GRANTS. Eridan Rocha Ferreira, a researcher working in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Institute of Clinical Sciences, is one of 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.
Her 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).
“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.
Grandiose award ceremony
The grant was presented at an awards ceremony at the Gothenburg Concert Hall as part of Hasselblad’s 40th anniversary. The Hasselblad Prize in Photography was awarded at the same time to this year’s recipient, Daido Moriyama.
“Receiving my prize at the same ceremony was a great experience. It was also an opportunity to give the general public insight into my research because the person presenting the award described the research briefly and read the explanatory statement,” says Rocha Ferreira.
Eridan Rocha Ferreira defended her doctoral thesis in neuroscience in 2014 at the Institute for Women’s Health, University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom. In 2015 she came to Gothenburg as a postdoctoral researcher and is now a researcher at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology on Campus Östra.
Ninth year in a row
Each year the Hasselblad Foundation awards research grants of SEK 1 million each to two female researchers in the natural sciences at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg. The aim is to highlight successful female researchers at the beginning of their academic careers and to give them the opportunity to continue developing their research.
The other recipient of the prize this year is Yvonne Nygård, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Biology and Biotechnology at Chalmers, whose research contributes to the development of more efficient cell factories.
Previous recipients of the grant at Sahlgrenska Academy are Anna Martner, Malin Johansson, Helena Carén and Ulrika Islander.
TEXT: ELIN LINDSTRÖM
PHOTO: SOFIA SABEL / HASSELBLAD FOUNDATION