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Pulido Valente Award 2014 for study on chromosome ends

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A study on how the size of telomeres, the structures at the ends of chromosomes, is regulated has distinguished João Pedro Vinagre as the winner of the 2014 edition of the Pulido Valente Award. With this work, the IPATIMUP researcher and his team unveiled a new mechanism that acts in various types of cancer, including skin, brain, bladder and thyroid. 

The telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes get shorter with each cell division. When they become too short, the cell stops dividing. This kind of biological clock is one of the mechanisms that prevents the unlimited division of adult cells, which can lead to the appearance of tumors and cancers. João Pedro Vinagre and his team identified a mutation that bypasses the biological clock, thus inducing cancer. The mutation identified is in the gene that codes for the telomerase protein, whose function is to lengthen telomeres. As a cell ages, its telomerase becomes less active, leading to the shortening of telomeres.

The identified mutation is located in an unexplored region of the telomerase gene and causes the protein to be produced again by the cell, with consequences for telomere length and cell mortality. The mutation is associated with tumors that behave more aggressively and with worse response to therapy. The study was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications.

The Pulido Valente Science Award, created jointly by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and the Professor Francisco Pulido Valente Foundation (FFPV), distinguishes the best work published in the field of Biomedical Sciences, which describes the research carried out by researchers under 35 years old, in national research centers. The prize, awarded annually, has a value of 10 thousand Euros, and is shared equally between the two institutions.

Every year the Francisco Pulido Valente Foundation and the FCT choose a theme theme on which the candidate papers should focus. The theme of Call for the 2014 edition was "Heterogeneity in tumors: at the level of the malignant genome and/or at the cellular level". Applications are evaluated by a panel of national experts of recognized international merit in the topic Call.