Focus on Postdoctoral Fellow: Joana Neves, PhD

Joana Neves, PhD

Joana Neves, PhD is clearly comfortable taking on new challenges. The Glenn Foundation Fellow’s career has taken her from her native Portugal, where she studied Applied Chemistry at New University of Lisbon, to Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, where she received her PhD researching gene regulation during development in the inner ear of chicken embryos. Now at the Buck Institute, she’s fulfilling a desire to focus on more translational science and contribute to aging research. She’s integrating findings from two labs and two very different animals to identify factors that promote repair and regeneration. 

Neves’s project builds on the pioneering work of Buck faculty member Dr. Deepak Lamba, who developed a method to generate photoreceptors, the cells in the eye that detect light, from stem cells and transplant them into retinas of blind mice, partially restoring vision. While groundbreaking, the impact of this procedure is still limited. Dr. Neves’s goal is to find protective factors that can promote tissue repair and can be used to improve transplant efficiency enough to make this a viable treatment for retinal degeneration.

This part of her project involves Dr. Henri Jasper’s lab, which focuses on the mechanisms of stress signaling. “Can we use the fly to find factors which are protective and support the tissue repair process in mice?” A previous project had identified a role for immune cells in tissue repair after retinal damage and a number of genes that were upregulated in immune cells of the fly following damage. One of the most induced genes codes for the protein MANF, known to play a protective role in the nervous system. Neves confirmed that MANF is indeed upregulated in response to retinal damage in both the fly and the mouse, and protects photoreceptors from different types of damage. Her next experiments will ask if including MANF during transplantation improves photoreceptor survival and integration, a critical step toward moving this therapy from the lab to the clinic.

Dr. Neves’s career goal is to lead her own independent lab combining basic and translational research. She just applied for the NIH’s Pathway to Independence award, which would fund her transition from postdoc to a faculty position. When not in the lab, she enjoys cooking and eating international cuisine, and loves living in San Francisco. “I’m definitely a city person,” she says, and  given her energetic personality and multi-track mind, it seems fitting. We should expect big things from Dr. Neves in the future. She won’t have any problem taking on the next challenge.

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