ICVS researchers win the Maria de Sousa 2023 award

Nuno Dinis Alves and Sara Calafate, researchers from ICVS at the School of Medicine, are distinguished this Thursday, November 16th, with the Maria de Sousa prize. The awarded projects are both in the area of neurosciences, with Nuno Dinis Alves trying to understand how the release of serotonin helps reverse cognitive inflexibility after exposure to chronic stress. Sara Calafate investigates how sleep can regulate brain homeostasis.

Nuno Dinis Alves was recognized for his research into the release of serotonin in regions of the brain responsible for cognitive flexibility and the impact of chronic stress on this process.

The focus of the work is on neurons that produce and release serotonin to the prefrontal cortex, which may be involved in different cognitive flexibility tasks. The idea is to first measure, under physiological conditions, the serotonin released depending on the task presented, then moving on to animal models subject to stress.

“Subsequently, we will attempt intervention, that is, if there is cognitive inflexibility on the part of these animals, we will, through the introduction of serotonin via pharmacological or optogenetic means, reverse this cognitive deficit”, explains Nuno Dinis Alves.

The ICVS researcher receives this distinction with “great pleasure and immense satisfaction”, as it is an award that seeks to honor Maria de Sousa, a great researcher and visionary of science in Portugal.

“It is recognition of the work I have already done and intend to do, but more than a prize, it is a stimulus to continue taking the projects and ideas that exist on paper and putting them into action. It is, in essence, a great incentive to keep me on this scientific journey” reinforces the researcher.

Sara Calafate receives the Maria de Sousa prize for studying the role of the MCH peptide, responsible for regulating sleep, in protecting the brain against neuronal dysfunctions such as those that occur in Alzheimer’s disease.

The ICVS researcher mentions that “the types of cells that contribute to homeostasis in the brain, that is, to the balance of the brain, are different, and sleep can also regulate these cells that react with inter-neurons. In this case, what we propose to do is verify how sleep regulates cerebrospinal homeostasis through microglia.”

Moving from paper to practice, the experiments will consist of “chemogenetic manipulation in which the MCH neuronal system will be activated and how this affects, during sleep, the activity of microglia and consequently the omyostasis of the brain neuron ”, explains Sara Calafate.

Regarding the distinction, the award-winning researcher highlights that on a personal level it is “an honor” to have her research recognized by a researcher like Maria de Sousa who influenced the vision of science in Portugal and also that “it gives her the opportunity to continue” with her projects , and at a financial level it is a “huge help” to carry out and complete the research.

The winners of the Maria de Sousa Prize 3rd edition – 2023 will be announced at the award ceremony that will take place on November 16, 2023, at 6:00 pm, in Lisbon, and will be held in a hybrid format, so that everyone can watch online. The event will be chaired by the Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education.

This award was created by the Order of Doctors and the Bial Foundation, two years ago, in honor of the immunologist Maria de Sousa, who died of covid-19 on April 14, 2020. This distinction is aimed at young researchers up to 35 years old with projects in health sciences.