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Luiz Carlos Dias in the lab
Professor Luiz Carlos Dias FRSC

Whilst studying administration, Luiz developed a love of chemistry that led him to a career in researching neglected diseases.

As a child, Luiz had an innate curiosity for science. Through comics such as Spider-Man and Thor, and science fiction films including Star Trek and Captain Marvel, his interest in chemistry was sparked. 

At high school in the city of Balneario Camboriu, Brazil, Luiz had only two options available to him: an administration or accounting assistant course. In his first year, he touched on chemistry as part of his administration course, which he studied in the evenings whilst working at a construction firm during the day.

After high school, Luiz began an undergraduate degree in chemistry at the Federal University of Santa Catarina. 

Pursuing an academic career

Luiz Carlos DiasDuring his degree Luiz became a teaching assistant, helping the lab staff prepare solutions and reagents for experiments, participating in classes and observing the staff and students. He was responsible for marking lab reports and providing extracurricular classes to students. 

“The experience gained as a teaching assistant was undoubtedly critical to my decision to pursue an academic career and the satisfaction I feel teaching classes.”

In the final year of his degree, Luiz was forced to leave university because of frequent and severe asthma attacks – something he has battled with since being 11 months old. He returned to university after four months and completed his studies. 

After obtaining a PhD, and motivated by the challenge of working on total synthesis of complex molecules, Luiz left Brazil for a two-year post-doctoral position at Harvard University, USA.

“The experience gained abroad, working with a renowned researcher in a centre of excellence such as Harvard University, was instrumental in my development as a teacher and researcher.”

Whilst at Harvard, Luiz was inspired by working in a lively environment full of fantastic scientific discussions and by meeting young researchers from around the world. “I left Harvard with the firm intention of assembling a group of high-level researchers in organic synthesis, contributing to the training of my students, and helping to consolidate organic synthetic research in Brazil,” he says.

The challenge of neglected diseases

“What fascinates me is the possibility of discovering new drugs for the treatment of neglected diseases and helping to save lives.”

Luiz now works at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in Brazil – a university which recently had their technological chemistry course accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

One of the most important projects his research group is working on involves the optimisation of lead compounds for the treatment of tropical parasitic diseases in collaboration with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) and the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV). This is part of an unprecedented cooperation agreement in Latin America, developing new drugs and treatments for neglected diseases such as Chagas disease, visceral Leishmaniasis and malaria. 

Both DNDi and MMV are not-for-profit organisations aiming to reduce the incidences of so-called neglected diseases through the discovery and development of accessible, effective and affordable medicines. 

“The creation of a Brazilian research project, in partnership with other scientists and recognised worldwide, has the potential to increase drug discovery capabilities in the country, enabling us to face other neglected diseases of strategic regional importance.”

Luiz’s advice to others is to have passion and enthusiasm for science. “Try to do everything always looking for standards of excellence,” he encourages.

Words by Vicki Marshall
Images courtesy of Antoninho Perri
Published July 2015

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