Where Ideas grow

US Military funds i3S project

Salomé Pinho has recently received funding from the US Department of Defense for over US $1 million to discover predictive and causative biomarkers of IBD and develop new prevention strategies.

The project aims to characterize a population of US military personnel who developed Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis). The researcher and her team will analyze data and samples from a large number of these military personnel up to six years before the diagnosis of the disease. "Since they perform routine analysis every year, we will have access to data and serum samples at a preclinical stage, before the disease develops, which is unheard of", explained Salomé Pinho, who leads the project.

According to the researcher, this is "a pioneering study that characterizes a unique population worldwide (before and after the diagnosis of IBD) that will allow the identification of biomarkers that will enable an early diagnosis of the disease and thus the implementation of primary (that prevent the onset of the disease in healthy individuals) and secondary (that delay the onset and clinical progression of the disease in at-risk individuals) preventive strategies".

The three-year project will begin by using advanced glycoproteomic techniques to characterize the biological samples from the US military. This will make it possible to identify "molecular signatures" (biomarkers) associated with the development of the disease and that are likely to be identified at the preclinical stage, i.e. before the onset of symptoms.

The project, led by the Porto team, is supported by researchers from the US Navy Medical Research Center and IBD specialists at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, with nearly 90 percent of the project being developed at the i3s. "It will allow us to invest in state-of-the-art equipment and human resources", said the researcher.

Salomé Pinho’s group at the i3S has been conducting pioneering studies in the area of IBD and has identified changes in the carbohydrate (glycan) expression profile on the surface of intestinal T lymphocytes. These studies have allowed not only the identification of prognostic markers but also the identification of new therapeutic tools for these patients.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease) is considered a global disease of the 21st century. It affects about 2.5 million people in Europe, and it is estimated that about 15-20,000 people suffer from the disease in Portugal. It is a chronic disease of the gastrointestinal tract that mainly affects young people of working age. Lacking a known cause, there are no known preventive measures. As such, there is an urgent need in the clinical practice of new markers to aid early diagnosis in order to implement preventive strategies aimed at preventing or delaying the development of the disease.