4 December 2019

Dr Laura Ferraiuolo wins 2019 Paulo Gontijo Award

Dr Laura Ferraiuolo has achieved international recognition for her work investigating the contribution of glial cells in the development of motor neuron disease (MND) and their importance as a therapeutic target.

Neuroscience nuerones

The 11th Paulo Gontijo Award ceremony took place on 4th December during the opening of the International Symposium on ALS/MND in Perth, Australia, where Dr Ferraiuolo is presenting her winning paper to the scientific community.

Established in 2007, the Paulo Gontijo Award recognises young researchers below 40 years of age who have dedicated their scientific work to investigating the causes and treatments of motor neuron disease. The award was judged rigorously by the jury committee of the Paulo Gontijo Institute (IPG), composed of five researchers recognised by the international scientific community.

Dr Ferraiuolo is a Reader in Translational Neurobiology at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN). Her research group has demonstrated that glia play an active role in neuronal degeneration. For a number of years Dr Ferraiuolo has been leading research on the interaction between neurons and the cells called astrocytes surrounding them in the spinal cord. The research has identified a number of interactions that are dysregulated in patients with MND.

In their latest study, researchers in Dr Ferraiuolo’s lab used a unique cutting-edge methodology that was developed with Dr Meyer from Ohio (USA) to make spinal cord cells from human skin cells. The team was able to identify specific new molecules that help neuronal development and survival which are normally produced by astrocytes. However, these molecules are not produced by astrocytes in MND patients, which causes neuronal death. The team discovered that these molecules can be provided to neurons via gene therapy approaches – a strategy that is very successful in vitro. The next stage of the research aims to move onto in vivo studies.

Dr Ferraiuolo said "I am grateful to the patients affected by MND who are at the centre of my research efforts and a constant motivation to work hard to find new therapeutic approaches for this devastating disease. Being recognised for the work I have carried out over the years with my team, amongst inspiring leading scientists in the field who have previously received the Paulo Gontijo award is a great honour. I am lucky to be surrounded by excellent scientists at SITraN, all driven to unravel the complex processes leading to neurodegeneration".

Dr Laura Ferraiuolo - winner of the 11th Paulo Gontijo Award

The study was funded by the Fondation Thierry Latran and the Academy of Medical Sciences.

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