Last October 17, in Paço de Arcos, took place the Gilead Génese Program Public Ceremony. In this event, the winners of this year’s edition (the ninth one) were announced. miThic-eSwitch (microRNA-specific targeting of HIV latently infected cells using virus-dependent dCas9 control switches) was one of the projects recommended for funding and Margarida Gama-Carvalho, Principal Investigator of the RNA Systems Biology Lab, is its principal investigator.
Created in 2013 with the ambition of encouraging research and intervention in communities, the Gilead Génese Program has become a reference in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility in health, due to the impact it has generated through the feasibility of various types of projects and initiatives. In this 9th edition, 71 applications were submitted. From these, 59 were evaluated, being 40 aimed at research and 19 at communitarian intervention, in the fields of oncology and virology. The project lead by Margarida Gama-Carvalho was funded (in a total of 34K€) in the category of research projects and in the field of virology. We have talked to the scientist in order to understand the details of the distinguished research and to find out what its the impact in her/her lab future plans.
[BioISICom] What is the research question you will address within this project and is it important to be investigated?
[Margarida Gama-Carvalho, MGC] Curing HIV infection by targeting latent provirus is a key research priority in the fight against AIDS. We have designed a dCas9-based system for HIV re-activation and synthesis of toxic peptides. In this innovation project, we want to establish the proof-of-concept that this platform can be tightly controlled by a regulatory element composed by an optimized synthetic combination of microRNA recognition sites, active only in target CD4+ T cells, with broad applications in gene and mRNA therapeutics.
Estimates from the WHO point to approximately 38 million people in the world living with AIDS, the majority of which in Africa, with 2.3 million (5%) infected people in Europe and North America. This number continues to raise due to the success of current antiretroviral therapies in extending patient’s life span, fueled by a steady number of 1.7 million new infections every year. Given that not everyone can access and/or adhere indefinitely to ART, which many patients do not tolerate well, a consensus has been reached that the development of a curative intervention for HIV infection is a high global health priority and is required to end the AIDS epidemic.
[BioISICom] What does it mean for you and your laboratory to obtain this funding?
[MGC] The recognition by experts in virology and therapeutic development of the relevance and innovation potential of the concepts that we have been exploring in the past few years. It is fundamentally an incentive to keep up the work along this new and ambitious applied research line.
[BioISICom] Do you think this will allow you to explore new possibilities within the research field? If so, what will they be?
[MGC] This is an applied research project that opens up significant possibilities related to the application of RNA-based therapeutic approaches across multiple fields, say from infectious to genetic diseases and oncology. We hope to start interacting at a closer level with pharma and biotechnology companies to translate these ideas from the lab bench to the bedside. This is an applied research project that opens up significant possibilities related to the application of RNA-based therapeutic approaches across multiple fields, say from infectious to genetic diseases and oncology. We hope to start interacting at a closer level with pharma and biotechnology companies to translate these ideas from the lab bench to the bedside.
More info Gilead Génese Program here.
From left to right: Ignacio Schoendorff, General Director of Gilead; Perpétua Gomes, from the Committee for the Evaluation of Research Projects in Virology; Margarida Gama-Carvalho, Cláudia Estima, Tânia Marques and Carolina Ruivinho, all scientists from the RNA Systems Biology Lab [photo by Gilead Genese 2023] .