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A project developed by 16 research groups, including Helminthology and Medical Malacology at FIOCRUZ Minas Gerais, has received the trophy Les Étoiles de l’Europe (Stars of Europe), awarded by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation. The award goes to the best initiatives financed in the last three years by the European Commission, featuring studies developed by European researchers in collaboration with partners from developing countries. The project, called Anti-Parasitic Drug Discovery in Epigenetics (A-ParaDDise), was awarded in the Open Science Category, competing with more than 50 initiatives.

Concluded in February this year, the project aimed to identify essential enzymes for the survival of the parasites Schistosoma mansoni,Trypanosoma cruzi, Leishmania brasiliensis, and Plasmodium, which would thus serve as prime targets for drugs and could be inhibited by compounds developed by the research project’s team itself, with the goal of eradicating these parasites.

“There are enzymes that make epigenetic modifications in the DNA, i.e., altering gene expression by upregulation or downregulation. We thus produce specific compounds for the histone modifying enzymes, performing in vitro and in vivo assays to verify their efficacy in the four parasites,” explains Marina Mourão, coordinator of the project at FIOCRUZ Minas Gerais.

In addition to the compounds’ activity, the researchers also tested their availability and stability, as well as toxicity in the hosts. The work led to the identification of some promising compounds that can now move on to the pre-clinical phase.

A-ParaDDise is a development of a partnership that began in 2011, financed by the EU Research and Innovation Programme, giving rise to the SetTReND project, the specific focus of which was to identify leading compounds for Schistosoma mansoni. The difference in A-ParaDDise was that it included other parasites and partners.

“The research work took six years and required extensive effort by a lot of people. We succeeded in meeting all the targets and going even further,” said Marina.

The awards ceremony took place on December 4th at the Musée du quai Branly Jacques Chirac in Paris, during the launch of the 5th edition of Horizon 2020 Forum, which will select new projects for financing. AParaDDise was represented by the project’s overall coordinator Raymond Pierce of the Pasteur-Lille Institute, who received the trophy.

“Since then we have been contacted by researchers and institutions that intend to participate in the selection process in the new call for projects. This means that in addition to the recognition, the award can open new doors for the research,” emphasized Marina Mourão of FIOCRUZ Minas Gerais.