From Brazil to Oxford via Switzerland. Mariana's first steps as an immunologist started in Brazil while studying antimicrobial responses in shrimps and oysters, when she could also develop diagnostic tools to early detect viruses of major impact in aquaculture during her BSc studies. She then jumped into a completely new field, and dedicated her Master studies to understand how the unfolded protein response (UPR) activation profile is impacted in HIV target cells from patients undergoing different antiretroviral therapies. After that, she got a permanent position as a lecturer in the same university where she completed her studies in Brazil, the Federal University of Santa Catarina (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, UFSC), where she taught Biology for 3 years.
To pursue a career as a scientist, she gave up the life-long stability of her job, and moved to Switzerland, where she did her PhD in Immunology at ETH, under the supervision of Prof. Annette Oxenius. There Mariana was very successful to bring new insights into how asymmetric cell division, a very conserved mechanism to generate diversity, impacts T cell fate as a requirement for the establishment of memory. She was the first to describe that effector and terminally exhausted CD8+ T cells lose their ability to undergo asymmetric mitoses, showing that asymmetric cell division is a feature of cells that retain stemness. Beyond that, she developed a strategy to boost asymmetric cell division in CD8+ T cells by transit inhibition of mTOR, which proved to be highly efficient to benefit memory formation - a potential new translational strategy to improve immune responses, especially in the context of chronic infections, and tumour responses.
Now in Oxford, Mariana joined the group of Prof. Katja Simon, and will use her previous expertise in the boundary between cell biology and immunology to further investigate how autophagy impacts the balance between stemness and differentiation in immunity and haematopoiesis.