Miquéias Lopes-Pacheco: The Brazilian CF Researcher And Traveler


Brazil

Miquéias was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in the region of Minas Gerais. A child of divorced parents, he ended up supporting his mom and helping raise his two younger brothers. The youngest, Nilo, has cystic fibrosis and was born when Miquéias was 7 years old with all of the classic CF symptoms. They went to many doctors, none of whom could diagnose him. Then, after 6 years, they went on a holiday with their father who suggested taking Nilo to another doctor. Due to her specialty being CF-related, she conducted a sweat chloride analysis and diagnosed him with the illness. Because his diagnosis was late, he wasn’t getting proper treatment. With the motivation given by Miquéias, who insisted that taking his medication and doing his treatments was for the better, Nilo’s health improved.

“My family: (left to right) My brother Marcelo, me, my mom Solange and my brother Nilo (who has CF). My parents are divorced since I was 9 and as the oldest brother, I always feel somehow responsible for my brothers.”
“I am a coffee lover. So, I usually have a mug with coffee when I am doing some computer work, like data analysis, writing or reading some manuscript. (picture from 2018)”

Cystic fibrosis is lesser known in Brazil even though Brazil is ranked 7th place on the list of countries with the highest number of people who have CF. As of right now, there are about 5,000 people with CF. The foundation, Grupo Brasileiro de Estudo a Fibrose Cística, began registering patients in 2003 and publishing annual reports in 2009.

“Nilo and I during my prom when I finished the Biomedical Sciences course. (picture from 2009)”
“Nilo and I during my prom when I finished the Biomedical Sciences course. (picture from 2009)”
“As I was doing part of my Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins, I was not able to come to Brazil and celebrate my mom’s 50th birthday with her. So, I was at the lab doing some experiments and asked my colleague to take a picture of me wishing happy birthday to my mom. (picture from 2013)”

From the moment that Miquéias learned about CF, his world became focused on helping his brother and finding a cure. It inspired him to want to help others, and it drives what he does every day. It all started in 2007 when one of his biomedical sciences classes required him to do a presentation on a genetic disease. He picked cystic fibrosis and presented on numerous facets related to his brother’s life like providing DNA samples from his brother, giving background on the disease, showing his treatments along with the number of pills taken daily, and more.

“More than co-workers, we were friends! We always found a reason to have a celebration at the Laboratory of Pulmonary Investigation (IBCCF/UFRJ), even when it was a farewell of one member of our team. (picture from 2016)”
“More than co-workers, we were friends! We always found a reason to have a celebration at the Laboratory of Pulmonary Investigation (IBCCF/UFRJ), even when it was a farewell of one member of our team. (picture from 2016)”

This sparked him to want to do even more, so he sent an email to Professor Marcelo Morales, who has a research lab located in Rio de Janeiro, requesting to visit the lab. After a pleasant conversation, Professor Morales invited Miquéias to join the lab as an undergraduate student (“iniciação científica”). Miquéias was living in Juiz de Fora (Minas Gerais), when he commuted two to three days every week by bus during the early morning at 2 am to arrive in the city of Rio by 5 am. This would get him to the lab between 6-7 am to do research all day. He did this through 2008 until he moved to Rio at the end of 2009 to work at the lab full-time. He did a specialization in clinical pharmacology and then started his Master in August of 2010 at the Carlos Chagas Filho Institute of Biophysics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

“My first supervisors: Prof. Patricia Rocco and Prof. Marcelo Morales. This picture was taken when Marcelo became an “immortal” in the Brazilian National Academy of Medicine. 
I am very thankful for everything I have learned with them. (picture from 2016)”
“My first supervisors: Prof. Patricia Rocco and Prof. Marcelo Morales. This picture was taken when Marcelo became an “immortal” in the Brazilian National Academy of Medicine. I am very thankful for everything I have learned with them. (picture from 2016)”

