MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Lucas Moura, who is working on his Ph.D., is the first Brazilian student to come to the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center through the Science Without Borders program.

Science Without Borders is an international exchange program initiated by Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to send 100,000 Brazilian students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields to foreign institutions for up to one year of fully funded study. The program dovetails with President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas, which aims to increase higher education exchanges between the United States and Latin America. The United States welcomed its first Science Without Borders students in January 2012. WVU has hosted a number of students in other fields, but Moura is the first in the Health Sciences.

Moura will spend nine months at WVU conducting the final portion of his research to complete his Ph.D. through the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Chris Martin, M.D., director of global engagement for WVU Health Sciences, visited UNICAMP’s dental school in August 2012 and was impressed by the school’s commitment to research. UNICAMP recommended Moura to be the first Health Sciences student sent to WVU. Moura applied for and was granted the Science Without Borders scholarship and arrived at WVU in early September.

Moura is researching the effectiveness of a delivery system he invented for control and release of drugs to treat periodontal disease. He developed nanospheres loaded with antibiotic and planted them in the patients’ gums. After successful clinical studies in Brazil, Moura is working with Christopher Cuff, Ph.D., professor in the WVU School of Medicine Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology, to perform molecular DNA analysis. The analysis will examine the amount and types of bacteria in his patients’ mouths at the subcellular level to see if his delivery system caused a greater improvement than traditional treatment.

Dr. Cuff has extensively researched the human microbiome, or the microorganisms that live in the human body. His recent research examines the link between the oral microbiome and dementia. Moura was matched to Cuff due to their similar research goals.

“They’re sending their A-team,” said Cuff of Moura. “He’s got a master’s degree in engineering; he’s got a dental degree; and now he’s getting his Ph.D. So he’s a real bright guy.”

Dr. Martin expects Moura’s time at WVU to be the beginning of a mutually beneficial inter-institutional relationship with UNICAMP. Global health programs are becoming a hallmark of institutes of modern medicine. WVU has a thriving relationship with Oman Medical College, and Martin hopes to build a similar relationship with UNICAMP.

“We hope that Lucas will be the first of many students and that, in fact, this will lead to many other activities, like faculty exchanges, research collaborations and our students and faculty going there,” Martin said.

Moura is awaiting the shipment of his samples from Brazil.

“They are biological sample materials. Sending biological materials outside of Brazil is complicated, and receiving biological materials here is more complicated,” Moura explained with good humor.

He’s making good use of his time while he waits: Moura set up and will be the first to use WVU’s new Polymerase Chain Reaction machine, the latest technology of its kind. The machine replicates the DNA of bacteria to increase sample size to a quantifiable level, while infusing fluorochromes that “light up” selected bacteria.

Moura earned his mechanical engineering and dentistry degrees from UNICAMP. He has already put two and a half years into his Ph.D. His work at WVU is the final component before he defends his thesis in Brazil. He is considering pursuing post-doctoral research in using delivery systems to treat different types of periodontal disease.

For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
sf: 10-02-13