Six Brazilian scientists are awarded in the 25 Women in Science in Latin America program


The development of an innovative drug to treat childhood leukemia from a modified bacterial enzyme, new molecular targets for the production of more effective drugs against schistosomiasis and a new technique to detect the presence of Sars-CoV-2 in the body at a cost 5 to 10 times lower compared to RT-PCR.

These are some of the research projects coordinated by Brazilian scientists that are part of the “25 Women in Science in Latin America” ​​program, organized by the 3M company to encourage and recognize work with a positive impact to generate change and encourage new generations of girls and women to act. in the scientific area, mainly in Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Among the 25 awarded, six are Brazilian. Together with Mexico, the country has the largest number of awards for researchers, working mainly in the areas of technological innovation in health and sustainable solutions for the environment.

Biologist Renata Bannitz Fernandes is the main researcher of the project that created an innovative drug from the enzyme asparaginase, originating from the fungus aspergillus fumigatusand which is already used in the treatment of some types of lymphatic cancer, for the treatment of childhood acute myeloid leukemia.

Mechanical engineer Rosângela Silqueira Hickson Rios, professor and coordinator of the postgraduate course in technologies applied to health at Faculdade Promove Tecnologia, in Belo Horizonte (MG), managed to identify from a bank with more than 300 million molecular sequences three potential targets for the development of a more effective drug in the treatment of schistosomiasis, a disease caused by a parasitic freshwater worm.

Like other neglected tropical diseases, schistosomiasis is closely associated with lack of access to basic sanitation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.5 million people live at risk for schistosomiasis worldwide.

The only drug available on the market, according to Rios, was developed in the 1970s and is not as effective. “Pharmaceuticals are not interested in developing drugs for neglected diseases because they are very common in low- and middle-income countries, which will not have the power to buy, and do not generate profit,” he says.

His groundbreaking research included a completely computer-based mapping of the proteins that can be targeted by the new drugs, and tests to verify effectiveness are expected to begin soon.

Pharmaceutical Andreza Francisco Martins, a professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), has developed a method capable of detecting the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus in swabs from the nose or mouth of patients with suspected Covid, with a faster result than than the RT-PCR test, considered the gold standard, and cost up to ten times lower.

“Brazil’s dependence on imported inputs and the fluctuation of the dollar means that many of the Covid-19 tests have a high price, not being easily accessible. Our technique is much more cost-effective and can be used, after the pandemic , including for the detection of other viruses, such as dengue, zika, among others”, he says. The test uses the Maldi-TOF equipment, which is a mass spectrometer, to identify virus proteins.

Other award-winning researches were the development of a more efficient and lower cost type of biomaterial for prostheses and implants, such as for the treatment of herniated discs, by radiologist Esther Pereira; the identification of a molecular marker for ischemic disease, capable of refining the diagnosis of myocardial infarction, a procedure that today can take up to six hours in hospitals in the country, by biologist Gabriela Venturini da Silva; and a new enzymatic route for reusing plastic using already known enzymes used to break sugarcane tailings, by fellow biologist Thamy Lívia Ribeiro Côrrea.

The award-winning presentation ceremony was held on the morning of this Wednesday (23), through a virtual platform. Scientists from Colombia (4), Chile (3), Costa Rica (2), Panama (2), Argentina (1) and Peru (1) were also awarded.

According to a recent survey by the EoS Foundation for Gender Equity, called “Women’s Power Gap”, more than 55% of doctoral degrees in the 130 elite universities in the United States are women, but only 22% become directors. , department heads or deans at the same research institutions. These numbers drop to 19% and 5%, respectively, when considering women of color.

In Brazil, according to data from the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes), linked to the MEC, more than half (54.5%) of those enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs in the country are women, but they correspond to to only four out of ten professors in universities of higher education.

Also, according to recent UNESCO data, less than 30% of researchers in Stem areas are women.

For Gabriela Venturini da Silva, interest in science came from a young age. “Since I’ve known myself, I’ve wanted to discover something. My generation has always had as a model of scientist a white man, from the northern hemisphere, in a lab coat, and not women like us. So I believe that initiatives like this bring to future generations of scientific girls that they look at us and think that someone with their body, color, hair, similar figure, can be scientists too”, he said.

The 3M award considered aspects such as potential direct or indirect social impact in Latin America; innovation; viability; maturity of the idea and capacity and experience. According to the company’s technical manager, Marcia Ferrarezi, actions like this are necessary to expand the reach of scientific research led by women and encourage future generations.

“We are certain that this initiative will consolidate and inspire more and more, not only future generations of women scientists, but also several organizations to promote programs like this and join the cause, which is to promote diversity and inclusion in science”, he said.

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