Diana Prata is a Marie Curie Fellow and Group Leader at the Institute of Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering of the University of Lisbon (after 12 years in King’s College London, KCL, UK) where she has set up the Biomedical Neuroscience research lab. She is also a visiting lecturer at KCL and ISCTE. In 2017, she won a Marie Curie Actions 3rd Prize as the most promising scientist in ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship’.
She became a biologist in the University of Lisbon in 2002, but always felt divided between the cell and the psyche. Thus she moved to the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, of King’s College London, as a Leonardo da Vinci fellow, where she started putting her hands, literally, on the genetics of mental illness. Awarded an FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, Portugal) fellowship, she moved closer to the brain and completed therein a PhD in neuroimaging genetics in 2008. She then coordinated a joint-venture between KCL and a pharmacogenetics company, Optimal Medicine, Ltd. Later, she was awarded the prestigious NIHR (National Institute for Health Research, UK) post-doc fellowship to work on a multimodal biomarker of psychosis, and became a Lecturer at KCL. She was then distinguished by King’s College London as a top early career researcher in the UK Research Excellence Framework assessment 2014. After 12 years in the UK, she founded her own research lab at the Institute of Molecular Medicine (iMM Lisboa) which is now the Biomedical Neuroscience Lab at the Institute of Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon. She has been awarded an FCT-investigator grant, a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant, a Bial Grant and several FCT grants, and other fundings sources.
Research-wise, she reported the first evidence that schizophrenia-risk genes can also predispose to bipolar disorder. During her PhD, she pioneered the combination of genetics and neuroimaging to elucidate, for the first time, how several genetic mutations implicated in those illnesses affect white matter structure and brain activation during verbal fluency. As a post-doc, she described how some of these mutations can also explain why people respond differently to antipsychotics; and designed and kick-started a genetic/imaging/environmental biomarker study to predict who is likely to suffer from schizophrenia, using machine learning.
Her new research flow is on the biological basis of social cognition and its impairment, for which, together with a diverse team of medical doctors, psychiatrists, biologists, psychologists and biomedical engineers, she tries to unravel mechanisms of the still much mysterious oxytocin system, using neuropharmacology, magnetic resonance neuroimaging, electroencephalography, eye-tracking, psychology, neuropsychology, genetics, epigenetics and computational modeling techniques. She wants to better understand how we evolved our social abilities, asking for example, via what biological mechanisms do we cooperate, predict each others’ intentions and perceive others’ feelings – and, find clues to help treat social cognitive symptoms such as those in autism or psychosis.
A second branch of her work is to build clinically useful multimodal biomarkers for aiding clinical diagnostic and prognostic predictions – which we are bringing to hospitals via her start up company, NeuroPsyAI, for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Diana has disseminated this work via over 40 articles and book chapters, and over 30 conference and media appearances. To make it all possible, she has also won several prestigious awards and prizes totalling €2Million, and is also an Expert Evaluator of the Research Executive Agency Panel of the European Commission, among other panels.
In sum, the Biomedical Neuroscience Lab’s interest is the understanding of the biology behind human behaviour, and its translation into improving etiological and therapeutic models of neuropsychiatric disorders.
More info in https://dpratalab.wordpress.com/