Researcher Henrique Veiga-Fernandes of the Immunophysiology Laboratory at Champalimaud Center won a prize of 1.5 million dollars (1.3 million euros), created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died on October 15. today announced.
It is the first time that this prize is awarded to an investigator in Portugal, says the Foundation Champalimaud in a statement.
The Allen Distinguished Investigator award was attributed to work on how the nervous system and immune system interact in the human body to protect it from infection.
Veiga-Fernandes carried out “pioneering studies that allowed him to identify, with his team, units of neuroimmune cells in various parts of the body,” including the intestine, lungs, fat and skin, according to the institution.
“These are specialized regions where neurons and immune cells come together and communicate in ways that influence how the body responds to external threats such as viruses and bacteria,” the foundation explains.
The amount of the prize is destined for a project to three years and will finance the development of two new techniques that will allow measuring how the interaction and cellular communication is processed.
Scientists will create special fluorescent markers to see which neurons interact with certain types of immune cells and to develop a specific “label” to track certain cells and see what happens after they interact with neurons.
“These techniques should provide new clues as to how neurons directly influence the immune system,” scientists hope.
Henrique Veiga-Fernandes is a principal investigator at the Champalimaud Center, studied veterinary medicine in Lisbon and Milan, received his doctorate in Immunology in Paris and postdoctoral studies in London.
In 2009, he returned to Portugal to found his own research group at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Lisbon.
The award, annually, is intended to fund research on “exceptional creativity and potential impact”, highlighting pioneering ideas and efforts in frontier areas with a transformative impact on biomedicine.
The winners were chosen by Paul Allen and a group of scientific advisors. Since 2010 (including this last edition), 69 prizes have been awarded.
In addition to Veiga-Fernandes, nine scientists were also selected to work on eight projects in the USA and Canada. The projects – in the areas of lymphoma, neurosciences, immune system, ageing, development and fundamental biology – receive a total of $ 13.5 million (€ 11.9 million).