14.07.2014

Science with Argentine roots in San Diego

The development of link networks with Argentine researchers living abroad is one of the priorities of the Ministry. In the United States of America two Argentine scientists carry out their daily task with the conviction of contributing to the development of the international science.

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Science with Argentine roots in San Diego

José Pruneda-Paz in his laboratory.

Today, Paula Desplats, assistant professor at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD), focuses on the analysis of gene expression in neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Parkinson and Alzheimer. But she began her career in the National University of Mar del Plata, where as a scholarship from the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) she made her doctorate on gene expression in photosynthetic bacteria.

"I received my doctorate from Argentina, I want to give back to the country which gave me and contribute in some way", says Desplats.

Although she was interested in disciplines with potential clinical translation, the University of Mar del Plata has no expertise in this area, and therefore she turned to bacteria. "But my area of interest was always focused on the study of gene regulation, in which I specialized" she explains.

After obtaining her medical degree in Biological Sciences in 2003, she decided to move with her husband and her 18-month old daughter to San Diego, to make her post doctoral studies in neuroscience. She earned her first place in the Scripps Research Institute. From there she went to the UCSD, where she now works in the Department of Neuroscience. Currently, she studies with her team changes occurring at epigenetic level in patients with Parkinson's disease. The objective is to find a biomarker allowing diagnosing the disease in a minimally invasive way.

Desplats explains that currently research in neurodegenerative diseases is aimed at detecting prodromal, when the patient has few or no symptoms and usually precede the manifestation of the disease.

"When the person has a clinical manifestation and consults her/his doctor, many cells were already lost", she says. It is important to note that at that moment no techniques or treatments are available to restore those cells of the substantia nigra, affected in Parkinson's are lost.

According to the researcher, finding that biomarker may contribute in the future in different ways. "Some diseases share symptoms making it impossible to identify them until progress and new symptoms appear", she says. Then the biomarker could not only contribute to the early detection, but also allow the physician specifically identify pathology to be treated.

A similar story is that of Jose Pruneda-Paz, UCSD assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. Along with his wife, who is also a scientist, went to San Diego in late 2002 to make their post doctoral studies. Once ended, they decided to stay in.

Together with his team, Pruneda-Paz developed a platform for identifying which transcription factors regulate, at some point, the activity of a particular gene in plants. Transcription factors are molecules binding the DNA sequence of a gene to decide whether to activate or suppress.

"The platform can be used for any project to study the expression of a particular gene", he adds. This would allow not only better understanding of plant physiology but potentially determine future strategies and mechanisms for improving species.

The researcher says that, as from the development of this platform, he established collaborations with different groups working in Argentina and made that technology available to those interested in using it.

Both Pruneda-Paz as Desplats say that, from San Diego, they seek working with researchers in Argentina. "Having a partnership with Argentine groups is indeed a great desire" the researcher says. "I received my doctorate from Argentina, I want to give back to the country which gave me and contribute in some way", he says.

Through the National Directorate of International Relations, the Ministry of Science seeks to strengthen, complement and integrate the local R & D capabilities with abroad capabilities through the implementation of joint projects, workshops and seminars, exchange of experts and technology transfer with the active participation of research centers and technology-based companies. The RAICES Programme (Network of Argentine Researchers and Scientists living Abroad) and the development of link networks with Argentine researchers living abroad are priority actions of the Directorate.

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José Pruneda-Paz in his laboratory.

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