Since her childhood Maria José Diogenes has always wanted to be a scientist. And today, a course in pharmaceutical sciences, a master and a doctorate later, a teacher of the university fulfills that dream. In fact, he has done so since "the second year of the degree" and has been dedicated to investigating Alzheimer's disease. With this research, last year, Mantero Belard's neuroscience award, from the Santa Casa de Misericórdia in Lisbon, won.
The scientist's research goal – and a team of 16 people – from the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Lisbon is to repair "umbrella" that protects our brain from Alzheimer's. "The vast majority of people have focused on treating Alzheimer's disease in an attempt to improve the disease altogether," explained Maria José Diógenes, but what the team is in the pharmaceutical sciences make it different.
"I even get parallel: let's imagine someone who is walking and suddenly begins to rain deeply. In the brain of a patient with Alzheimer's, let's imagine that rain is a protein acne in the brain and what's happening to that person is that we do not have an umbrella (we have a lot of substances in our brains that protect us) work , is cut. So most people have tried to stop the rain, ie preventing the collection of those proteins in the brain, which appear in the case of Alzheimer's disease, but few have looked on this umbrella that does not work. "
This is exactly when Maria José Diógenes looked and that's where she's succeeding: in trying to understand why the "molecules we have in our body" are not and protect us in our protect us "And to reach a stage where they already have a drug with positive signals, it took 10 years of" very comprehensive why this change "is in the safeguarding system that we have." With this work, it was It is possible to "detect the mechanisms associated with the destruction of this defense", a neurotrophic factor that protects many, but Alzheimer's disease is flawed.
Hold a disease that wears us from identity
From the moment the team of Maria José Diógenes realized the mechanisms of destroying the neurotrophic factor, he began to work to prevent this happening. "We planned a molecule to target exactly to avoid this disturbance in the umbrella." Having already done a "series of tests on animal tissue", and he succeeded in "showing that this drug defends effectively from spoiling this umbrella," the team turned "to reverse some of the shortcomings that were in bodoli. "
At present, scientists of this project, who received a 200,000 euro prize from Santa Casa, are starting a series of experiments "on animals that have changes that alleviate Alzheimer's disease to see if this drug is given to men live these animals can restore the memory that has lost, "explains the researcher who is leading the project.
This challenge is added: the attempt to create a new biomarker – "a biomarker is something that helps us to see how the disease evolves." The way of reaching was to realize that an umbrella, when it leaves, forms pieces that go to our body fluids, namely, to the backbone fluid. The challenge is to understand, by measuring these pieces, in which state the evolution of the disease is, and here is the most desired biomarker, combining the Professor of Faculty of Medicine at the University of Lisbon.
These are more than promoting developments to the expert who have dreamed of a positive result of the scientific struggle against Alzheimer's, "a terrible illness that draws our identity". "Thinking that someone loses his memory is something that is destructive," he's summarized, and that was the feeling that led the scientist to be interested in fighting this disease.
However, despite the promising developments, Maria José Diógenes admits, even if everything goes well, it will still be a few years until this therapy can be accessible to & # 39; the illness. "Before we move on to human trials, we have to make sure that this molecule is effective in animal models." This project considers this test in animals that are already for the Alzheimer's disease model and have been planned for three years. Need more, I can not say how much, but about ten years or more until I reach the tests with people, "said the researcher.
Always looking for funding
Maria José Diógenes does not hide the great help, which is the scholarship granted by Santa Casa through the Neuroscience Award. The 200,000 euros of funding for three years make this award a "spectacular" opportunity. As well as its existence, "at the national level, it really created a specialist opportunity for Portuguese neurosciences", given an unprecedented nature and an annual period. This year, the awards will be announced on November 28.
Last year's winner recognizes that searching for money is a big part of their work. "We, researchers, have a number of concerns: on the one hand, finding the right question to research, on the other hand doing quality work, and fundraising, because only with the funds of the we can do science. "
Maria José Diógenes does not see this need as a barrier to work, but as an opportunity to do more. "We're always applying for scholarships, a number of projects, it's hard, but so, for any science competition, it's very competitive, but more and more we're turning to international funds."
So the lives of researchers are looking for money "usually for two years, three years", ask the correct questions and find the answers that often open doors to new questions, with the aim of solving society problems. In a period of science, that is fine. But the good news is that when they arrive, the answers always come into time to make a difference.