BioISI Communication and Outreach Workgroup (from left to right): Filipa Tomé, Margarida Gama-Carvalho and Andreia Reis


Get to know Sandra Louzada, Researcher, GER Group

In this edition we interview Sandra Louzada, who was recently awarded in the FCT Concurso Estímulo ao Emprego Científico – a junior researcher contract and will soon join BioISI!

Tell us about your research interests.

My research has been in the field of molecular cytogenetics, the study of chromosomes (their structure and evolution), genome variation and expression, using fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) and molecular biology techniques. During my PhD, I focused in the study of karyotype restructuring during species evolution and cancer, and the role of satellite DNA (highly repetitive sequences in the genome) in that dynamics, using rodents as model. After my PhD I started to work in the Molecular Cytogenetics Core Facility at the Wellcome Sanger Institute where I deepen my experience in molecular cytogenetics and also stayed alongside with the latest developments in the field of molecular biology and genomics. This position has allowed me to collaborate with different groups from diverse research areas. So in the last few years, my research has been focused in the visualization and characterization of complex genomic structural variants; characterisation of chromosomal structural and numerical rearrangements in cancer cell lines, and in mouse models of human tumours; karyotyping by multiplex-FISH iPSC and ESC lines from human and mouse; high-resolution mapping of genomic DNA clones (BACs & fosmids) assisting the assembly and ordering of sequence contigs of genomic sequences, validation of cancer fusion genes; RNA expression analysis; and cross-species comparative studies.

What are the main projects you’ve worked on?

From the collaborative projects in which I have been involved I can mention some examples. One project that was very interesting and also received attention from the media was the study showing that alcohol exposure causes damage to the chromosomes in the mouse blood cells resulting in rearrangements of their chromosomes. Besides that, I can also mention the optimization of techniques for obtaining single-molecule DNA fibres by molecular combing followed by multicolour fibre-FISH and its application to study multiallelic gene families with internal complex structures. These methods were used for the visualization and characterization of structural variants in the human amylase and glycophorin locus, which have been identified but not fully resolved by different genomic technologies.

You will join BioISI soon – tell us about your project and expectations

My project aims to study the mechanism of Robertsonian translocations in humans by analysing its centromere structure. Robertsonian translocations result from the centric fusion between two acrocentric chromosomes and they represent the most common structural rearrangements in the human population, playing a significant role in human fertility, genetic disorders (such as Down syndrome) and cancer. We all know that the chromosomes centromeres are populated by highly repetitive sequences, the satellite DNAs, and that these sequences have been underrepresented in the human genome assemblies. This was due to their repetitive nature combined with sequencing technologies that were not capable to produce long enough reads. The recently improved Nanopore-sequencing technology holds the promise to provide insights to these genomic sequences. So, the innovative nature of this work will be the use of improved sequencing techniques to increase our knowledge about these repetitive sequences structure in both normal and rearranged chromosomes. We expect to shed some light into the mechanism of such rearrangements, and also study its epigenetic signature by comparing the transcriptional profile of translocated and non-translocated chromosomes. The study of the repetitive sequences of the genome is not new to me, although I am aware that it represents a big challenge. But I won’t be alone of course. I will integrate a wonderful research team with expertise in this field and together with them and other collaborators, I will try my best to successfully achieve relevant findings.

How will the FCT Concurso Estímulo ao Emprego Científico – Individual award benefit your career?

I believe that this award will benefit my career, once it will allow me to develop a very interesting and challenging project. This position will permit me to be more independent, to further grow as a researcher and hopefully lead to significant contributions. I am very excited with this new project.

What do you consider your greatest achievement in science?

I have had a lot of good experiences working in science so far and I had the opportunity to work with some of the world research leading groups, which resulted in meaningful contributions to science, so I can say that I feel already quite happy. I will continue to work hard doing something I really like and I hope that big achievements will be a part of my future 

Which science figure do you most identify with?

I cannot say that I have or had any particular science figure that I identify myself with. My decision to pursue a research career was the idea of a constant challenge and the excitement of being able to contribute to something that would improve people’s life. So, in that sense I can say that I identify myself with all the researchers that also thinks the same way, everyone that feels that science makes them exited and gives them a sense of accomplishment even when facing long hours of work, frustrations, or lack of funding. But one thing I can certainly say, that along my way so far, I have met some inspiring people that taught me so much and whose advices and learnings I will always remember.

The BioISI post-graduate seminars are back!

March 19th marked the official launch of the BioISI post-graduate seminars, a monthly get-together to discuss science among BioISI members.

The main goal of these events is to bring together different areas of research through the presentations given by BioISI PhD students, and in that way, create an inspiring discussion environment for the young scientists of our community. Everyone is invited to participate in the discussions, from master and PhD students to senior researchers!

