Winning researcher shares her story

Feature -

Madalena Pinto is an early-career researcher making the most of a Cystic Fibrosis Trust funded opportunity to carry out research into cystic fibrosis.

Madalena Pinto

Madalena Pinto is working on the Cystic Fibrosis Trust’s Strategic Research Centre (SRC) INOVCF: Innovative non-CFTR Approaches for Cystic Fibrosis Therapy and won CF’s got Talent, a competition that saw six early-career researchers explain their work in plain and simple language before the UK Cystic Fibrosis Conference got underway in September 2016. 

Hailing from Lisbon, Portugal, Madalena recently moved to Germany so she can collaborate with other researchers and labs on this project. Madalena took some time out to explain how she came to be involved in research into cystic fibrosis (CF), and what she’s hoping to achieve over the coming years.

"Ever since I can remember I always wanted to pursue a career in science, namely in biomedical research, with the goal of curing diseases and helping people. When I started studying biomedical sciences more deeply I decided that this was exactly what I wanted to work on. Thus, I did a BSc in Biochemistry and an MSc in Medical Biochemistry. 

Discovering CF

During my studies I learned a lot about CF, and I was immediately interested in this complex disease and in how the lack of function of a single protein (CFTR) can cause so many complications. This was only three or four years ago, so I was amazed with the amount of progress that scientists have accomplished so far in fighting cystic fibrosis.
When I had to choose a subject for my MSc thesis, I looked for labs in Lisbon that were doing biomedical research. I found that there was this excellent new institute called BioISI (Biosystems & Integrative Sciences Institute), that merged three research centres (in the areas of Biology, Physics and Informatics) to address the 21st century challenge of translating post-genomics data into biological knowledge to benefit society, ie to improve human health, food, agriculture and other resources. In this institute, Professor Margarida Amaral’s lab was investigating CF, so it was clear to me that this lab would be the perfect choice for me.

My MSc thesis focussed on finding new ways of stimulating the activity of alternative (ie, non-CFTR) chloride/bicarbonate channels, in order to possibly compensate for the lack of CFTR function in cystic fibrosis.

After the Masters

However, one year of research (MSc thesis) was not enough to address this question. There was still a lot to be done, namely several aspects of these alternative channels that needed to be investigated, and of course people with are CF waiting for a therapy. So, I could not stop there! I saw the opportunity to carry on with this research for four more years by doing a PhD in Professor Margarida’s lab within the BioSYS PhD programme, so I applied and luckily got the position. 

Thanks to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust we have the funding to pursue my research work. Moreover, this Trust grant gave me the chance of working in close collaboration with several research groups that are experts in the field of CF and among other early career researchers from different countries. Since our laboratory has a collaboration with two other Principal Investigators of the INOVCF SRC (Prof Karl Kunzelmann, University of Regensburg and Dr Rainer Pepperkok, EMBL-European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg), both in Germany, I have the fantastic opportunity of working in their labs and to combine forces to find alternative therapies for people with cystic fibrosis. 

Looking to the future

Although I only started my PhD nine months ago, it is incredible what I have learned so far. Being part of this SRC has allowed me to carry out collaborative work with other researchers to help people with CF, so that together we can really make a difference. Every day I am more interested, motivated and inspired to continue my research. 

Definitely this experience is leading me to follow a career in biomedical research studying cystic fibrosis. Moreover, I have high hopes that, soon enough, I will be able to say that I helped find a more suitable therapy for people with this condition."

If you want to watch film of the CF's Got Talent and see Madalena and five other early career researchers talking about their work, use the links below. Feeling inspired? Why not make a regular donation to ensure that we can keep supporting people like Madalena as they build their careers in cystic fibrosis research?

  1. The first three presentations
  2. The last three presentations
  3. A question and answer session and the winner is announced!

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