Where Ideas Grow

Three-month scholarship to study the mechanisms of cell division in London

In the fourth and final year of her PhD, Joana Lima, who is developing her research at the Institute of Research and Innovation in Health at the University of Porto (i3S), recently won a Scientific Exchange Grant awarded by EMBO and will complement her research work in cell division at the Barts Cancer Institute, in London, where she will stay for three months.

“As part of my PhD in Biomedicine, at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP), I am trying to understand how, at the beginning of the cell division process, cells reorganize themselves to efficiently establish a mitotic spindle, an essential structure for them to later segregate their chromosomes into two new daughter cells without error”, explains Joana Lima.

In the i3S group “Epithelial Polarity & Cell Division”, and under the supervision of researcher Jorge Ferreira, the PhD student is specifically focused on the mechanisms of cell division and the proteins that are involved in ensuring that everything runs normally. Joana Lima states: “When this system is disturbed, we see that cells begin to generate errors when segregating their chromosomes, in a way very similar to cancer cells. We also realized that this process is altered in cancer cell lines and therefore this could be a therapeutic target to attack in the future”.

So far she emphasizes that “everything we’ve observed has been in cell lines”. In the London laboratory of researcher Susana Godinho “I will continue this work and verify whether this mechanism remains in more complex systems, in order to understand whether it is viable to use it, in the future, in therapies for humans. To do this we will place the cells in three-dimensional (3D) cultures, called spheroids (small clusters of cells that behave more similar to those in our tissues), and see if our observations hold up”.

For Joana Lima this scholarship represents “an enormous honor”, mainly because it means that “renowned European institutions, such as EMBO, are interested in financing our work. This gives us encouragement to continue investing in this topic” in addition to it being “a great opportunity to visit a new laboratory and establish a new partnership”. Furthermore, she adds, “as I already spent a year at the University of Oxford doing my master's thesis, this scholarship gives me the opportunity to return to a country that I already miss”.