Cláudia Nunes dos Santos awarded with 1.5 million from European Research Council


Cláudia Nunes dos Santos, researcher at the Food & Health Division at iBET is one of the most recent recipients from the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants and will receive an amount of 1,5 million euros to investigate the relation between the diet and neurodegenerative diseases prevention.

The aging of the population imposes an ever-growing preoccupation to prevent and retard neurodegenerative diseases, namely Parkinson and Alzheimer. Even though the epidemiologic and nutrition studies indicate that fruits and vegetables consumption, rich in polyphenols, is beneficial to our health, it is still not clear how these compounds reach and act in the brain. The work that the iBET/ITQB NOVA’s researcher will develop aims to identify which of these phenolic compounds may be able to create an effective strategy to prevent dementia, understanding which are the mechanisms undergoing at the cellular and molecular level.

The study will enable, above all, to verify the effect of polyphenols in preventing and treating neuroinflamation, a biologic process common in all neurodegenerative diseases. To do so, particular metabolites coming from phenolic compounds through the diet, which are able to cross the hematoencephalic barrier and reach the brain, will be identified. The effect of these metabolites in microglia cells - innate immune cells from the central nervous system - will be analysed afterwards in an isolated way or in communication with other cells of the brain. At last, to obtain an integrated overview, nutrition tests will be employed in mice.

Cláudia Nunes dos Santos says, “a common feature of neurodegenerative diseases is the brain inflammation and in the last years we have been able to understand that some compounds obtained through the diet can act in this process reducing the inflammation”. Moreover, the researcher adds “the contribution of nutrition to prevent neurodegenerative diseases is a very promising field and it is my intention with this ERC award, during the following five years, to develop an effective strategy of long-term care based in polyphenols to maintain the brain healthy.”

There are four more awarded researchers in Portugal: one also from Life Sciences, two from Social Sciences and Humanities, and one from Physics Sciences and Engineer. They are Claudia Banks, from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), Jorge Almeida, from University of Coimbra, Joana Freitas, from University of Lisbon, and Rogério Pirraco, from University of Minho.