The numbers of women in science, technology and innovation fields have been alarmingly low for some time. However, many initiatives across Europe are committed to addressing this imbalance, one of which is the L´Oréal Portugal Honour Medals for Women in Science, which has acknowledged an EU-funded scientist for her research on the AIDS virus and its resistance to antiretroviral drugs.
Dr Ana Abecasis is a researcher involved in the project CHAIN (´Collaborative HIV and Anti-HIV Drug Resistance Network´), with funding of EUR 13 million (of which the EU contribution is EUR 10 million ). The award is sponsored by a partnership between L´Oreal Portugal, the National Commission of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Foundation for Science and Technology. The prize, worth EUR 20 000, targets young PhD researchers under 35 years of age who work in the health and environmental sectors in Portugal.
The CHAIN project is a large-scale integrated approach which is aimed at combating new and existing anti-HIV drug resistance. The pan-European network of surveillance and basic research activities involves: monitoring how resistance develops and evolves, improving understanding of mechanisms of resistance development, and providing improved and new strategies to evaluate and limit the emergence and transmission of HIV drug resistance.
Dr Abecasis, who is based at the Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical (IHMT) at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, has analysed how HIV resistance to antiretroviral drugs, and the mutation of the virus, leads to resistance for some strains. The conclusion is that more toxic and costly treatments are needed because of resistance. In addition, data has shown that around 8 % of patients diagnosed with HIV in Portugal have antiretroviral resistant strains of the disease.
´The award is a very good incentive in continuing our research, and helps to give visibility to our work,´ says Dr Abecasis. ´The CHAIN team´, she continues, ´is keen to further explore how drug resistance mutations are being transmitted to untreated HIV patients. In the future, we would like to understand the behavioural patterns associated with the transmission of drug resistance,´ explains the medal-winning scientist.