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Connecting the UK and Brazil through research

For Brazil Week 2020, we take a look at the joint research currently underway between King’s College London and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

Brazil Week is an opportunity for researchers and students from across King's to come together and share their work on and with Brazil. It is hosted each year by King's Brazil Institute, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. 

As well as being an institute for research, teaching and engagement, the Brazil Institute also forms a focal point for Brazil-related research. Since its inception, it has also contributed to an expansion in research collaboration with Brazilian institutions. One of these partnerships is with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

Below are some of the ongoing, collaborative projects which are already having impacts in both the UK and Brazil.

Health

Project: Immune signature in telomeropathies

A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome. Their job is to stop the ends of our chromosomes from fraying or sticking to each other, much like the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces.

They also play an important role in ensuring our DNA is properly copied when cells divide. However, each time a cell divides, the telomere shortens. A cell can no longer divide when telomeres are too short. This causes the cell to become inactive, to slowly accumulate damage that it can't repair, or to die.

Germline mutations in telomeres are associated with abnormal telomere shortening. This results in bone marrow failure (aplastic anaemia) and the failure of other organs, such as the lungs or liver. This can then lead to pulmonary fibrosis in the lungs or cirrhosis (so-called 'inherited telomeropathies') in the liver.

Professor Judith Marsh from the King’s College Hospital has been working with the University of São Paulo to better understand patients with telomere diseases at the molecular level, such as those with bone marrow failure, pulmonary fibrosis and cirrhosis.

By joining the two cohorts of patients from each institution, they are able to immunologically characterise the patients. Using methods like mass cytometry (CyTOF), flow cytometry and cytokine analysis helps them to determine the immunologic signature of their lymphocytes in each phenotype of the patient.

Understanding the characteristics of unwell patients from an immunological perspective will help us to administer more appropriate treatment in the future.– Professor Judith Marsh

Society

Project: Mental health in adversity: An ethnographic study of the experience of poor mental health in the favelas of São Paulo

The favelas of Sapopemba in São Paulo form a highly disadvantaged district in the south-east of the city. So how does living in Sapopemba affect mental distress? Does it increase vulnerability or support resilience amongst the favelas' residents? And what is the relationship between peer and professional support for those experiencing mental distress?

Professor Nikolas Rose from Centre for Society & Mental Health has been working on a better understanding of urban living and mental health. The first phase of his project was to provide a platform for developing this understanding based on the megacities of Brazil, particularly São Paulo.

He is now in the second phase of the project, which aims to build a deep and intensive ethnographic work on the lived experience of those living in adversity and experiencing mental ill health, plus their relationship with formal and informal services.

The findings will inform policies for the development of more effective practices of professional and para-professional mental health workers in the favelas of São Paulo. They will also help to develop networks of peer support for those experiencing mental distress who are not in touch with formal mental health services.

The Amazon river

Science

Project: Multiple-omics profiling to reveal tropical myxozoan biodiversity in freshwater fish hosts from the Amazon Basin

It remains undisputed just how much biodiversity of life is present in the Amazon, and yet there is still so much more to discover. This is especially the case when it comes to parasites (plants or animals that live off another plant or animal, called the host).

It is also particularly the case for parasites that are hidden inside their hosts. In order to understand the biodiversity of the Amazon in full, it is fundamental to learn more about these parasites. This includes how they evolve with their hosts and how these complex relationships influence how ecosystems form, function and survive.

Professor Paul Long from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Science has been investigating the diversity of parasites called myxozoans. These are microscopic animals, similar to jellyfish, that infest fish in the Amazonian River. Understanding the myxozoans will allow us to better understand the genetics of how they exploit their fish hosts.

It will also help us to understand how parasites are acclimating to a changing environment, including global warming and climate change.

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