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Scientist of the Month - February Ricardo Gouveia


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This February , Dr. Ricardo Gouveia from the University of Newcastle, United Kingdom, is our Scientist of the Month! He's shared with us his research highlights, his current projects and some comments on the biotechnology industry.

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Scientist of the Month - February Ricardo Gouveia

  2. 2. CAN YOU PROVIDE A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF YOURA CADEMIC BACKGROUND SO FAR? I studied Biology at the University of Lisbon and then moved to the highly multidisciplinary Institute of Technological Chemistry and Biology (ITQB) from NOVA University of Lisbon, to perform post-graduate research. There I was able to incorporate my initial biotechnology-oriented education towards investigating fundamental aspects of cell biology, in particular the role of cell adhesion molecules and bioactive surfaces in neuronal stem cell differentiation and function. My work was supported by a fellowship grant from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, allowing me to complete my Ph. D. in Biochemistry.
  3. 3. CAN YOU PROVIDE A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF YOUR A CADEMIC BACKGROUND SO FAR? It also allowed me to establish important collaborations with Cancer Research groups in Germany. I then started working as a post-doctoral researcher in the fields of Materials Science and Tissue Engineering. I used my previous knowledge on cell-cell and cell-surface interactions to develop innovative smart biomaterials capable of directing cell adhesion and elicit tissue bio-fabrication with subsequent self-release in physiological conditions. More recently, I have developed an interest in mechanobiology and the role of physical cues in organogenesis.
  4. 4. COULD YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE RESEARCH FIELD YOU WORK IN NOW AND HOW YOU GOT WHERE YOU ARE? After a brief period as a post-doc in Portugal, I felt the need to gain some international experience. As such, I moved to the UK, where I started working with Dr Che Connon, first in the University of Reading, and since 2014 in the Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University. My work in focused in two main areas; first, investigating the role of substrate stiffness on stem cell behaviour, namely in the human cornea; and second, the creation of cell culture substrates and systems that better emulate the conditions on the live organ. I consider these two areas to be interconnected and that a discovery in one area reciprocally provides clues to better understand the other.
  5. 5. WHAT OBJECTIVES ARE YOU AIMING TOWARDS WITH YOUR RESEARCH? The development of better biomaterials and new, innovative treatments that can be translated and applied to the clinic constitutes a particularly important target in my research. However, I am convinced that, to have a suitable treatment or treat a disease, foremost attention should be drawn towards understanding their action at a molecular level. As such, I am currently working in a project aimed at understanding how the rigidity of tissues can affect their resident cells.
  6. 6. WHAT OBJECTIVES ARE YOU AIMING TOWARDS WITH YOUR RESEARCH? To this purpose, we established an important collaboration with Dr Carl Paterson from the Department of Physics from the Imperial College, London, to build a new type of instrument – a Brillouin spectro-microscope – capable of analysing the mechanical properties of live biological tissues with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. The information collected with this technique can then be coupled with more traditional methods, such as immunohistochemistry, to correlate tissue stiffness with the behaviour of cells in health and disease
  7. 7. WHAT LIKELY CHANGES CAN YOU FORESEE WITHIN YOUR FIELD THAT WILL IMPACT FUTURE DISCOVERY IN THE BIO INDUSTRY? As our knowledge on the inner workings of biological systems grows, so does our ability to modulate, regulate, and control these same systems. This can be clearly illustrated by the treatment of certain cancers, where the concept has changed from “can we ever find a cure?” to “can a cure be found quicker”? Equally, in my field, the bio-fabrication of human tissues in a dish can represent an important source of transplant material within one or two decades. But this greatly depends on a proper institutional and commercial investment, as well as strong collaborative efforts between industry and academia. In this perspective, I think scientists must be savvier in attracting local, national, and global capital “currents” to invest in new technologies and methodologies with biological and medical applications.
  8. 8. WHAT IMPROVEMENTS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE FROM YOUR LABORATORY MATERIALS AND REAGENTS SUPPLIERS? I would like to see a more stringent standardisation of reagents. Antibodies in particular have sometimes important variations in terms of stability, and reproducibility. This can be very problematic, both in terms of waste of time and resources, as well as of possible incorrect conclusions it may lead to. In addition, the dynamism of the bio-industrial market, where merges and concentration seem increasingly frequent, sometimes results in the interruption or even discontinuation of specific supplies that may be crucial to a particular line of research.
  9. 9. AS A RESEARCHER WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE TO VALIDATE YOUR RESOURCES VS THE COMPANIES THAT MAKE THEM? I do feel a very strong responsibility to validate my results. I think that being funded by public funding means we have to be accountable to the wider public, and not just the scientific community. The interconnected nature of scientific research means that we all compete to contribute the most to everyone’s work. This means we all have the responsibility to provide reliable information the most accurate way possible, even if it contradicts, apparently or not, previous knowledge. Achieving the targets of our projects and delivering results is also important, and we work a lot to make sure that those results are validated in the most robust way possible. I usually trust the products provided by a company; nevertheless, I always try to validate them prior to any specific experiment, to avoid later waste. It is fundamental that we make the most of the available resources, and be sure that what we are doing is worthwhile.
  10. 10. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE OF THE BIOTECH INDUSTRY? My perception is that in the early 00’s there was a bit of disenchantment with so many promises that couldn’t be delivered. The 21st century was initially heralded as the biotech century, but a lot failed to be delivered. But I believe scientists are especially suited to learn from their mistakes, possibly in a way no other professional can. It is how scientists operate: they observe, formulate a question, perform a test, find an explanation, and then formulate a new question. Now there is a comeback, where the analysis of previous failures resulted in a better understanding of the biological systems being addresses, and the formulation of entirely new approaches.
  11. 11. WHAT DO YOU THINK RESEARCHERS SHOULD BE DOING TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF THE SCIENCE WITHIN THEIR RESEARCH? Be frank with other researchers. Entertain open discussions instead of owning your results defensively. Facts should stand by themselves. Perform conscious peer review. Critical reading of other’s research also comes to mind. I understand that sometimes is very difficult to have the time, to manage the time to read papers, but that is fundamental. Every researcher should also interact more with other scientist working in different fields, get out of their comfort zone. In my experience, reaching out for other’s opinions or contributions can be very constructive, especially when they come from people with a different background or point of view. We all speak Science, even if with different dialects.
  12. 12. Scientist of the Month Contact: @StJohnsLabsSt John's Laboratory Ltd St John's Laboratory Ltd St John's Laboratory Ltd