From her childhood, Maria Jose Diogenes always wanted to be a scientist. And today, a science course, a masters degree and a doctorate later, the university professor fulfills this dream. In fact, it did so from the "second year of the degree" and has been devoted to investigating Alzheimer's disease. It was with this research that last year won the Mantero Belard neuroscience award from Santa Casa da Misericórdia in Lisbon.
The research of the scientist – and a group of 16 people – from the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Lisbon aims to restore the "umbrella" that protects our brain from Alzheimer's. "The vast majority of people have focused on the treatment of Alzheimer's disease in an attempt to cure the disease completely," explains Maria Jose Diogenes, but what the group of pharmaceutical scientists is doing is different.
"In the brain of an Alzheimer's patient, let's imagine that the rain is protein that accumulates in the brain and what happens to this person is the umbrella it has (we have many substances in our brains that protect us) do not work, it's broken, so most people tried to stop the rain, that is to stop the accumulation of these proteins in the brain, which seems to be the cause of the disease U of Alzheimer, but few have examined this umbrella does not work. "
This is exactly where Maria José Diógenes looked and that is where she will succeed: in trying to understand why "the molecules we have in our body and that protect us do not protect us." And to reach a phase where they already have a positive message, it took 10 years of "very exhaustive" characterization because this change "in the protection system we have". With this work, it was possible to "sense the mechanisms involved in destroying this protection," a neurotrophic factor that protects a lot, but that Alzheimer's disease is inadequate.
Catch a disease that deprives us of identity
Since the team of Maria José Diógenes realized the mechanism of destruction of the neurotrophic factor, she began to work to avoid this. "We designed a particular molecule just to avoid this umbrella disorder." Having already carried out a series of tests on animal tissue and managed to show that this drug effectively protects against the destruction of this umbrella, the team also managed to "reverse some of the deficits that existed".
Currently, scientists in this project, who received a 200,000-euro prize from Santa Casa, are launching a series of experiments "on animals that have Alzheimer's disease mimicking changes to see if this drug has been givenn live these animals can restore the lost memory, "explains the researcher who leads the project.
To this challenge another is added: the attempt to create a new biomarker – "a biomarker is something that helps us to understand how the disease progresses". The way we got there was to realize that the umbrella, when it leaves, forms debris that goes into the fluids of our body, that is, in the cerebrospinal fluid. The challenge is to understand, by quantifying these fragments, the state of the disease, and this will be the most desirable biomarker, the professor of the Medical School of the University of Lisbon.
This is more than encouraging progress for the specialist who has long dreamed of a positive result for the scientific battle against Alzheimer, "a terrible disease that removes our identity." "To believe that someone is losing his memory is something that is devastating," he sums up and it was this feeling that led the scientist to be interested in fighting this disease.
However, despite the encouraging advances, Maria José Diógenes admits that even if everything goes well it will still be good enough for patients to have access to this treatment. "Before proceeding with human testing, we have to make sure that this molecule we have is effective in animal models." This work examines this animal test already used for the Alzheimer's model and was intended for three years. it takes more, I can not say how many, but about ten years or more, until I get to test people, "says the researcher.
You are always looking for funding
Maria José Diógenes does not hide the great help that is awarded by Santa Casa through the Neuroscience Prize. The 200-thousand-euro funding for three years makes this award a "spectacular" opportunity. In addition to its existence, "at national level, it really created a chance for Portuguese neuroscientists", given its unprecedented nature and its annual periodicity. This year, the awards will be announced on November 28th.
Last year's winner acknowledges that fundraising is an important part of her work. "We, the researchers, have a lot of worries: on the one hand, finding the right question for research, on the other hand we are doing quality work and raising funds because we can only make science with chapters."
Maria Jose Diogenes does not see this need as an obstacle to work, but as an opportunity to do more. "We are always a candidate for scholarships, many projects, it is difficult, but it is for every science contest, it is very competitive, but we are increasingly resorting to international funds."
Researchers' lives are looking for money "normally for two, three years", asking the right questions and finding the answers, which often open doors to new questions, all aimed at solving the problems of society. In times of science, that's right. But the good news is that when they arrive, the answers always come in time to make a difference.