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ECRA winners testimonials

Previous awardees feedback on how the ECRA was important for them:


The ECRA 2020/2021 (3rd edition), was attributed to the project proposal submitted by Catarina Amaral and Luís Lima entitled “NewColorPath: A new method for single-step colorimetric detection of SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens“.


(About NewColorPath): Our project is an interdisciplinary approach bridging Chemistry and Molecular Biology, aiming to design and implement a novel colorimetric method based on indicator displacement assays to be compatible with single-step amplification and detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA and easily adapted to detect other pathogens.

(Catarina): ECRA is an excellent trigger for synergies between ITQB NOVA laboratories with different competences. It allows us to think differently and put into practice truly interdisciplinary projects. NEWCOLORPATH will bring together our expertise in Molecular Biology and Chemistry and translate it into the development of a new colorimetric method to detect pathogens using LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification), diretly from biological fluids. It is therefore expected  to have a wide aplicability in the field of molecular diagnosis. I would like to highlight the extraordinary work of PDA, which is constantly committed to encouraging the development of ITQB NOVA postdoctoral researchers.

(Luís): I think that ECRA is a great initiative from the PdA, because it not only creates an incentive for ground-breaking research lead by early career researchers but it also strongly fosters collaborations between people from different fields of science to pursue frontier research. This was my first application to ECRA, and I strongly recommend it to all early career researchers. Being an experimental chemist, I sometimes struggle to find common interests with people from life sciences, and the possibility to put my synthetic and analytical chemistry expertise to good use in the detection of pathogens was extremely motivating. Within this project, my goal is to develop new transition metal complexes to serve as selective colorimetric sensors for pyrophosphate in biological samples containing other competing phosphorylated anions. Such achievement would allow for the easy detection of pathogens by the RT-LAMP method in saliva samples, potentially impacting the field of molecular diagnosis using colorimetric approaches.


The ECRA 2019/2020 (2nd edition), was attributed to the project proposal submitted by Ana Filipa Rodrigues and Sandra Viegas entitled “LentiSloop: Synthetic 5’UTR mRNA-stabilizing-elements to optimize lentiviral vector production for human gene therapy“.


In which context did you decide to apply to ECRA?

(Filipa) I knew of Sandra’s work on synthetic RNA elements (S-loops) to boost gene expression in bacteria from a previous presentation she gave at our institute and it sparked my interest to apply them to mammalian expression systems. Also, I was seeking to boost gene expression during lentiviral vector production in human cells. Thus, the combination of both naturally emerged as possibility to explore with ECRA being the perfect opportunity for that collaboration.

(Sandra) I consider ECRA Prize a wonderful initiative created by PDA. I hadn’t applied in the first edition, but I was eager to do it this time. I was wondering about the idea and how my work could be of use to colleagues at the institute, when Filipa approached me with the invitation. We tried to combine our different expertise and fields of work in the best way...and here we are!


What would you reply when asking yourself “what’s in it for me?”

(Filipa) As someone who works with therapeutic vectors derived from RNA viruses, I benefit from Sandra’s expertise in the fundamentals of RNA metabolism. Beyond the actual project we submitted, this is already helping me to conceive new solutions to my current and future work. Also, it is a personal pleasure to work with Sandra since is very enthusiastic and open to new ideas.

(Sandra) After developing and publishing my work on synthetic RNA elements I was seeking for an application of the tool in other systems. Its usage on Filipa’s system had a perfect timing and I am glad I accepted her challenge. I’m at a stage in my academic career in which I’m creating the foundations of my independence, and this project was a great exercise and achievement. Working with Filipa really reinforced my idea that collaborative work is always beneficial, especially with people that we get along with. Filipa is a sharp minded person, and I learned a lot with her great work capacity.


And...what’s in it for the field where you work?

(Sandra) One of our aims in Synthetic Biology is to develop “new genetic tools” to create or redesign functions that we cannot find in living organisms under natural conditions. This project, which gives me the opportunity to use our system (developed in bacteria) in a mammalian expression system, fully fulfills this aim. A successful contribution to a human therapeutic application, would be of huge importance to the field.

(Filipa) Lentiviral vectors are currently the most used vector in gene therapy clinical trials. The application of s-Loops can add significant value by increasing the final production yields, thus reducing the costs, which will help making lentiviral gene therapy available to more patients worldwide. But the impact goes beyond the production stage since s-Loops can also improve in-patient therapeutic expression improving the efficacy of current and future lentiviral gene therapy products.


The ECRA 2018/2019 (1st edition), was attributed to proposal submitted by Mónica Martins and Catarina Paquete entitled “A novel photocatalytic system for the production of added-value compounds using non photosynthetic microorganisms”.


(Mónica and Catarina) In 2019 the 1st ECRA Prize was awarded to us, Mónica Martins from the Bacterial Energy Metabolism laboratory and Catarina Paquete from the Inorganic Biochemistry and NMR laboratory. We have been friends for more than 5 years and although we have intensely discussed science, we have never worked together. This award provided us with the opportunity to join our different expertise and design an unique research project to understand the biological production of hydrogen from light. Only with the combined skills on applied research of Mónica and the knowledge on fundamental research of Catarina can the mechanisms by which Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 can produce hydrogen from light be unravelled. This project also aroused the interest of a Master student from the MSc Biotechnology for Sustainability, creating an unique opportunity for this student to perform research in two different scientific fields, one fundamental and another more applied. The ECRA prize created an opportunity for two researchers with different mind-sets to build an original project that resulted in exciting results that will be soon published in a high impact journal.


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