

In 2016, Paula Coutinho was honored by CGPP by planting a magnolia in the garden between the two i3S buildings as a symbol of the tight connection between the clinic and research. To this day, the magnolia is thriving.


“A worldwide leading authority in neurogenetics”

The Dean of U.Porto also reacted to Paula Coutinho's passing, remembering her as "a leading authority in neurogenetics, an area she pioneered in Portugal."
“The research she developed in the field of neurodegenerative diseases, in particular paramyloidosis and Machado-Joseph disease, is deemed an international reference and has greatly contributed to the improvement of the well-being of those suffering from these neurological disorders,” says António de Sousa Pereira.

The deputy director of ICBAS, António Mira da Fonseca, referred to Paula Coutinho's death as “a sad loss” for the Institute “and for neurogenetics in Portugal”.