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Scientist of the Month - December


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This December, Tiago Santos from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, is our Scientist of the Month! He's shared with us his research highlights, his current projects and some useful lab tips.

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Scientist of the Month - December

  1. 1. Tiago Santos University of Coimbra, Portugal Scientist of the Month
  2. 2. What are the highlights of your career so far? I graduated from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, with a Master’s degree in Biochemistry and I am currently concluding my Ph.D. studies in Biosciences, minor in Neurosciences, in the same university and in the University of Beira Interior. My Ph.D. studies have focused on the pro-neurogenic effect of a novel patent- protected retinoic acid-loaded nanoparticle formulation that was recognized by the Pulido Valente for Science Award and Abcam’s 15 best discoveries award of 2013. Additionally, this formulation was further optimized to become light-responsive, thereby enabling a controlled release of retinoic acid. This work, supervised by Dr. Liliana Bernardino, was developed in close collaboration with Dr. Lino Ferreira. During this period, I generated a mounting number of important results in the area of neurogenesis and biomaterials that culminated in high impact publications.
  3. 3. After a period at the University of Southern California, USA, I further explored the application of nanomaterials in biological systems, this time focusing on carbon nanotube-induced hyperthermia for glioma cancer treatment under the supervision of Dr. Thomas Chen and Dr. Florence Hofman (in collaboration with Dr. Chongwu Zhou). Presently, I have submitted my Ph.D. thesis and my future expectations are to continue developing a strong background in the development of brain repair therapies, in particular for cerebrovascular and neurodegenerative disorders. What are the highlights of your career so far?
  4. 4. What are your current research projects? The main aim of my current research project is to develop a safer and more efficient therapeutic platform based on retinoic acid-loaded nanoparticles (RA-NP) to induce neurogenesis from the resident neural stem cells (NSC) present in the adult brain. Understanding how to efficiently trigger NSC differentiation is crucial to devise new cellular therapies aimed at repairing the damaged brain. Of note, retinoic acid (RA) is a potent differentiating factor critical for neurogenesis for both the developing and adult brain. Unfortunately, concerns related to solubility, stability, concentration or spatial and temporal positioning can hinder its desirable effects. The use of biomaterials emerges as the ideal support to overcome these limitations and consequently boost NSC differentiation.
  5. 5. What are your current research projects? We reported the use of RA-loaded polymeric nanoparticles as a potent tool to induce the neuronal differentiation of subventricular zone (SVZ; the main adult neurogenic niche) cells. Importantly, this work reported for the first time a nanoparticle formulation able to modulate the SVZ neurogenic niche in vivo with a concentration 2500-fold lower than the one needed with free solubilized RA. Additionally, when comparing the dynamics of initial stages of differentiation, RA-NP led to a more robust expression of proneurogenic genes (Mash1 and Neurogenin1) by SVZ cells. Figure 1: RA-NP induces a more robust gene expression (Mash1 and Ngn1) by SVZ cells than solubilized RA, both in vitro and in vivo (image from Santos et al. 2012 DOI: 10.1021/nn304541h).
  6. 6. What are your current research projects? However, the balance between biomaterials and differentiating factors must be well established, since bioaccumulation in off-target areas and the uncontrolled release can generate undesired side-effects. For that reason, we further optimized our formulation to be remotely controllable. Accordingly, we developed a light- responsive nanoparticle formulation to control the release of RA while delivering it intracellularly with spatial and temporal precision. This combinatory therapy induced an amplified neurogenic effect while allowing a temporal and spatial remote control of RA release. The protection of RA from degradation, intracellular delivery and spatial and temporal precision accomplished by RA-loaded nanoparticles may be the grounds for the development of an innovative therapy for brain regeneration. Figure 2: Combinatorial treatment of light-responsive RA-NP and laser light induces neural differentiation.
  7. 7. Do you have any bench tips for other researchers in your field? Taking some time to read product datasheets and equipment user manuals can actually save you a lot of time and money! This tip is nothing new, but we generally end up doing our research in time trial mode and inevitably some details are missed. But when using a new product, you will find that its manual covers a great deal of valuable information that can save your samples from waste, your time, money and even some of your precious patience. Publications: Lab Website:
  8. 8. Want to be our Scientist of the Month? Contact: @StJohnsLabsSt John's Laboratory Ltd St John's Laboratory Ltd St John's Laboratory Ltd