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Portuguese student’s PhD thesis receives International Award


Lung cancer is the most common and also the deadliest type of cancer worldwide. The late diagnosis of the disease, in either its localised or metastatic form, is one of the main causes contributing to the failure of therapies. The statistics show that, over a five year period, only 14% of lung cancer patients survive.

n view of this information the Portuguese researcher, Ana Sofia Silva, proposes a new therapeutic approach to lung cancer in her PhD thesis. The alumna of the MIT Portugal Programme worked on a methodology that combines a new pulmonary administration mechanism with gene therapy. She has developed a layer-by-layer nanocarrier system that interferes directly with the mutated oncogenes and is able to “knock” them down.

In order to test the distribution of the microparticles in the body, these new “powders” were tested  in healthy mice by pulmonary inhalation, using a process based on supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2) technology, which is a sustainable and also a low cost procedure. The lab experiments revealed promising results that now open new insights into effective gene therapy in lung disease.

Ana Sofia’s thesis underscores “the extraordinary advantages of combining nanotechology, molecular biology, polymer science, chemical engineering and supercritical fluid technologies in order to develop robust and reliable pulmonary delivery systems for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer

The biennal prize “Best PhD Thesis” was awarded by the International Society for the Advancement of Supercritical Fluids on 11 May, during the 16th European Meeting of Supercritical Fluids in Essen, Germany.

The winning project, entitled “Multifunctional nano-in-micro formulations for lung cancer theragnosis” was carried out at FCT-NOVA at the Polymer Synthesis and Processing Group in LAQV – REQUIMTE, under the supervision of Ana Aguiar-Ricardo (Full Professor at the Chemistry Department) and in collaboration with the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering group at the Universidade da Beira Interior (UBI).

The FCT-funded MIT Portugal Programme is a strategic partnership between Portuguese Universities and Research Centres, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and partners from industry and government. This international collaboration seeks to demonstrate that an investment in science, technology and higher education can have a positive, lasting impact on the economy by addressing key societal issues through quality education and research in the emerging field of engineering systems.