Dr. María Fabiana Drincovich awarded for her investigations on improved fruits

“Life Sciences” was the topic of the L’Oréal UNESCO Award “For Women in Science” in collaboration with the CONICET.

Heading: Award Ceremony of the L’Oréal UNESCO National Award “For Women in Science” in collaboration with the CONICET Photo: CONICET.

The 2013 edition of the L’Oréal UNESCO Award “For Women in Science” in collaboration with the CONICET was led by the minister of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, Lino Barañao and the president of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Roberto Salvarezza.

The National Senator of the province of Entre Ríos, Elsa Ruiz Díaz, also member of the Commission of Science and Technology of the Argentine Senate, and the president of L’Oréal Argentina, Germán Herrera, also attended the ceremony.

Minister Barañao remarked that this award “acknowledges the feminine way to do science, to the point of view of women in the way they do science”. Besides, he added that “something historical has taken place: in two days science was present both in the Casa Rosada and the Congress of the Argentine Nation. The second historical fact is that women played the leading role because on the one hand a woman is the returnee 1.000, and on the other the L’Oréal award for women in science took place”. Furthermore, he said that “it is not a coincidence that this scientific policy has been promoted by a female president”.

Salvarezza indicated that the awardees, selected among 95 submitted projects, “are known for their scientific excellence and their career in subjects of interest for society”. Regarding this, he highlighted that the work of the awardee Maria Fabiana Drincovich “could make significant contributions for the country. To have high quality fruits contributes not only to production and economics, but it also brings along the important advantages for consumers, by improving their diets and health”.

“This award has become a very significant motive to promote and stimulate the participation of women in science. The fact that these awardees were recognized and their life story could transcend the media represents a strong stimulus for many young women who are discerning their vocations today”, Salvarezza added. In 2007, the CONICET had 2400 female and 2700 male investigators; whereas in 2012 this tendency changed. “We have 3888 women and 3255 men, what means that women are the majority in the organization. This makes the Council more democratic and inclusive, equity is evident and everybody has the same opportunities”.

First prize: a better diet for a better life

María Fabiana Drincovich, PhD in Biochemistry and principal investigator of the CONICET at the Center of Photosynthetic and Biochemical Studies (CEFOBI, CONICET-UNR), received the first prize for her project “Tools to obtain fleshy fruits with improved organoleptic and nutritional qualities, and a longer post-harvest life”.

The project was conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) with the objective of extending the shelf life of fruits and improving their nutritional quality, aroma intensity, colour and flavor.

“I work with peaches that are very perishable and if we manage to increase their post-harvest life, we can expand to new markets. Peaches are harvested during summer and thanks to the counter-season factor they could be exported to the northern hemisphere”, she comments.

Furthermore, according to Drincovich, some important contributions were made regarding the molecular processes triggered during the development, ripening and protection against cold during the refrigeration process of the fruits for their marketing.

The investigator affirms that the prize is not only important to continue with the investigation but also “to encourage the participation of Argentine women in science.”

Mentions: two advances on Basic science against cancer

Mariana Maccioni, PhD in Chemistry and independent investigator of the CONICET at Center for Research in Clinical Biochemistry and Immunology (CIBICI, CONICET-UNC), received a special Mention for her project “Role of the Toll-like receptors in the complex interrelationship among inflammation, immunity and cancer”.

Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are proteins that are mainly found in immune system cell and act like receptors for molecules produced by damaged human cells or by structures of external microorganisms such as virus, bacteria or parasites. When the TLRs properly recognize these ligands – that is to say as ‘danger signs’ -, a strong antitumoral immune response could be triggered.

Besides, the researcher commented that tumor cells also express some TLRs. This raises questions on their role in the tumor microenvironment, the effect of their activation during immunotherapy and if there is a correlation between their expression and the severity of the illness.

“Our objective is to study how some types of cell subpopulations of the immune system are associated with the prognosis of breast cancer patients, and to analyze if there is any association with the TLRs of the immune system and the tumor. To know this would allow the development of new synthetic compounds able to activate these receptors in a safe and efficient way to use them in antitumor therapy”, Maccioni explains.

The scientist, who comes from the province of Córdoba and received the Houssay award in Biomedical Sciences 2013, commented: “I am very pleased with this award, it is an important distinction that I share with my research team at the CIBICI and the School of Chemistry of the National University of Córdoba, who worked with me to make this project possible”.

Vanesa Gottifredi, independent investigator of the CONICET, is one of the scientists that returned to the country in 2002. Currently, she is the Director of the Cell Cycle and Genomic Stability Laboratory at the Leloir Institute, where she studies the molecular mechanisms of damaged DNA replication.

Her project “Evaluation of the effectiveness of new tools with potential to increment tumor death”, one of the awarded Mentions, seeks to develop a new tool that allows to eliminate a process that these cells use to survive.

“Cancer investigations usually seek to ‘repair’ damaged genes in the cells. We propose eliminating processes that foster tumor survival by facilitating damaged DNA replication”, she explains.

According to Gottifredi, the genetic material of any of our cells suffers at least 10.000 lesions per day such as a result of metabolic stress, a number that can increase up to twentyfold after one hour of sun exposure. So, in order to avoid excessive cell death in healthy tissues, the cells developed processes that allow them to ‘tolerate’ a certain amount of mutations without stopping the DNA replication process.

“However, tumor cells can take advantage of the same mechanisms to survive situations that can increase the number of DNA lesions, as in the case of conventional chemotherapies”, she comments.

The project includes evaluating the impact of the inhibition of those processes in tumor cells. In this way, lesions would accumulate and, eventually, this could facilitate the toxicity of chemotherapies treatments in tumor cells.

Gottifredi’s team is going to perform a proof of concept in cell lines of ovarian cancer, a disease for which current treatment is complicated. “If the process works, it should serve for more than one tumor because the mechanisms that facilitate damaged DNA replication are present in all tumor cells”, she adds.

The L’Oréal-UNESCO National Award “For Women in science” in collaboration with the CONICET was presented in 2007 and its objective is to recognize and support the excellence in women’s work in science and to promote the participation of women in science throughout Argentina. The prize is addressed to PhD women under 50 years old conducting an investigation in Argentina. This year, the projects had to be focused on life sciences: Medical Sciences, Biology, Biochemistry, Veterinary, Biotechnology and Physiology.