The project "EVCA: Diagnostic and Advanced Therapeutics based on Extracellular Vesicles" is coordinated by Rune Matthiesen and Paulo Pereira, researchers at NOVA Medical School (NMS), and received funding of around 1.5 M€. The project "GLYCOTwinning: Building Networks to Excel in Glycoscience" coordinated by Paula Videira, Filipa Marcelo and Angelina Sá Palma, researchers of the Unit of Applied Biomolecular Sciences (UCIBIO) at NOVA School of Science and Technology (FCT NOVA) was also funded with the same amount.
Isabel Rocha, the vice-Rector of NOVA that coordinates the areas of Research, Innovation and Value Creation, considers that "NOVA and the researchers responsible are to be congratulated. They are undoubtedly very relevant themes to be developed with reference institutions in Europe. It was a very competitive call, with almost 400 applications submitted, and this unprecedented result for NOVA demonstrates the quality of our researchers in the international scene".
EVCA Project - NOVA Medical School: extracellular vesicles that may be determinant in cancer detection and treatment
The small particles released by the cells that researchers from NOVA NMS are studying are called "extracellular vesicles" or exosomes and they may be fundamental in the early detection of diseases like cancer, but also in the treatment of these and other pathologies.
These particles mediate the communication between cells, are true "communication vehicles" between cells and may be used as diagnostic means or as therapies. This is because certain pathologies, and in particular various types of cancer, produce vesicles with specific information that highlight the pathology. Knowing these vesicles and their composition makes it possible to detect the pathology and to act earlier, even before the "external" manifestation of the disease. They are, in practice, "liquid biopsies".
The work of NMS researchers is to better characterize these vesicles and create guides for their use and treatment, in which the vesicles can act as "Trojan horses", as the sick cells let them pass, since they know them. Portuguese researchers intend to develop techniques that allow loading the vesicles with therapeutic molecules, which thus act directly on the sick cell. The usefulness of these vesicles is immeasurable, as they avoid the barriers that sick cells erect to external agents that are foreign to them. As the vesicles are familiar to them, they let them in and allow them to work on healing through the therapeutic proteins and biological medicines that they carry and deliver to the diseased cells.
Scientists from all over the world study EVs, but the Portuguese researchers leading this project focus on clinical application, which is one of the main challenges of this project, focused on promoting and strengthening the research area in diagnosis and advanced therapies based on EVs, taking advantage of the multidisciplinary knowledge already existing, strengthening the collaborative networks in which NMS is present and taking advantage of its potential applied to medicine and, above all, changing the national paradigm and the future of biomedical research and innovation in Portugal. The EVCA project will put NMS on the map of international institutions that lead research in EV and continue future collaborations between partner institutions.
The project will be developed at NMS in partnership with two European reference institutions, Institut Curie (IC), in France, and the Center for Cooperative Research in Biosciences (CICbioGUNE), in Spain, and aims to make NOVA Medical School a national and international centre of excellence for research and innovation in extracellular vesicles for clinical applications.
For NMS, the IC and CIC bioGUNE, this is a unique opportunity to join efforts and increase knowledge about EVs and their potential applied to medicine and, above all, change the national paradigm and the future of biomedical research and innovation in Portugal. The EVCA project will put NMS on the map of international institutions that lead research in EV and continue future collaborations between the partner institutions.
GLYCOTwinning project - Unit of Applied Biomolecular Sciences (UCIBIO), FCT NOVA: the toolbox to know the sugars in cells that can save lives
Paula Videira, Filipa Marcelo and Angelina Sá Palma, researchers at UCIBIO-NOVA, explain that all our cells have a film that surrounds them, which is nothing more than sugars called glycans. Microorganisms also have this film. Any physical cell-to-cell interaction, including microorganism-host, passes through glycans, just as any physical interaction between people passes through the skin.
The GLYCOTwinning project aims first of all to identify these sugars and understand how glycans affect the interaction between sick and healthy cells. And it goes further, developing a toolbox that is nothing more than a technological platform (which already exists, but which this research will strengthen and refine) to detect molecules that contain "bad" glycans and allow, after knowing them, to develop molecules that can treat these glycans. The platform, which uses several techniques and technologies, separately or concomitantly (that is why it is called a "toolbox"), allows, after knowing the glycans, to manipulate these molecules. The challenge of the research is to characterise the interactions between cells and how proteins recognise these glycans and develop new tools to identify glycans and contribute to therapy for oncological and infectious diseases and congenital disorders of glycosylation, for example.