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Talent Rewarded

Two prizes highlight the scientific and cultural contributions of Brazilians

At age 71, Hiroshi Noda devises a way to grow vegetables that are more resistant to pathogens found in the Amazon

GERARDO LAZZARIAt age 71, Hiroshi Noda devises a way to grow vegetables that are more resistant to pathogens found in the Amazon GERARDO LAZZARI

The contribution of Brazilian researchers to the development of new strategies for fighting cancer and towards sustainable agriculture was recognized last August with the announcement of two science awards: the 5th Octavio Frias de Oliveira Award, sponsored by the São Paulo State Cancer Institute (Icesp) and the Folha Group, and the 59th Bunge Foundation Prize.  The first of these highlights contributions in the development of both a vaccine against HPV lesions and tumors and an antibody that attacks tumor cells of the ovaries, kidneys and lungs while fighting and helping prevent colorectal cancer. “An award such as this is essential if we are to encourage those in the field who are committed to combatting and controlling the disease,” says State Health Secretary David Uip, whose office maintains institutional ties with Icesp.

The Bunge Foundation Award—in both Life and Works and  Youth categories—is handed out each year to outstanding individuals in the various fields of science, literature and the arts.  In 2014, recognition was given to research into sustainable agriculture, such as studies on how plants and vegetables adapt to tropical climates, and how microorganisms can be used to strengthen the soil and combat pests. “Scientific research has always been seen as an important factor in Bunge’s evolution as a company; thus the idea of an award that would both encourage and acknowledge the efforts of those dedicated to the development of the arts and sciences in Brazil,” says Claudia Calais, the foundation’s executive director.

Human papliovirus
The Octávio Frias de Oliveira Award was given out in three categories. In the Oncology Research category, the award went to researchers from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (ICB) at the University of São Paulo (USP) for developing a vaccination strategy against HPV (human papillomavirus), a disease that accounts for 60% of all cases of cervical cancer,  as well as tumors of the head and neck. As described in a study published in the journal Human Gene Therapy, laboratory tests on rodents demonstrated that the strategy allowed the immune systems of these animals to target and kill pre-cancerous cells. The research team, coordinated by biologist Luís Carlos de Souza Ferreira, now plans to take the vaccine to the production phase for human inoculation. The idea would be to inject one of the strains of the virus into patients who already have a lesion or tumor from HPV 16.

Fernando Andreote, agronomist, sets out to understand how a microbiome found in soil can be beneficial to plants

GERARDO LAZZARIFernando Andreote, agronomist, sets out to understand how a microbiome found in soil can be beneficial to plantsGERARDO LAZZARI

The winners of the Technological Innovation in Oncology category were researchers from the Butantan Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP) School of Medicine and the Brazilian research and development company Recepta Biopharma. These researchers developed a cell line that generates monoclonal antibodies capable of targeting certain types of cancer, and identified which tumors these antibodies could act on most efficiently.

In 2012, biologist Ana Maria Moro and her team at the Butantan Institute developed a stable cell line that produces large quantities of humanized monoclonal antibodies. The material, produced through a partnership with Recepta and with financing from FAPESP’s Partnership for Technological Innovation Program (PITE) as well as the Brazilian Innovation Agency (Finep), is now ready for manufacture (see report, p.16). “The RebmAb200 monoclonal antibody can recognize and bond to specific molecules on the surface of tumors, and act only on these tumors,” explains José Fernando Perez, retired professor from the Physics Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP), Recepta Biopharma CEO, and FAPESP scientific director from 1993 to 2005. Recepta sent the material to a company in the Netherlands, where the antibody is now being produced.

The Outstanding Individual award went to Dr. Angelita Habr-Gama, physician and professor of surgery at the University of São Paulo Medical School (FMUSP). Dr. Habr-Gama has perfected surgical techniques and played an important role in organizing, developing, and advancing coloproctology in Brazil, as well as for her research into diseases of the large intestine. Dr. Habr-Gama also put together the first hands-on and theoretical course on colonoscopy (see Pesquisa FAPESP, No.  126).  In 1958, she was the first female general surgery resident  at the Hospital das Clínicas. Dr. Habr-Gama later founded the Brazilian Association for the Prevention of Intestinal Cancer, where she spearheaded efforts to coordinate the colorectal cancer prevention program. Dr. Habr-Gama was the first Latin-American specialist to receive the title of honorary member of the European Surgical Association in recognition of her career as a physician, and was also awarded honorary membership in the American Surgical Association of the American College of Surgeons.