Diana Pimentel and Tânia Marques were the first PhD students to inaugurate the post-graduate seminar cycle. Diana’s research is framed on plants metabolomics focusing on the biochemical cross talking between grapevine and the fungus Erysiphe necator cellular machinery. Meanwhile, Tânia’s PhD thesis is focused on deciphering the role of microRNA regulatory mechanisms in order to create an improved database of microRNAs able to integrate the impact of the different cellular contexts on each microRNA species.

The second session instead converged on cancer research from very distant perspectives. Tomás Silva gave us an insight on how computational approaches can improve the characterization of molecules with great potential for application in clinical diagnosis. On the other hand, Márcia Faria discussed molecular biology approaches to study critical cell signaling pathways in order to bring novel solutions for drug resistance on thyroid cancer metastasis.

After both sessions, the attendants gathered around on a get-together snack break to continue their conversation in a more relaxed environment. We want to acknowledge the generous support of Central de Cervejas ( for offering us nice refreshments to cheer up the event closure.

Overall, these first two sessions had a positive reception among the students. We would like to invite all the BioISI community to join us on the coming events. We hope to see you there!

Marina L. García-Vaquero

(on behalf of the BioISI PhD students commission)

News Highlight

Workshop on Laboratory Safety

On March 13, the BioISI Grapevine-Pathogen Systems Laboratory (GPS lab, Andreia Figueiredo) together with G3S (Gabinete de Segurança e Saúde da FCUL)/Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa and Associação de Estudantes da Faculdade de Ciências de Lisboa (AEFFCUL), organized a workshop on lab safety.

With over 100 participants, this workshop focused on risk assessment, good laboratorial practices, notebooks and both chemical and biological risk. Several practical examples were given followed by a round table discussion about participant’s doubts and concerns.

International Conference award to BioISI PhD student

Margarida Quaresma was recently awarded the “NACFC Travel Award Supported by Bob Emmelkamp”, as a recognition of her poster and presentation at the 16th ECFS Basic Science Conference in Dubrovnik. The award consists of a travel grant to the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference in Nashville later this year. Margarida presented her work on “Partial Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) in CF: CF as an Epithelial Differentiation Disorder”.

Building core competences @ BioISI

Andreia Reis, from the BioISI Communication and Outreach Team, participated in the Advanced Course “Science and the Media”, organized by cE3C , which took place in April at FCUL.
This was a great opportunity to learn more on how different researchers and research centers use social media to promote and communicate their work, as well as raise awareness on issues like environment, cancer, genetics and other subjects.
It was also an opportunity to talk about the interactions between scientists and the media, mainly television and radio – the students practiced interviews with each other and one minute pitches on their work.
The active participation of BioISI staff and core facility members in advanced training actions such as this is key to the stimulating and creative enviroment that supports our mission.

Get inspired with… 

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. The event is promoted by the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research, in collaboration with several National, European and International Neuroscience Societies. This year it took place from March 11-17, and BioISI organized several activities to students from ages 8 to 18. We invited Diana Cunha Reis, the main organizer of the event, to tell us more about what happened at FCUL.

Tell us about the activities that took place at FCUL and BioISI during BAW.

The activities that took place at BioISI, FCUL were aimed at three different age groups: elementary school students (8-9 years old), middle school students (14-15 years old) and high school students (17-18 years old).
The activities proposed to elementary school students were their first contact with knowledge about the brain. The activities focused on extending their awareness of the functions that the brain controls, like thinking and reasoning, but also motor control/coordination, speech and language, and control of fundamental bodily functions like breathing, heartbeat and digestion.
The day started with a short interactive lecture by myself, where these concepts were introduced, after which more practical activities were done, like mathematical games with João Pedro Neto, motor coordination and brain laterality exercises by my team, and brain model building, to understand the role and specialization of different cortical areas in the different functions, with my team on the first day and Astrid Vicente´s team on the second day.
The activities held for middle school students included short lectures by myself, Professor José Carlos Dionísio and Professor Ana Paula Cláudio, discussing distinct approaches to the study of brain function: the role of the cerebral cortex in integration of visual information and language interpretation and production, the pathological mechanisms associated with epilepsy, the technical approaches used in psychophysiology studies and the use of virtual and augmented reality approaches in psychotherapy. All these topics are intimately related to research and teaching activities currently being performed by BioISI and FCUL researchers in different areas of knowledge (Biochemistry, Biology and Informatics). After this, the students were invited to a teaching lab and experiment direct contact with microscopy observations of brain tissue preparations of healthy and epileptic rodents and were also allowed to explore the anatomy of the sheep brain with myself and Professor José Carlos Dionísio.
The activities held in a single day for high school students were more focused on specific research topics and started with a presentation by Professor Cláudio Gomes, who discussed the contribution of protein misfolding to the biochemistry of neurodegeneration, followed by Professor Luís Moniz, who discussed the challenges and pitfalls in the road to develop artificial intelligence. These lectures were followed by a visit to a teaching lab with Professor João Pedro Neto, where middle and high school students could experiment direct contact with brain tissue preparations of healthy and epileptic rodents. Another activity was held in a computer lab and allowed them to build a logic decision program using an intuitive programming environment.

