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healthier future

Salomé Pinho among the recipients of an ERC Synergy Grant 2022

Salomé Pinho, coordinator of the Immunology, Cancer & Glycomedicine group, takes part in a consortium that will receive €10 million from the European Research Council to study autoimmune diseases. The goal of the GlycanSwitch project is to uncover the mechanisms leading to the immune system's failure to function properly and develop preventative approaches prior to the onset of symptoms.

The project results from a partnership between four principal researchers: Salomé Pinho, two scientists from Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC), in the Netherlands, and a researcher from the company Genos and the University of Zagreb, Croatia.

Autoimmune diseases are chronic, debilitating diseases, and in some cases can be fatal, with high medical and social costs. Because many of them are incurable, and those with high incidence - such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, juvenile diabetes (type 1) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease - "have been on the rise worldwide, these diseases are viewed as an important public health issue that needs urgent intervention", Salomé Pinho stresses. 'There is a pressing need to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms behind uncontrolled inflammatory response and loss of immuno-tolerance,' adds the researcher.

In particular, she explains, 'we want to understand why, how and when glycan modifications (sugars/carbohydrates) in B cells (a type of lymphocytes/immune cells that act on the inflammatory response and antibody production) act as master switches that trigger abnormal B cell activity, thus resulting in the production of pathogenic autoantibodies associated with the loss of immune tolerance and the development of autoimmunity'.

In the scope of the significance underlying ERC Synergy Grants, this project is characterized by 'the existence of real synergy between the four Principal Investigators, where the whole is greater than the simple sum of the parts', explains the i3S researcher. 'There is a unique combination of know-how in rheumatology, immunology and glycobiology that, combined with the use of advanced technology in glycoproteomics and glycomics, as well as the use of cellular prototypes and unique animal models of autoimmune disease, will allow a transformative approach and unravel the cause of loss of immuno-tolerance and the development of autoimmune diseases', Salomé adds.

For Salomé Pinho personally, winning an ERC project, an ERC Synergy Grant to boot, being that she is only the third Portuguese scientist in receipt of the grant, "is to reach world recognition of the excellent research and science that we develop. ERC projects are highly competitive; the scientific requirement and the methodological rigor which characterizes the assessment of ERC projects by the European Commission through a diverse and varied range of global reviewers and experts from all scientific areas that evaluate projects, reveals the requirement of the process and makes this an extremely rewarding outcome".


About Synergy Grants
Synergy Grants support small groups of two to four Principal Investigators to jointly address ambitious research problems that could not be addressed by the individual principal investigators and their teams working alone. The projects should enable substantial advances at the frontiers of knowledge, stemming, for example, from the cross-fertilization of scientific fields, from new productive lines of enquiry, or new methods and techniques, including unconventional approaches and investigations at the interface between established disciplines. The transformative research funded by Synergy Grants should have the potential of becoming a benchmark on a global scale. Principal Investigators must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their research proposal. Principal investigators must also demonstrate that their group can successfully bring together the scientific elements necessary to address the scope and complexity of the proposed research question.

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