The researcher Delfim Duarte, from the University of Porto, today won the D. Manuel de Mello Scholarship, worth 50,000 euros, with a work that aims to analyze the role of a protein in the reappearance of acute myeloid leukaemia.
Delfim Duarte, a researcher at the Institute of Research and Innovation in Health (i3S) and an internal dermatologist at the IPO-Porto, explained that the distinguished project aims to “explore the role of CD18 protein in cell adhesion“, that is, in the interaction process and linkage between leukaemia and bone marrow cells.
“Cellular adhesion is very important because it is thanks to it that the leukaemia cells receive signals that allow them to proliferate, expand and, on the other hand, survive chemotherapy,” said Delfim Duarte, also a professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Port.
Acute myeloid leukaemia, a “rare” and “very aggressive” disease, has a higher incidence in people over 65 and is caused by “uncontrolled proliferation of white blood cells,” resulting in the loss of normal blood, the appearance of fatigue, haemorrhages and various infections.
According to Delfim Duarte, the fact that bone marrow blood vessels, when exposed to inflammatory stimuli, increase the expression of this protein leads researchers to believe that the CD18 protein may “promote the connection between the inflamed microenvironment and the leukaemia cells “.
“This link between cells and the microenvironment will favour the appearance of signs that allow resistance to chemotherapy and the reappearance of leukaemia,” he said.
Delfim Duarte added that if “the importance of the protein in cell adhesion and survival in chemotherapy” is demonstrated, it will be possible to use targeted drugs and therapeutics aimed at “detaching the leukaemia cells from the microenvironment“.
“If it [CD18 protein] is really important for leukaemia, then the goal is to defeat it, using the strategy of removing it from that adhesion and then fighting it,” he said.
In addition to investigating the role of CD18 protein in the re-emergence of acute myeloid leukaemia, the investigation, which will take place over the next two years, intends to understand the “percentage of patients who express it“.
“We already have some data that suggest that in some subtypes of acute myeloid leukaemia, its expression is increased. We want to see if it is only in these subtypes or if it is in all,” added Delfim Duarte.
The D. Manuel de Mello Scholarship is awarded annually by the Amélia de Mello Foundation with the objective of contributing to the research and progress of the Health Sciences, and is intended to reward young doctors up to the age of 40 who develop clinical research projects , within the scope of the Research and Development Units of Portuguese medical schools.