Initially, he wasn’t working directly with CF during the program, but he found it to still be extremely beneficial as he was doing research in a lab with vast experience in respiratory diseases. For example, he learned techniques to evaluate lung function, inflammation and tissue remodeling. This is also where he met Miriam Figueira, another person with CF that we interviewed! When he finished the program in 2012, he proposed to his supervisor a research project in CF for his PhD. Professor Morales made all the arrangement and Miquéias was able to do part of his PhD as a trainee at the Department of Physiology at the Johns Hopkins University. He worked on cellular and molecular characterization of several CFTR mutations – he took some compounds (from the CFFT library) and analyzed the mutation responses with correctors. He returned to Brazil in 2014 and continued work at the Rio lab until he finished his PhD in 2016. Since then, he has moved to Lisbon, Portugal to continue working in the CF realm. This opportunity presented itself after he read the abstract of a review paper and reached out to the scientist herself (Professor Margarida Amaral) for the full paper. They already knew each other from conferences, and she had a position in her lab available.

“Soon after I published a manuscript regarding CFTR Modulators, the organizing committee of the VI Brazilian Conference of CF invited to be a speaker in the meeting. I was very excited for this opportunity but also nervous as it would be my first time talking about my work as a speaker to a mostly clinical audience. After my presentation, some parents and doctors came to talk with me to know a little more about the research I was developing. In particular, a mother of a CF patients (and also a doctor) told me that she liked a lot my presentation not only because I was bringing brand new information on CFTR modulators, but also because the way I was speaking brought hope to her. (picture from 2017)”
“Last year, I was one of the winners of the Gilead Science Research Scholars Program in CF and this award is an amazing opportunity to continue my research in the field for the next two years. This award has been offered to 2-3 junior researchers since 2011 and I am the first one working in Europe that received it. (picture from 2018)”
“Last year, I was one of the winners of the Gilead Science Research Scholars Program in CF and this award is an amazing opportunity to continue my research in the field for the next two years. This award has been offered to 2-3 junior researchers since 2011 and I am the first one working in Europe that received it. (picture from 2018)”

Miquéias’s admiration for the CF community reverberated through every detail of his story. He even got emotional talking about a session that he attended at last year’s North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference where parents and children talked about the disease. He mentioned, “sometimes research is tough because your experiment doesn’t work as you wish.” Despite that, though, “I cannot just give up.” In the end, he feels there is still a long way to go to finding a cure, but he wants to help those not just with the common CFTR mutations. He wishes that his brother had better treatment, but in Brazil, certain CFTR modulators are not available yet. He told us that a doctor suggested that his brother consider getting a lung transplant. Nilo is currently doing oxygen therapy daily and even ‘simple’ actions like taking the stairs to the third floor where their apartment is located have become harder, which was taxing and gives Miquéias grief and guilt. He does his best to remind Nilo that he needs to do his treatments to keep himself as healthy as possible, especially because Miquéias expected that much better treatments should be approved for the next few years.

“CF is part of my life (personal and professional). I also love tattoos! So, I decided to do these two tattoos as an expression of my commitment of the CF cause. (picture from 2016)”
“CF is part of my life (personal and professional). I also love tattoos! So, I decided to do these two tattoos as an expression of my commitment of the CF cause. (picture from 2016)”

Miquéias deeply believes in finding a cure and helping anyone he can that has CF. His advice to others is, “challenge yourself, embrace the opportunities and make it happen.” Although he misses his family and country, greatly, he has a goal that he does not want to give up on. His experiences of travel and communicating with different people have given him the opportunity to understand and even feel cultural differences, and that all has made him a better human being.

Miquéias is involved with the Institute United for Life “Instituto Unidos pela vida – Fibrose Cistica.” which is mostly funded by donors. You can support this organizations through donating at the following site:
– Institute United for life: “Instituto Unidos pela Vida – Fibrose Cística”: http://unidospelavida.org.br/

 

For more on Miquéias you can follow his pursuits here: