Manuela Ferreira wins CaixaResearch Health Call 2022


Two researchers from the University of Coimbra (UC) – from the Center for Neurosciences and Cell Biology (CNC-UC) and from the Multidisciplinary Institute of Aging (MIA-Portugal) – have just won close to one million euros in funding from the ”la Caixa Foundation ” for the development of two research projects that aim to have an impact in the field of gastrointestinal infections and neurosciences.
The two UC projects were chosen among the 546 proposals submitted to the CaixaResearch Health Research 2022 competition. This funding program aims to support scientific excellence initiatives with high potential and social impact, both in clinical, translational and innovation-based research.
One of the approved projects is coordinated by Manuela Ferreira, researcher at the Center for Neurosciences and Cell Biology at the University of Coimbra. It is entitled “How diet imoacts the immune system in early life?” and will receive around 410 thousand euros to study T lymphocytes, a type of immune cell found in the intestinal epithelium (the lining of the intestine) and which are known to act as the first line of immune defense. More specifically, research will focus on the role of retinoids (molecules present in the diet and chemically related to vitamin A) in T lymphocytes and determine their function in the intestine during the first years of life.
On the relevance of this research, Manuela Ferreira explains that “there is a great urgency to better understand the functioning of the intestine and the relationship that is established between the immune system and the food ingested”. Currently, infectious diseases are still one of the main causes of death among children under five years of age, and malnutrition is known to be a risk factor that worsens the prognosis. In this context, this new project aims to “facilitate the development of new preventive strategies, possible therapeutic targets and even effective treatments against gastrointestinal infections”, stresses the researcher.
The second UC project that will be funded is coordinated by Ira Milosevic, researcher at the Multidisciplinary Institute of Aging at the University of Coimbra. It's called "Towards a better understanding of synapse dysfunction" and with funding of around 495,000 euros, it will study how neurons fail to communicate correctly with each other and how this may underlie the neurodegeneration that occurs with aging and neurodegenerative diseases. In this project, the research team will study in detail the communication between neurons in the synapse, with a special focus on endosomes. It will, therefore, “contribute to a better understanding of the processes that occur in the synapse, which are relevant in brain aging and with an impact on neurodegenerative diseases, which may result in the development of innovative therapeutic approaches”, stresses the researcher.
“These two projects are yet another demonstration of the high quality and relevance of fundamental research in the area of neurosciences, aging and biomedical sciences developed at the University of Coimbra, and will also reinforce the strategic area of health”, highlights the Vice-Rector of the University of Coimbra. Coimbra for Research, Cláudia Cavadas.
This funding from the ”la Caixa” Foundation, which is in its 5th edition, has been supporting projects that can have a strong impact on health challenges in the areas of cardiovascular, infectious and oncological diseases, neurosciences, as well as projects that can to originate enabling technologies in the mentioned areas. The competition has the collaboration of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), which will finance three of the thirteen selected Portuguese projects.

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