Female Scientists 2019
Yvonne Nygård, Assistant Professor at the Department of Biology and Biological engineering at Chalmers and Eridan Rocha Ferreira, researcher working in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Institute of Clinical Sciences, are the two recipients of this year’s grants from the Hasselblad Foundation that support female researchers and expanding their qualifications in the natural sciences. The grant provides SEK 1 million and the opportunity to become established as an independent researcher.
Eridan Rocha Ferreira‘s research concerns reducing mortality and morbidity in connection with birth and the postnatal period. As a researcher, she collaborates with Professor Henrik Hagberg, among others, in the newly established Centre for Perinatal Medicine and Health, or PROMISE (Perinatal Research Obstetric Maternal Infant Studies Empowers).
Photo Lisa Thanner
“I focus on understanding how neonatal brain injury mechanisms develop so I can identify therapy goals. I mainly investigate possible protective effects of small proteins that have a known clinical safety profile,” says Rocha Ferreira.
One such small protein, or peptide, is exendin-4. Though originally developed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, the molecule has also been shown to have neuroprotective properties in current clinical trials for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
“We recently published our first positive and promising results, which suggest that exendin-4 has a protective effect in the brain in the case of oxygen deficiency among the newborn. I believe there is great potential, and I see the possibility of translating the results into clinical trials in the future. This could speed up the development of new treatments to prevent brain damage following oxygen deficiency in newborn babies,” says Rocha Ferreira.
The team’s findings on the exendin-4 peptide were published in the journal Brain last year (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30165597).
Rocha Ferreira will use the SEK 1 million she receives from the Hasselblad Foundation to hire a research assistant.
“This is a crucial next step in establishing myself as an independent researcher with my own research team. With the help of a research assistant, I can create a targeted strategy to better understand how these peptides affect the brain and the mechanisms governing how they exert their protective effect on the brain,” says Rocha Ferreira. She hopes in this way to create the potential for clinical implementation in the future and to reduce neurological disabilities in both fully developed infants with severe oxygen deficiency and premature babies.
Yvonne Nygård conducts research in industrial biotechnology and focuses on the design of efficient cellfactories. She works with microorganisms that can use residues from the forest industry and agriculture to produce biofuels and chemicals. In addition, Yvonne is involved in research on syngas fermentation and microbial electrochemistry, where bacteria produce chemicals based on carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. The aim of the research is to develop sustainable alternatives for a future fossil free society.
Photo Lisa Thanner
Develops yeast strains with increased tolerance to inhibitors
Yvonne uses yeast cells for production of biochemicals from residual biomass. The yeast cells consume the sugar in the biomass and use it as raw material when producing bioethanol or other biochemicals. These so-called cellfactories can produce many valuable chemicals, which can be used, for example, as raw materials in the production of bioplastics.
Biomass as raw material does not only contain different kinds of sugar, it also contains inhibitors which prevent cells from growing or producing optimally.
“My research is focused on developing yeast strains with increased tolerance to these inhibitors. By understanding how the cells respond to stress, in the form of inhibitors, among other things, you can create strains with higher vitality and production rate,” says Yvonne.
Important to work with research that can be applied in society
Recently, Yvonne’s research group has developed new tolerant yeast strains using the CRISPR / Cas9 technology. She is also working in a project on development of genetic biosensors, that can measure the amount of biochemicals produced in a cell. These biosensors can be used to monitor the production, or as a tool for developing new, better cellfactories.
“For me, it is important to work with research that can be applied in society, in the short or long term. In my case the research can lead to new production processes for the industry. I want my research to answer parts of the bigger questions, for instance how to create energy efficient, climate-neutral solutions to introduce a bio-based economy in society,” says Yvonne Nygård.