What was the feedback from students and teachers?

The initiative was received with great enthusiasm by the school teachers that expressed their gratitude for the opportunity given to students to experience this close contact with researchers and to participate in the practical activities proposed. Furthermore, they provided interesting feedback in improving some of the activities proposed and manifested immediately their interest in participating in future editions. Students of all ages from both schools were really excited to participate in all the practical activities, that were the main attraction of this BAW at BioISI. It was really nice to listen an eight year-old invite us to visit their school at science week because he wanted to learn some more about the brain. For middle school (9th year) students this experience was one of their first contacts with Neuroscience, so everything was a discovery, from learning about the basics of neurotransmission, how brain diseases like epilepsy affect the brain to learning the role of virtual reality environments in psychotherapy or dissecting a brain. Older (11th and 12th year) students were more informed and considering their choices for a degree so their interests in Biology, Biomedicine, Biochemistry and engineering were more obvious. They listened eagerly about neurodegeneration mechanisms and its biochemical mechanisms. Learning about artificial intelligence was more of a surprise and made them aware of different perspectives that can be taken to brain science. They also took the opportunity to question the multidisciplinary team of BioISI researchers and FCUL faculty about the different degrees and let us with the impression that practical activities that allowed them to experience on their own the lab routines were the most wanted.

What do you think is the benefit of organizing such events for the public, particularly young people?

I think that the most obvious benefit is to get young people to know about what we do here at FCUL and what can the degrees FCUL offers give them as a tool to pursue different careers. In the process, we also get to know their perspective and interest in our institution. For them, getting to know the research interests of BioISI researchers, the way the knowledge is acquired can either contribute to develop research skills or be applied in the development of tools for use in therapeutics alerts them for the diversity of paths that can be taken in a single institution. It is also an important step in making them realise that not only in an engineering school they can have training in applied sciences. Regardless it is brain science or any other subject, I believe this initiative has demonstrated one of the most important characteristic of this institution (FCUL) and of our research center (BioISI), the fantastic potential it has for multi and interdisciplinary approaches to different research topics.

Latest Research

Robots mediating interactions between animals for interspecies collective behaviors” by Frank Bonnet, Rob Mills, Martina Szopek, Sarah Schönwetter-Fuchs, José Halloy, Stjepan Bogdan, Luís Correia, Francesco Mondada e Thomas Schmickl was recently published in Science Robotics. This research arises from the ASSISIbf project, financed by the European Union that aims at creating organized animal and robotic societies, integrated by social interactions through bees and fishes. Rob Mills, BioISI researcher, and Luís Correia, professor at the Informatics Department of Ciências ULisboa and Group Leader at BioISI, participated in the project that started in 2013 and finished in 2018.

Check out for some videos describing the project!

Upcoming Events

Workshop on Integrative Approaches to Protein Folding & Aggregation

11-12 June, University of LISBON, PORTUGAL


In the last decade it has become increasingly accepted that progress in the field of protein folding requires a close dialogue between simulation and experiment.

he prospect of accurately assessing ever-larger timescales, as a result from progress on biomolecular modelling and simulation methodologies, opens up the possibility of using simulation to predict and interpret experimental data. On the other hand, the integration of experimental data with theory is critical for increasing the accuracy of force fields used in Molecular Dynamics simulations of biomolecules, and, therefore, experiments are crucial to improve simulations.

Furthermore, the recognition that protein folding pathologies and conformational disorders  (e.g. highly debilitating degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and metabolic disorders) have an increasingly strong impact in our society and economy, calls for a much closer dialogue between basic science and clinical investigation in order to achieve effective therapeutic solutions.

The aim of this workshop is to bring together computational and experimental scientists with scientists doing translational research in order to foster the dialogue between the three communities so that novel and integrative approaches can be developed.

Check here for more information!

2019 Summer School on Epithelial Systems: Physiology and Pathophysiology

22-26 July 2019

Learn about the latest developments on Epithelial Systems: Physiology and Pathophysiology and discuss your project with the experts


  • Personalized Therapies for Cystic Fibrosis: How to Rescue >2,000 Dysfunctional Channels?

  • Culturing Respiratory Cells

  • Physiology of Airway Epithelial Cells

  • Ex Vivo and In Vivo Systems for Personalized Medicine

  • Functional diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis

  • Organoids as Model Systems to Epithelia

  • Physiology of Exocrine Pancreatic and Sweat Gland Epithelial Cells : focous on ion and fluid transport

  • Physiology of  Intestinal Epithelial Cells

  • Electrophysiology techniques: from tissues to cells and single-molecules

  • New aspects of epithelial physiology

Registration open until 31 May 2019. Please fill and submit registration form HERE

For more information, check here

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