Research Group Coordinator – João Pinto
The VBD group brings together a multidisciplinary team that works on vector-borne diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, arboviral and tick-borne infections. The overarching aim of our group is to develop innovative methods of surveillance and control of vector-borne diseases.
Our research objectives include: i) molecular epidemiology and population genetics; ii) mechanisms of resistance to drugs/insecticides, discovery of new therapeutic targets and drug candidates; iii) vector/host-pathogen transmission and interactions; iv) Arthropod vector bioecology and novel control methods; v) new methods of epidemiological assessment, surveillance and diagnosis.
In 2019, the VBD group published 52 scientific articles, 60% of which were in SIMAGO’s 1st quartile journals. The group has 24 ongoing projects (30% international), totalling 3.8 M € of research funds.
In collaboration with the University of Minho, using molecular modelling, genetic transfection and biological tests, a new Plasmodium falciparum gene, Rpn2, has been identified, which has the ability to modulate the drug response to artemisinin derivatives. This could be a promising target for combating resistance to this important group of antimalarial drugs.
Despite long-standing suspicions of the role of natural juices in the transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi, researchers from GHTM and the Tropical Medicine Foundation (Manaus, Brazil) demonstrated for the first time that the presence of these parasites in açaí juice was associated with an outbreak of Chagas disease in the Amazon.
Molecular detection studies of RNA and DNA viruses in natural mosquito populations in Portugal, Angola and Mozambique, have revealed a high biological diversity, with the identification of new groups of flavivirus, brevidensovirus and fenuivirus. This characterization is relevant in the search for new arboviruses of medical importance and potential candidates for the development of innovative control methods (e.g. paratrangenesis).
Progress has been made in characterizing the role of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) that, when exposed to visceral and cutaneous Leishmania species, trigger microbicidal mechanisms. Also noteworthy are the advances in the transfection of Babesia ovis, an important tool for genetic manipulation of this parasite.