The Portuguese Medical Association and the BIAL Foundation deliver Maria de Sousa Award

25 November, 2021


The Maria de Sousa Award was delivered on November 24 to five Portuguese researchers, in a ceremony that took place at Teatro Thalia, in Lisbon, and was presided by the prime minister, António Costa, and also attended by the minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education, Manuel Heitor.

The winners, all young doctorates in health sciences, are Daniela Freitas (i3S - Institute for Research and Innovation in Health Sciences, University of Porto), Sara Silva Pereira  (iMM - Institute of Molecular Medicine - João Lobo Antunes, University of Lisbon), Mariana Osswald (i3S), Pedro Marques (Santa Maria Hospital, Lisbon) and Andreia Pereira (i3S).

The awarded projects focus on research in the areas of cardiovascular disease, cancer, sleeping sickness and cell function.

Promoted by the Portuguese Medical Association and the BIAL Foundation, this award pays tribute to the leading Portuguese immunologist and researcher Maria de Sousa, who died last year as a victim of Covid-19.

The president of the Portuguese Medical Association, Miguel Guimarães, recalls that Maria de Sousa was never satisfied with what she knew and was always looking for more. “This is a characteristic of great scientists and I am sure that these five young researchers who are currently awarded also feel this avid need to question and raise doubts in order to advance in scientific knowledge.”

“Maria de Sousa lived Science vibrantly and always sought to create conditions so that young scientists could make their dreams and their scientific paths come true. That is the goal of this Award, and I believe that today, by awarding these five researchers, we are perpetuating Maria's work”, complements the chairman of the BIAL Foundation, Luís Portela.

Rui Costa, president of the Jury and neuroscientist, recalls that, as a mentor, Maria de Sousa was as generous as she was demanding. “Maria demanded the creation of something new in Science and that was one of the premises that we used as a basis for the selection of the five awarded projects, from among 84 applications received”.


In addition to Rui Costa, the jury is composed of researchers who were very close to Maria de Sousa: Maria do Carmo Fonseca, president of the Institute of Molecular Medicine (iMM) of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon, Graça Porto, group leader for research on the biology of iron at the Institute for Research and Innovation in Health Sciences (i3S) of the University of Porto, Miguel Castelo-Branco, director of the Center for Biomedical Imaging and Translational Research (CIBIT) at the University of Coimbra, and Joana Palha, full professor at the School of Medicine of the University of Minho.

The award, which had its first edition in 2021, will be awarded annually to five young researchers, worth up to €25,000 each, including an internship at an international center of excellence.

Awarded projects

Daniela Freitas | ‘Glycosylation of gastric cancer extracellular vesicles: its impact in cancer intercellular communication and its potential for biomarker discovery’

The aim of this project is to find new biomarkers for gastric cancer, as well as new potential therapeutic targets. Gastric cancer is often detected in advanced stages of the disease, given the lack of good biomarkers, which hinders the effectiveness of currently available therapies. This work will study the role of altered glycans (complex carbohydrate structures) in gastric cancer in local and distance cell communication and reprogramming.

Sara Silva Pereira |‘The impact of parasite sequestration in trypanosomiasis severity’

African trypanosomes - transmitted by the bite of glossins, known as tsetse flies - cause sleeping sickness in humans and animal or nagana trypanosomiasis in many mammals. In cattle, this disease has a high mortality rate (up to 70%) and results in very high economic losses ($4.5 billion per year only in Africa). This work aims to discover which proteins exist on the parasite surface that allow it to adhere to blood vessels, and what is the relationship between the expression of these proteins and the severity of the disease in cattle. The results of this project will allow to identify genes that are biomarkers of severe disease. In the future, it is hoped that these biomarkers could be used in a portable diagnostic device to screen livestock on a large scale and inform the community about the virulence of circulating strains and the risk of serious disease.

Mariana Osswald | ‘How to balance actomyosin-dependent forces to preserve epithelial tissue integrity’

This project aims to investigate how epithelia, a type of tissue characteristic of all animals and essential for their existence, balance forces to maintain their shape, integrity and functionality. Disturbances in the three-dimensional structure of tissues are associated with pathologies such as cancer or inflammatory diseases. The research will study the organization of one of the main cell structures responsible for regulating forces: actomyosin. The results of this project will contribute to the understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that allow tissues to respond to forces and maintain their integrity, which is essential for designing treatments for specific diseases.

Pedro Marques | ‘The role of CCL2 and IL-8 in the microenvironment of pituitary neuroendocrine tumors: relationship with tumoral aggressiveness and their diagnostic-therapeutic usefulness’

Pituitary adenomas are benign tumors of the pituitary, a gland located at the base of the skull that controls most of our body's hormonal activity. These tumors cause damage by invading structures close to the pituitary, such as the optic nerves responsible for vision, and can also lead to various health problems related to the excess production or deficit of pituitary hormones. The research aims to identify new biomarkers useful for the diagnosis of the disease and delineate new therapeutic targets, as well as new forms of treatment in the field of immunotherapy for patients with more aggressive pituitary adenomas that are resistant to conventional therapies, for example anti-CCL2 or anti- IL-8 which are already used to treat other cancers.

Andreia Pereira | ‘BioTribo – Exploring biomaterials as triboelectric nanogenerators for cardiovascular applications

This project aims to find new ways to fight cardiovascular disease. The research work will seek to obtain an inexhaustible source of energy for the sensors used in monitoring cardiovascular diseases and enable their use in electrical devices that are currently implanted in the patient, such as pacemakers, ventricular assist devices and implantable cardioverter defibrillators.