Ex-director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of São Paulo and one of the coordinators of the Brazilian group responsible for the genetic sequencing of the coronavirus, Ester Sabino has gone through several areas in her 30-year career. “My lines of research are quite divergent,” he says. The common point in all works is the search for the adequate material support to achieve good results. “Science is not done without resources”, he says.
For this reason, instead of continuing to focus on specialization, the researcher chose to guide her career through the needs presented from time to time, translated into the availability of national or foreign money. “Here in Brazil, I think we change a lot according to the resource. I do research on demand. So, many times, I work with very different subjects. Because, if it is an opportunity to have the resource to do, I will study “, he explains.
From HIV to Zika
That is how in the early 1990s Ester started developing HIV-related research. “It was where I had the most resources to work. In fact, the scholarship I went to in the United States was American, focused on HIV. I liked viruses, I wanted to work with viruses, that’s when I got it,” he says.
From HIV, the researcher started to work with blood-borne diseases, following the path of studies on tropical diseases at USP, with an investigation on Chagas disease. She became director of the institute, when doors began to open because of a new epidemic of a disease that can also be transmitted by blood, despite the main vector, like Chagas, being an insect: zika.
“When there was a Zika epidemic, there were many opportunities and resources from outside to do research. As we at the institute have difficulty finding resources, I went after it. I was already a director, I had a team working with this issue. With that, we got some outside resources “, explains about the direction of his career.
The sequencing of the coronavirus genome was carried out in a structure that was prepared to investigate diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, such as zika, dengue and yellow fever. This time, with funding from the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Fapesp), in addition to the partnership with UK institutions. The repercussion of the first results of the research surprised the researcher. The team was able to make the genetic mapping of the virus in just 48 hours, while the world average is about 15 days.
“I confess that it was more than I imagined. Maybe there was some news in the newspaper. But I didn’t imagine it had the repercussions that it had”, comments Ester about the headlines directed to the work. “In my scientific career, I have other, much more interesting jobs,” he adds.
She explains that even though it is a good result, it is only the beginning of the work. “This one is a little piece. Researchers from all over the world will be needed to try to fight this disease”, he points out.
When observing a scientifically small work, in comparison with others made during his career, gaining so much prominence, Ester started to reflect on how to divulge the development of research. “What I realize is that the scientist has to start learning to speak to the public. And we have to make the public interested in science and the young person interested in the scientist”, he highlights.
Dissemination of science
The interest in science can make scientists tomorrow, shows the example of Ingra Morales Claro, one of the doctoral students who make up the research group responsible for sequencing the coronavirus. “I always wanted the research area. Since I was little I used to say that I wanted to be a scientist”, she tells about how she chose the biomedicine course, which she completed in 2015 at the Federal University of Alfenas.
Ingra came to work in the private sector, but as soon as she could, she applied for an improvement job at USP’s Faculty of Medicine. He joined the group coordinated by Professor Ester, where he obtained publications in important scientific magazines. Thus, she was approved to do a doctorate without going through the master’s stage.
The research is about the use of nanopore technology, the nanometer-scale pore scanner – one millimeter per million – used to sequence the virus. To develop his work he spent a period at the University of Birmingham, where he must return for another year of studies in the coming months. “My project there was to develop a cheaper, less complex and faster technology, using nanopore technology”, he summarizes.
For Ingra, the repercussion comes at a good time, it helps the population and the government to understand the importance of investing in science. “This is very good for us to show that there is an incentive from Fapesp and there are very good researchers here”, he points out.