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Research awards

Sofja Kovalevskaja Awardee at LMU

München, 09/03/2020

Developmental biologist Marcia de Almeida Monteiro Melo Ferraz has received one of Germany’s most valuable prizes for research - the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award – and will join LMU’s Institute of Molecular Animal Breeding and Biotechnology.

Dr. Marcia de Almeida Monteiro Melo Ferraz

Marcia de Almeida Monteiro Melo Ferraz, a specialist in developmental cell biology, has won one of this year’s Sofja Kovalevskaja Awards. These prizes are administered by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and are among the most generously endowed awards for research excellence in Germany. Winners receive 1.65 million euros over a period of 5 years. de Almeida Monteiro Melo Ferraz will use the award to set up an independent research group at LMU. Her host will be Professor Eckhard Wolf, who holds the Chair of Molecular Animal Breeding and Biotechnology in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

The major aim of the Brazilian-born developmental biologist’s research is to enhance the efficacy of the crucial first step in artificial reproduction technologies – in-vitro fertilization. Current rates of success are on the order of 30%, and the embryos obtained often exhibit reduced developmental potential, which has been linked to epigenetic changes in the genome of the zygote. Ferraz intends to investigate the molecular mechanisms that underlie these changes, using a unique in-vitro model to analyze the interactions between the epithelium of the oviduct and the lining of the uterus from the moment of fertilization until implantation of the embryo. This ‘oviduct-on-a-chip’ system allows one to identify factors that mediate the epigenetic changes that occur during early embryogenesis. She is particularly interested in the role of extracellular vesicles, which are found in the fluid surrounding the developing oocyte and are thought to convey information in the form of proteins and nucleic acids from follicular epithelial cells to the oocyte. These studies will be carried out on clinically relevant animal models, and promise to uncover as-yet unknown features of the dialog between maternal tissues and the developing embryo. They also have the potential to improve the effectiveness of assisted reproduction techniques and shed light on the early stages of pregnancy.

Marcia de Almeida Monteiro Melo Ferraz studied Veterinary Medicine at the University of São Paulo, and held research posts in London and the US, before obtaining her Master’s degree from the universities of Barcelona and Valencia in 2013. In 2018 she earned her PhD at the University of Utrecht. In 2017, she took up her present postdoc position in the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, which is based in Front Royal, Virginia.
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has conferred Sofja Kovalevskaja Awards on eight junior researchers from abroad this year. The prizes will be formally presented at a ceremony to be held in Berlin in November 2021 in Berlin.