Meet Maria Fernanda

Whitney leaning against a railing on a downtown street

My long-term research interests are to identify the genes and pathways responsible for the transport of heme and transition metals like iron, manganese and zinc in Leishmania, focusing on the competition for these essential nutrients at the Leishmania-host interface. My ultimate research goal is to define therapeutic targets for leishmaniasis treatment.

I received my undergraduate degree in Molecular Sciences and a Ph.D. from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. During my PhD, Dr. Lucile Maria Floeter-Winter was my advisor, and I also worked in an interniship at Steve Beverley’s laboratory at Washington University of St Louis (USA).

As a graduate student, I elucidated the role of Leishmania arginase that defines the fate of L-arginine and showed that correct subcellular localization of arginase is essential for enzyme activity and optimal parasite infectivity.

As a postdoctoral fellow at USP, working with Dr. Regina P. Markus and Prof. Lucile Maria Floeter-Winter, I discovered that the hormone melatonin attenuates Leishmania burden in an animal model.

My interests in iron and heme metabolism were sparked when I joined Dr. Norma Andrews’ lab at the University of Maryland as a Post-Doctoral Fellow, and then Dr. Iqbal Hamza’s lab as a Research Associate. In the Andrews’ lab, I identified and characterized the first iron exporter (LIR1) in a trypanosomatid parasite and showed that iron export is essential for Leishmania iron homeostasis and infectivity thereby answering an important question about how these parasites prevent accumulation of free iron to avoid cytotoxicity. In the Hamza lab, I gained a deeper understanding for host iron and heme metabolism pathways by studying the function of mouse and human HRG1.

I started my independent career as an early-stage investigator in Brazil when I was competitively awarded a Young Investigator FAPESP grant.

  • Associate Professor (USP/Brazil) - since May 2023.
  • Visiting Professor (UFABC/Brazil) - 2021-2023.
  • Research Associate (USP/Brazil) - 2018-2023.
  • Research Associate (UMD College Park/USA) - 2016-2018.
  • Postdoctoral Researcher (UMD College Park/USA) - 2014-2016.
  • Postdoctoral Researcher (USP/Brazil) - 2010-2013.
  • Ph.D. in Physiology, emphasis in Molecular Biology (USP/Brazil) - 2005-2010.
  • B.S. in Molecular Sciences (USP/Brazil) - 2001–2005.