PeerJ Award winner, Vanessa Nascimento, discusses supramolecular chemistry, new drug treatments and challenges

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Award winner Vanessa Nascimento with former advisor (Antonio L. Braga) and colleague (Jualiano Braun de Azeredo)

We are pleased to congratulate Vanessa Nascimento, winner of the PeerJ Award for Best Oral Presentation at the 8th Workshop of the International Scientific Network Selenium Sulfur Redox & Catalysis (WSeS-8).  This workshop, held in Perugia, Italy at the end of May 2019,  fosters the development of multidisciplinary research projects connected to Selenium, Sulfur and other Redox Catalysts.

The PeerJ Award was offered to young participants in the areas of chemistry, pharmacy, and biochemistry for Best Oral Presentation. The award includes a free publication in PeerJ (upon submission and acceptance through our normal peer review system). Learn more about Vanessa’s research and award-winning presentation in her interview below.

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I received my undergraduate degree in industrial chemistry from Federal University of Santa Maria, UFSM, Brazil and my master’s degree in chemistry from Federal University of Santa Catarina, UFSC, Brazil. My doctorate degree was completed at both the Department of Chemistry at UFSC, Brazil and the University of Perugia, Italy. My advisors have included Prof. Antonio Luiz Braga, Prof. Claudio Santi and Prof. Faruk Name.

I was offered scholarships by the Brazilian Government through its funding agencies CAPES and CNPq. These scholarships were essential for me to be able to develop my work as well as to stay in the cities where I lived away from my family as I began my studies.

I am currently a researcher and professor at the Department of Organic Chemistry of Fluminense Federal University UFF in Niterói, State of Rio de Janeiro. At the UFF’s SupraSelen Laboratory, I mentor a group of undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students. Our research focuses on obtaining molecules and supramolecules containing selenium for the most diverse applications (antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, catalysts, etc.), highlighting the search for new drugs for the treatment of tuberculosis and neglected diseases.

Vanessa working in the SupraSelen Laboratory at UFF

This line of research involving Supramolecular Chemistry and organochalcogenides is new in Brazilian science and in the world and is directly related to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry of 2016. In addition, seeking the cure and/or treatment of diseases considered endemic in low-income populations is challenging and immensely rewarding from a social point of view. It is also a return to society which provides us, through the payment of their taxes, conditions to study in public university.

Vanessa and her husband, Dr. Bruno Mena Cadorin, became parents in May 2018 when their twins were born. Now that she is also a mother, she is trying to combine all of these functions. She says that although it is not easy, she loves her family and science — and her family and science both need her! She is proud to contribute to science, help people through the search for new drugs and treatments, and to have realized her childhood dream of being a professor and researcher.

  • Can you briefly explain the research you presented at WSeS-8?

I presented work entitled: “Design and synthesis of selenium-containing naphthoquinone derivatives as anti-tubercular leads against clinical multidrug resistant isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MT)”.

Presenting her research at WSeS-8

As part of our wider research program aimed at designing and developing biologically active new organoselenium compounds, this work reported the synthesis of a new series of naphthoquinone derivatives obtained by selenofunctionalization of vitamin K (menadione). We have developed a straightforward, fast and efficient synthesis of a series of menadione-derived selenoesters.

The antitubercular activity was tested through the measurement of minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and it was determined for M. tuberculosis H37Rv using Isoniazid as a control drug. Three new menadione-derived selenoesters exhibited potent bactericidal activity (above that of the control), also against multidrug-resistant MT. Two of them exhibited only weak cytotoxicity toward normal cell lines, highlighting their potential use for antimycobacterial activity. Therefore, these derivatives provide a promise for further progress to discover new antibiotics against drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Vanessa’s SupraSelen lab group at UFF

  • What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research?

It is not easy to be a scientist in Brazil. Being a young, woman scientist is even more challenging. We have few resources and if you are young, you have fewer yet. My students and I are working to overcome these challenges because we believe in our science. 

For this work, we are finishing the studies around the cytotoxicity in collaboration with a professor from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Prof. Luiz Claudio R. P. da Silva) and then we intend to publish in a good journal because our results are promising for a new therapy against tuberculosis.

I would like to emphasize that this work was only possible thanks to the help of the UFF professors, especially to the collaborators of this project Prof. Fernando de Carvalho da Silva (IQ-UFF), Prof. Vitor Francisco Ferreira (FF-UFF) and Prof. Marcela Cristina de Moraes (IQ-UFF).

To develop our research we are submitting projects to try and obtain financial support. In the meantime, and in the absence of funding, we will continue to rely upon and appreciate the solidarity of the other laboratories and professors from UFF and UFSC.

Vanessa’s full research and professional history can be found here.

View PeerJ research in organic chemistry and learn more about our five new chemistry journals.

About: PeerJ is an Open Access publisher of seven peer-reviewed journals and a preprint server. PeerJ’s mission is to help the world efficiently publish its knowledge. All works published by PeerJ are Open Access and published using a Creative Commons license (CC-BY 4.0).

PeerJ – the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences is the peer-reviewed journal for Biology, Medicine and Environmental Sciences. PeerJ also publishes PeerJ Computer Science, and five newly launched PeerJ Chemistry journals.

By teaming up with a number of conferences to offer these awards, we are making it as easy as possible for organizers to reward excellence in science, support students and early career researchers, and signal to the wider research community that open science is better science. Learn more here and get in touch if you are a conference organizer and are looking to offer a ‘Best Contribution’ award for open science –