Beneficiary of the Short-term Research Internships at the University of Texas at Austin 2023
|Affiliation Institution||University of Beira Interior|
|Host Institution||McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering|
David Moreira is a PhD student in biochemistry who started his academic course with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences (16/20) from the University of Beira Interior, followed by a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences (18/20) concluded in January 2023 also at UBI. During his academic studies, he collaborated with LabExpoRad (UBIMedical lab) by providing technical and tutoring support in the context of analysis of the effect of aerosols containing radon on the biological development of aromatic plants. Hence, he evaluated DNA and antioxidant alterations in Mentha Spicata when exposed to radon. From this work, he concluded that radon could induce genetic damage and reduce the antioxidant content of Mentha Spicata oils. Results obtained were presented on “CHERNE ‘Train the future trainers in radiation protection and nuclear technology’ – Radon 2021”. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he was awarded an entrepreneurship prize (StartUp Voucher by IAPMEI) for 12 months to develop a disinfection robot that could help in the combat against the pandemic. During his master’s dissertation entitled “Development of aptamer nanoparticles for treatment of retinal diseases”, he characterized the structure of a G-quadruplex aptamer towards nucleolin and ternary complexes with ligands using a broad range of techniques such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, circular dichroism, FRET-melting, UV and fluorescence spectroscopy. From this work, he acquired advanced and solid skills related to the biophysical characterization of non-canonical nucleic acids (G-quadruplex, G4) aptamers and their interaction with proteins. Then he experienced liposome production by loading anti-angiogenic drugs and functionalizing them with the aptamer to target angiogenesis on retinal diseases. He finished his work by evaluating the anti-angiogenic effect of his formulation on HUVEC cells. He got a final classification of 20/20 in the master’s dissertation. Within this work, he published two papers as FIRST AUTHOR in WoS-indexed international journals. Additionally, he did 3 oral presentations and 6 posters (5 as first author) in national and international conferences such as “Innovative ThERApeutiC Targets In nOn-canonical Nucleic acids structures Winter InterNational School 2023 – INTERACTION WINS 2023”. Also, during this year he was MEMBER of funded FCT project ref. UIDP/Multi/00709/2020 entitled “CombinatiOn aptaMer-drug Based therapeutics for ocular neovascular diseases” and a GRANT from “BInov 2021 Award, Innovation Grant funded by the Southern and Autonomous Regions Regional Section (SRSRA) of the Order of Pharmacists. Recently he was GRANTED by Santander Universidades-UBI/2022 Fellowship (FIRST PLACE) followed by an FCT doctoral grant (2023.02001.BD) to develop his PhD project “Development of nanoPROTAC-aptamer for lung cancer immunotherapy”
This proposal addresses lung cancer (LC) which is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Antibody-based immunotherapy has shown limited clinical responses in advanced LC. Nucleic acid aptamers and proteolysis targeting chimeras (PROTACs) are promising approaches for targeting overexpressed proteins. The INNOVATIVE IDEA is to develop a PROTAC-aptamer exploiting overexpressed protein degradation through proteasome. G-quadruplex (G4) aptamers against the overexpressed protein will be selected by in vitro Systematic Evolution of Ligands by Exponential Enrichment (SELEX). Then, the G4 aptamers will be conjugated to the PROTAC using bioconjugate synthesis and their efficacy will be evaluated in vitro.
This internship period will be particularly important in the first step of this work: performing SELEX to find an aptamer that has a high affinity to our target protein.
Expectations about the Short-term Research Internship
Going abroad implies living a new experience that will certainly enrich me in professional and personal terms. Professionally speaking, I expect to learn a lot with my host supervisor, Dr. Yi Lu, and with his team. I expect to acquire useful knowledge that I can apply to the development of my PhD project and that I can also transfer to the investigation group that I’m part of in Portugal at CICS-UBI to keep improving our research work. Personally speaking, I’m excited to go to a different country to know a distinct culture leaving my comfort zone. Certainly, there will be difficulties during this process but it is certainly part of the adventure of going abroad alone.