Research & Education

Apr 25, 2018

PORTUGUESE SCIENTISTS IN THE VANGUARD

They are Portuguese, they study cancer and try to find out the cure for this 'bug'. They bring new theories and ways to look at science, contributing significantly to the world

By SARA LOUP

The WHO, World Health Organization, warns that 14 million new cases of cancer are discovered each year. There is still a high mortality rate associated with this problem and many researches have been done in favor of curing cancer. Investigators from all over the world are seeking treatment of various types of cancer, and with every work accomplished, a step is taken to get closer to the treatment for each case and each person, however, it has not yet been possible to find the magic formula that kills this 'bug'.

In Portugal, several studies are carried out in the oncology area and various treatments are experimented for the well-being of the patients. Many important researches have been done in this small country, bringing new hope and ways of looking at this disease around the world.

Recently, a study by the team of Bruno Silva Santos, from the Institute of Molecular Medicine (iMM) of the University of Lisbon, put these scientists at the forefront of cancer treatment: immunotherapy. This is a treatment that is "enthusing the international community" by its formula where "cells are given a gun that kills cancer". The goal is to remove the non-cancerous cells from the patient and reinject them in the body, by healing themselves with their own immune system, creating completely new treatments and therapies to manipulate the cells and destroy those that are infected.

Another discovery was made by the team lead by Sérgio Daniel, also from iMM, which reveals that systemic cholesterol, colloquially called as the "bad" one, blocks the treatment of breast cancer, reducing the ability of the immune system to fight against cancer cells. The team associated this research with the immunotherapy of Bruno Silva Santos, focusing on gamma-delta T lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells that, according to the researcher, "cease the normal function and (tend to decrease) their activation capacity and recognition". This study was applied to breast cancer; however, it may be quite relevant in the study of other types of cancer.

Also in Portugal, the ability to identify the most effective type of cancer treatment for each patient is based on a urine analysis is being studied. Researchers Bruno Costa Silva, Joana Ribeiro and Rita Fior, are studying a personalized and fast way - within two-week period - to find an effective treatment to accelerate cancer healing processes. The same group also studies how tumours communicate with each other through exosomes, small vesicles produced by cells.

Across the country, researches are developing a way to increase treatments for various cancers, as well as to understand how these are degenerate through the human body, what stimulate cancer among other issues associated with lymphomas, skin cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, thyroid cancer and even heredity factors. At the end of 2017, statistics revealed by Global Portuguese Scientist, GPS, a digital platform that brings together scientists in the Diaspora, provided by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation, shown that Portuguese scientists are spread across 84 countries of the world, of which 20% in the UK and 15% in the USA. Most of these scientists, 59.4%, belong to the natural sciences, followed by medical sciences and technology.

From this small country to the world, Portuguese scientists have been playing a huge role in new cancer treatments, leaving a significant worldwide mark.

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