Mariana Brandão: the fight against cancer knows no borders

Mariana Brandão is a researcher at the Instituto de Saúde Pública da Universidade do Porto (ISPUP) and a PhD student in the Public Health programme at Universidade do Porto. It was in both capacities that she helped implement what is the first longitudinal study of breast cancer patients in Mozambique: the Moza-BC (Mozambican Breast Cancer) cohort.

This pioneering study, which was born out of a partnership between ISPUP and the three main central hospitals in Mozambique (Maputo, Beira and Nampula), has been following 262 Mozambican women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer since 2015. The goal? To help tackle the lack of information regarding the distribution of breast cancer subtypes, available treatments, and figures regarding survival from the disease in the country.

So far, the team of which Mariana Brandão is a member has learnt, for example, that almost a quarter of Mozambican women have triple-negative breast cancer (the most aggressive and lethal), and many are diagnosed at an advanced a stage of the disease. The Moza-BC also resulted in the creation of the first multidisciplinary breast cancer group in Mozambique, which has shown to have a very beneficial impact on the survival of these women.

“The various results we have achieved so far are pioneering and intend to serve as a basis for clinical and political decisions in Mozambique, and eventually in other African countries as well,” says the young researcher.

The path that led Mariana Brandão to Mozambique began in 2004, when she joined the Integrated Master’s in Medicine at the Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade do Porto (FMUP). She finished her degree in 2010, with a trip to Turkey – under the Erasmus programme – in between.

It was also at FMUP that she became interested in Oncology, an area to which she has dedicated her entire professional career. Between 2012 and 2017, she completed her residency in Medical Oncology at the Portuguese Oncology Institute of Porto/ Instituto Português de Oncologia do Porto (IPO-Porto), as well as a short clinical internship at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in the UK. In 2017, she became a specialist in Medical Oncology.

Soon after completing her specialty, she started a research fellowship at the Institut Jules Bordet in Brussels, which lasted until December 2020. She worked in the design and revision of clinical trial protocols, as a medical advisor, collaborated in clinical research projects and started a translational research project on the impact of HIV infection in breast cancer patients.

Since the beginning of this year, Mariana Brandão has been a hospital assistant in Medical Oncology at the Jules Bordet Institute, where she carries out clinical and research activities. In the future? She will continue to “reconcile clinical activity with research activity” in the field of Oncology, now focusing on lung cancer. Her aim is to develop research projects on the immunology of lung cancer, in order to better select and treat patients who suffer from this pathology.

Place of birth? São João da Madeira, Portugal

Age? 34 years old

– What do you like the most at Universidade of Porto?

The diversity of people and knowledge, its history and important presence in the city.

–  What do you like the least about Universidade do Porto?

The still reduced interaction between the different Faculties in terms of research projects and student mobility. Also, the bureaucracy and rules, which are still very rigid, that hinder the rapid advancement of ideas.

– An idea to improve Universidade do Porto?

Increasing the exchange of students between Faculties, by giving them the possibility of attending subjects / modules in other study areas – which, thanks to the development of virtual teaching platforms, will be easier to implement.

Although a centre for start-ups already exists at the university, better interaction with the “industry”, i.e. with private/commercial partners, such as the pharmaceutical industry, should be further increased; but this interaction with industry partners can be applied to many other areas of knowledge.

Diversifying the sources of funding, in order to reduce the dependence on the FCT (Fundação de Ciência e Tecnologia).

– How do you prefer to spend your free time?

With friends: either chatting, sharing a meal, walking around the city or in nature, visiting exhibitions, going to concerts.

– A favourite book?

It is very difficult for me to choose a favourite book, because I read a lot and have done so for many years. I can speak of favourite authors, such as José Saramago, José Luís Peixoto, Gabriel García Márquez, among others. But nowadays, I’m mainly reading books about history and politics – one book I read last year during the first lockdown, which made a big impression on me, was Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World.

– Favourite record/musician?

Jorge Palma’s music was very present in my youth and early adulthood, but recently I have been listening to a lot to António Zambujo and Miguel Araújo. When I went to Mozambique I started listening to African music (Fatoumata Diawara, Mayra Andrade…), and now Belgian music as well (Stromae, typh Barrow…).

– A favourite dish?

Sweets! When I did my Erasmus programme in Turkey I fell in love with Turkish sweets, especially Baklavas. But of course, I also love traditional Portuguese sweets and, recently, Belgian waffles and chocolates.

– A favourite film?

The Godfather trilogy. However, since I’ve been living in Belgium, I’ve started to explore French cinema, which also has some magnificent films.

– A dream trip?

To Japan, yet to be made.

– A life goal?

That the work I do brings joy to the people around me. And that I can carry on being so lucky to be healthy and have such close family and friends.

– An inspiration?

The cancer patients I have had the privilege of treating over the years, as well as their family and friends – in Portugal, in Mozambique, in the UK and now in Belgium. Despite the cultural and socioeconomical differences between these countries, all these people have shared knowledge, stories and emotions and have taught me a lot about life. They are the inspiration behind my daily work, as a doctor and a researcher.

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