28 February 2024

New nucleic acid research laboratory is unveilled

New nucleic acid research laboratory is unveilled

CICECO’s sub-group Path has a new laboratory, located in PCI Creative Science Park, in Ílhavo. The new research laboratory is in charge of Prof. Mara Freire and Dr. Augusto Pedro, and this facility is tailored to meet the unique demands and precision needed for nucleic acid studies. Path’s team will be diving into groundbreaking research starting this March, and Dr Augusto Pedro talks about this new infrastructure.

What process does the inauguration of this laboratory culminate?

In line with the strategic vision of group 5 (Biomimetic, biological and living materials) at CICECO, the inauguration of this laboratory follows research that has been conducted to develop high-performance technologies for obtaining high-quality biological products at low cost. These products, generally referred to as biopharmaceuticals, are characterized by being (semi)produced or extracted from biological sources and exhibit high efficacy in the therapy or prophylaxis of various human diseases. In particular, this new laboratory strengthens the commitment to improving the manufacturing strategies of nucleic acid biopharmaceuticals (including minicircular DNA, plasmid DNA, and messenger RNA), whose market is expanding rapidly. It is also expected that these products will play an even more significant role in modern medicine, as evidenced in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic with messenger RNA vaccines, where CICECO, as well as our research group, aim to contribute actively.

What does the laboratory consist of (facitlities, location...)?

The Laboratory is based at the Science and Technology Park (PCI, located in Ílhavo) where the research group will have at its disposal a set of state-of-the-art infrastructure and equipment for the manipulation, production, purification, and analytical characterization of nucleic acids. In general, the necessary conditions have been gathered to carry out laboratory research and development activities with the detail and precision that this type of biomolecule demands. While any (bio)pharmaceutical administered to humans must be obtained with high purity and biological activity to ensure its therapeutic efficiency and safety, nucleic acids generally have a more unstable nature and a greater propensity for degradation, which poses additional constraints on their handling.

What are the objectives of this new laboratory's operation? Who will work here?

The current team working in this new laboratory dedicated to nucleic acid-based biopharmaceuticals consists of six PhD students (Ana Isabel, Ana Sofia, Ana Filipa, Bojan Kopilovic, João Fernandes, Maria Inês) and two undergraduate students who are developing their bachelor's projects (Filipa Domingues and Athenas de Francesco), supervised by Augusto Pedro and Mara Freire. As mentioned earlier, the overall goal is to produce low-cost, high-efficiency nucleic acid biopharmaceuticals for diseases with high morbidity and mortality rates, such as neurodegenerative diseases, infectious diseases, and cancer. To achieve this objective, the work is expected to focus on each stage of biopharmaceutical manufacturing, from production and purification to the development of targeted formulations and delivery systems. In addition to the more scientific objectives, it is also intended to contribute to the training of students from different UA courses in this scientific area, encouraging their participation in ongoing research activities.

What new challenges arise from now on with this new space?

At the scientific level, the major challenge is initially to consolidate the implementation of conventional technologies for obtaining nucleic acid biopharmaceuticals in this new space. Simultaneously, it is intended to continue the work that has been carried out in recent years in this area, mainly through the development of more sustainable production and purification technologies. Like the UA campus, the PCI spaces offer all the conveniences and an extremely pleasant surrounding environment, so the entire team is highly motivated to develop research in this area of extreme relevance in today's world.

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