15 September 2023

Mara Freire wins Professor Almiro e Castro award

Mara Freire wins Professor Almiro e Castro award

Mara Freire, researcher at the Department of Chemistry (DQ) and CICECO – Institute of Materials of Aveiro at the University of Aveiro (UA), received the Professor Almiro e Castro award today. The award aims to distinguish the scientific merit of a teacher or researcher of Portuguese nationality, under the age of 45, whose work over the last three years has stood out in the areas of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

The award was established in 2014, by PARALAB – Equipamentos Industriais e de Laboratório, SA, and is held every three years. The event closes the International Conference on Chemical and Biological Engineering which, this year, takes place in Bragança from the 12th to the 15th of September. The first edition, in 2014, saw the award attributed to João Coutinho, current director of CICECO.

Coordinator of group 5 of CICECO - Biomimetic, biological and Living Materials, Mara Freire shares that the fact that the winner of the Prize in engineering areas is a woman, and an example that the research scenario in STEAM is changing, that women are in an ascending and important phase in the development of knowledge and technology. “Following a research career is for those who dread monotony and thrive on discovery. Working for society is a great motivation,” she says, without any conflict.

The second researcher at CICECO, and the first woman, to receive this award, highlights that her election in particular ends up being a recognition of the efforts invested in the last decade in creating a new line of research at CICECO and UA, particularly in the development of new processes for biomanufacturing biopharmaceuticals, which have been gaining dimension in recent years. Mara Freire's selection was based on scientific publications from the three years from 2020 to 2022, but these reflect her continuous and determined work. The researcher highlights the importance of teamwork, acknowledges all the members of her team, her mentors and doctoral advisors, and all her collaborators. Holder of an already consolidated career marked by several awards, Mara Freire is also grateful for the current recognition that is very flattering to her.

The line of research into biopharmaceuticals was born after a researcher raised funding through her first project financed by the European Research Council (ERC), which allowed the construction of appropriate infrastructures at CICECO and UA and the development of a low-cost and efficient process to purify cells from of egg yolk. This process is patented and licensed by RYAPURTECH, a spin-off of UA. The researcher later obtained a second grant from the ERC and national funds to prove the biological activity of the purified antibodies, as well as to carry out some in vivo tests on animal models. Mara Freire and her team are now working on acquiring funding to complete the in vivo trials necessary to move forward with clinical trials in humans.


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