February 28th, 2024

Mariana Oliveira’s research, “LAZARUS,” is one of the 14 awards granted by the funding of the LEO Foundation for dermatological research. The competition attracted a record of 148 applications. This reflects a success rate of 25%.

In the final round of 2023 research grants, 14 researchers received a total of 48 million for their projects, all with the aim of expanding knowledge about the skin and skin diseases. The funded projects are highly diverse in their stimulating focuses, from the possibility of scarless wound healing to the treatment of psoriasis during pregnancy.

The latest round also saw a record-breaking number of 70 applications – almost half of the year’s intriguing array of reviewed skin research projects. Mariana Oliveira’s project investigates the potential of using de-vitalized mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) as direct or indirect immunomodulatory or regenerative biomaterials for treatment of difficult-to-treat or chronic wounds. The team counts with Phd’s from Ana Rita Sousa e Ana Filipa Cunha, professor João Mano and Dra. Ana Santos-Coquillat.

The project aims at exploring MSCs as constituents of off-the-shelf easy-to-handle immunomodulatory biomaterials. The project focuses on using these materials to treat difficult-to-heal wounds, which may be chronic, or have proneness to become chronic if not properly treated. The hope is to develop efficient treatments for wound healing with minimal risk of side effects.

Two treatment approaches will be explored using devitalized MSC aggregates through (i) their direct use as immunomodulatory and regenerative biomaterials capable of inducing healthy tissue deposition, or (ii) by their ability to promote localized immunosuppression. The latter approach targets skin allogeneic (i.e., non-self) engraftments in order to avoid or minimize systemic immunosuppressants intake, associated with proneness to infections, higher allograft rejection rate, and severe comorbidities.

The fact that no living cells are administered is expected to improve the predictability and safety of the devices when compared to other cell-based therapies. The technology also eliminates risks related to possible cell migration to unwanted sites, or the occurrence of phenotypic changes after implantation (e.g., loss of regenerative features or differentiation into unwanted cell phenotypes, which may be particularly relevant for highly plastic cells like MSCs).