Habr-Gama: Outstanding contribution to the prevention of cancer

MIGUEL BOYAYANHabr-Gama: Outstanding contribution to the prevention of cancerMIGUEL BOYAYAN

“These awards help illuminate Brazil’s scientific excellence on the world stage,” says Dr. Habr-Gama, who last June was named honorary member of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (Astro). Honors such as these, she adds, are important because they promote discussions about the need for early prevention of colorectal cancer. “They also encourage those of the new generation to strive towards the highest professional standards and to dedicate themselves to scientific research.”

The awards ceremony took place last August at Icesp headquarters, where the recipients each received cash prizes of R$16,000.00.

Agriculture and circus arts
Established in 1955 under the name Moinho Santista, the Bunge Foundation Award stands out in Brazil for its long tradition of recognizing individuals from many fields who contribute to the development of culture and science in Brazil. A total of 175 candidates have been up for consideration, including  archeologist Niède Guidon, biochemist Isaias Raw and, in 2001, current FAPESP President Celso Lafer.

The candidates for 2014 in the Life and Works category are agronomist Hiroshi Noda of the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (Inpa), and playwright Hugo Possolo, one of the founders of the Parlapatões, Patifes e Paspalhões theater group. The Youth category recipients included agronomist Fernando Dini Andreote, and director and circus actress Luana Serrat. The official awards ceremony will take place on September 22, 2014 at the Bandeirantes Palace, seat of the São Paulo State government. Along with certificates and medals, winners receive  R$135,000.00 in the Life and Works category, and R$50,000.00 in the Youth category, which targets individuals up to age 35.

Hugo Possolo, at the Espaço Parlapatões

Léo RamosHugo Possolo, at the Espaço ParlapatõesLéo Ramos

The research of Hiroshi Noda, 71, has already yielded a number of varieties of vegetables that are genetically adapted to the Amazon region. “We work towards conservation and improvement of vegetable species so they can be grown in a humid, tropical climate,” explains the researcher and author of 10 books and more than 112 scientific papers. One of the objectives, Noda adds, is to incorporate into the plants a genetic resistance to pathogens that cause diseases that in turn curtail productivity. “We also strive to ensure that vegetable species that are unknown outside of their native habitat continue to be grown, protected and conserved by local farmers,” says Noda, who earned his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees at the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture of the University of São Paulo (Esalq/USP). Noda is today an Inpa researcher emeritus and professor of graduate courses in environmental science and sustainability in the Amazon at the Environmental Sciences Center of the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM). The researcher was nominated for the Amazonas Research Foundation (FAPEAM) award.

At age 34, agronomist Fernando Dini Andreote, award recipient in the Youth category, is seeking to better understand  microbial communities—or microbiomes—found in soils and associated with plants. “Plants have the capacity to recruit thousands of beneficial microorganisms from the soil in the form of microbiomes,” he explains, noting that some microorganisms can play important roles in helping plants develop and even protect them from pests and disease. Andreote plans to use portions of this microbial community to stimulate interactions that, for instance, could reduce the need for dangerous agrochemicals in food production. Today, Andreote teaches soil microbiology at Esalq-USP, from where he earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees. “I believe,” he says, “that this award recognizes not only the work I do, but also the importance of the research topics our team has been working on.”

Hugo Possolo, 52, award recipient in the Life and Works category, founded the Parlapatões, Patifes e Paspalhões theater group, a circus arts company that specializes in street performance. The playwright served as curator of the 1st International Circus in Belo Horizonte, and was national circus coordinator for the Ministry of Culture’s Funarte [Brazilian foundation for the arts]. In 2006, Possolo founded Circo Roda with the idea of reawakening interest in the circus. That same year, he opened the Espaço Parlapatões in São Paulo. “Far more than any personal achievement, this award represents the efforts of the many artists who work and have worked with me, both in the day-to-day performance of our art, and during our ongoing struggle to garner appreciation for the circus arts,” he explains.

The career of 32-year-old actress and director Luana Serrat was also celebrated in the Youth category. Considered one of the most accomplished circus artists of her generation, Serrat was trained as an instructor at the Picolino School in Salvador before earning a degree in theater from the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). More recently, Serrat founded two circus companies and has directed numerous shows. One of the groups she directs, the Luana Serrat Company, took its Moças Aéreas production to the International Circus Festival in Rio de Janeiro. To launch her company, Serrat drew on her experience as an instructor of aerial silk acrobatics, whereby acrobats execute movements by sliding down a strong silk chord rigged to a steel bar.