A scientist who is the first winner of a prestigious new award in his native Portugal has paid tribute to AICR for helping to kick-start his career.
Dr Miguel Godinho Ferreira, group leader at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, just outside Lisbon, is the first scientist to win his country's 10,000 euros Simbiontes Award, for his proposal to investigate the cellular changes that cause cancer in adults.
Speaking after the award he said his £130,681 grant from AICR had been “crucial” for him in establishing his lab in Portugal.
“In a very direct way, you allowed me to come back to my country to produce high quality science as an independent researcher,” he told AICR's Scientific Communications Manager, Dr Lara Bennett.
“I am aware AICR now has other Portuguese grantees. I am very proud to have been able to 'disseminate' your charity in Portugal and in the world. In times of financial difficulties (in Portugal especially) it is reassuring to have AICR as a world charity to promote cancer research wherever it is done best. Charities such as yours do matter for scientists outside the big centres of science! Thanks again to the people who contributed to AICR and supported our group in Lisbon. We will continue to work hard to understand cancer better.”
Over 80% of cancers appear in adults over 50, making age one of the main risk factors for this disease. Dr Ferreira's research promises crucial insights into understanding the causes of cancer, and, potentially, into developing approaches to fight the disease.
He and his team are seeking to understand why the incidence of cancer increases with age and he believes he has a clue as to what may underlie this phenomenon.
"Chromosome ends have on them protective structures, made up of DNA, called telomeres. As we age, telomeres become shorter, thus acting like molecular clocks that convey the age of a cell," he explained.
Telomeres undergo lifelong wear and tear because the enzyme that builds them is not active in human cells. Indeed, telomerase - as this enzyme is called - is active only in the embryo, and becomes inactive at birth. Dr Ferreira and his team are looking for the signals associated to telomerase in young cells, that are absent in old cells. They hope to harness these molecular signals to stop cancer developing in older cells
Said Dr Bennett: “We are delighted that Dr Ferreira has been awarded this prestigious prize. Our philosophy is to support the brightest and the best scientists working in cancer research, all around the world. In some cases, these are relatively young researchers with inquiring and agile minds – like Dr Ferreira – who are able to see new ways to tackle some of the most important questions about cancer.”