Chilean scientist Fabiola Osorio studies cellular processes to prevent inflammatory diseases


The engineer in Molecular Biotechnology, Fabiola Osorio, PhD in Immunology and Molecular Pathology at the University College of London, is developing research aimed at early identification of the signs of inflammatory processes, with the expectation that this will prevent their development and prevent diseases.

The scientist from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Chile, distinguished himself with the Adelina Gutiérrez Prize for young researchers from the Chilean Academy of Sciences.

His work focuses on processes related to protein synthesis in the immune system, which have been extensively studied in relation to pathologies such as cancer, neurodegeneration and infections.

Dr. Osorio’s research is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) of the United States, which has awarded her an International Research Scholar. In the call that gave rise to this recognition, the researchers were selected from an association of prestigious international scientific institutions which also includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Wellcome Trust and the Caoluste Gulbekian Foundation . Portugal.

Due to his relationship with the conglomerate, in October he attended the Grand Challenges 2022 congress, organized by the Gates Foundation in Belgium, where a simulation of a new pandemic that could affect the world was carried out. The event was attended by the billionaire founder of Microsoft, the deputy director of WHO, scientists and company representatives from various countries.

Scientific collaboration and interest from the pharmaceutical industry

Dr. Osorio’s line of research seeks to understand how cellular stress signals contribute to the generation of a protective immune response. The professional explains that inflammation is a process with which humans are familiar and which occurs in common episodes such as a bee sting or the effects of a burn, as well as in some chronic diseases.

The phenomenon has an immunological component in its origins “and what we are trying to understand is what are the signals that contribute to causing inflammation”.

“Our laboratory, says Dr. Osorio, has generated fundamental knowledge indicating that cellular stress signals associated with the endoplasmic reticulum are essential for a cell type of the immune system which is the dendritic cell, the large coordinator between the innate and the adaptive immune response. And by intervening in this cell we can modulate, for example, the long-term response, which is what a therapy or a vaccine aims at. We are studying the very first stages of inflammation, trying to understand if we can prevent it by intervening at the beginning of the development of a pathology”, says the scientist.

Furthermore, he believes that his research “is an integrated grain of sand in multiple international working groups that together have helped generate interest in the development of pharmaceutical compounds that allow these cellular stress signals to be regulated. The discovery of new signs of inflammation has generated enormous interest not only at the level of fundamental science, but also at the level of pharmaceutical companies which are now generating drugs to activate or suppress these processes”.

He adds that his contribution may complement the technological advance of therapies that are in preclinical study. His prognosis is that “we will soon have a battery of tools with which we can study various disease models in greater depth.”

Simulating an upcoming pandemic

Thanks to her studies and funding, Dr. Osorio was invited to participate in October at the Grand Challenges 2022 congress of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, held in Belgium, where the simulation of a new pandemic more aggressive than Covid 19 was carried out and they discussed the key decisions that should be made to address it in time.

The conference was attended by the billionaire founder of Microsoft, the deputy director of WHO, health authorities, scientists and representatives of different sectors of society from various countries.

Dr. Osorio underlined that concrete preparation plans are being drawn up in Europe and the United States, but she has the impression that in Chile “we don’t want to assume this responsibility yet. Apparently we are still in a state of denial given the serious consequences that COVID-19 has left in our country, we have the idea that Covid has passed and we are serene. But I believe the time has come to start thinking and planning intelligently, using our resources and capabilities efficiently, to coordinate what concrete actions can be taken to be well prepared.”

He says scientists linked to the organization of the event he attended in Belgium have information that allows them to model and project likely contagion situations before they occur. To this he attributes the fact that Bill Gates said in a lecture he gave in 2018 that a respiratory virus pandemic was looming.

In the simulation carried out in October in the European country, the exercise of a potential pandemic was carried out with a virus that did not exist in real life. With screens displaying fictitious emergency news dispatches, participants were asked to propose decisions that seemed relevant to the case.

Dr. Osorio points out that the first lesson derived from the activity is the importance of strengthening efficient communication between countries, “it is essential, says the scientist, because if one has a pathogen in one country and the next country does not have a good health, it has no scientific capacity to back it up, it has no medical capital, there is nothing to be gained by isolating itself, because it will end up affected anyway”.

It was also concluded that there is a need for proactive leaders (political/clinical/social/scientific) and trained staff who can move from one country to another to support the adoption of appropriate measures, who can rapidly transfer knowledge and in case of having a therapy, apply it efficiently.

He says the situation that was simulated produced significant degrees of tension among the meeting participants, but he values ​​the experience because, he argues, “it gives an opportunity to realize the importance of being able to communicate well with a doctor, with a nurse, with a politician, with a community leader or with anyone”.

The validity of simulation as a tool stands out: “The only way to be prepared for an emergency is to simulate what is happening to solve the problems that arise”.

For her, this experience meant a shift in her professional perspective: “I reflected on the fact that my role as a scientist, woman and immunologist transcends my laboratory and the classrooms where I teach. I also have a responsibility to spread knowledge among people and be willing to take on responsibilities that lead to improved people’s health.”

Science beyond the laboratory

Dr. Osorio served as president of the Chilean Immunology Society between 2019 and 2021. Therefore, she was in office when the Covid 19 pandemic appeared.

He recalls it as a challenge: «As immunologists we had the great responsibility of educating with the information that was available at the time, generating proposals and opinions that put rationality and scientific evidence at the center in a very complex moment where so many questions, and we had to be careful to everything that was the development of vaccines”.

Together with their immunologist colleagues Mercedes López and María Rosa Bono, they formed a team with which they carried out studies on the types of immune responses that occurred in the various degrees of severity of the Covid 19 infection and on the effectiveness of receiving different vaccines in different stages of inoculation.

This gave them the opportunity to make contributions that were quickly transferred to the community, which she particularly appreciates: “I think, says the scientist, that it was an important change that came with the pandemic. The results we are obtaining in the laboratory are not obtained as individuals, but as collaborative teams, and we have a great opportunity to rapidly disseminate them to people.”

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