EEUM researcher awarded with Medal of Honor L’Oréal Portugal

Diana Priscila Pires receives 15 thousand euros to develop alternative therapy to antibiotics

Diana Priscila Pires was distinguished this Wednesday, in Lisbon, with the L’Oréal Portugal Medal of Honor for Women in Science. The scientist will receive 15,000 euros to improve the effectiveness of phage therapy in combating the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is very resistant to antibiotics and is associated with serious hospital infections and high mortality.

The award given by L’Oréal Portugal, the National Commission of UNESCO and the Foundation for Science and Technology aims to encourage researchers in Portugal, already PhDs and up to 35 years old, to pursue original and relevant studies for health and the environment. It is the 2nd consecutive year that one of the awards comes to CEB, after Margarida Fernandes.

In her research, Diana Priscila Pires works with bacterial viruses that are not harmful to humans, but that infect harmful bacteria. They are called phages or bacteriophages. They are considered promising for treating bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotics. However, the phages that fight Pseudomonas aeruginosa have some limitations, which Diana wants to overcome with the manipulation of the respective genomes. “I intend to develop a genetic phage editing tool in order to improve its antibacterial properties and, if these phages show promising results in vitro, they can be further tested in vivo on laboratory animals to prove their effectiveness”, she summarizes.

Antibiotic resistance is a global problem and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently classified P. aeruginosa as a priority to combat. This scenario requires new therapies, such as phage, which has numerous advantages over antibiotics, as they focus on one type of bacteria and have no other effect on the body. P. aeruginosa is associated with hospital infections, which affect 7 out of 100 hospitalized patients in developed countries (10 out of 100 in other countries), according to WHO. These infections are linked to more than 30 thousand deaths in Europe per year and to 7 billion euros of direct extra hospitalization costs per year. It is estimated that 30% of intensive care patients in rich countries develop at least one hospital infection and that the figure is two to three times higher in other countries.

Born in Chaves 32 years ago, Diana Priscila Pires is a postdoctoral researcher at CEB, at the UMinho School of Engineering, where she did her master’s and doctorate in Biomedical Engineering, the latter in partnership with MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), where she worked for a year at the Synthetic Biology Group.

The Medal of Honor L’Oréal Portugal is in its 16th edition and aims to contribute to increasing the number of female scientists worldwide, which remains below 30%.

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