International Society for the Study of Iron in Biology and Medicine

In Memory of Maria de Sousa

maria de sousa.Read Obituary by Professor Graca Porto

Maria de Sousa, a world renowned outstanding scientist, internationally recognised for her scientific discoveries in the area of the immunology and iron metabolism, has died a victim of Covid-19.

Maria de Sousa was born in Lisbon in 1939. After graduating in medicine in 1963, from the Faculty of Medicine of Lisbon, she began her scientific research career. England, Scotland, United States and Portugal — this was the scientific geography of her life.

Between 1964 and 1966, she was at the Experimental Biology Laboratories at Mill Hill, London, with a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. It was in London that she made a great discovery that can be found today in any immunology manual, related to lymphocytes Area T and already at the University of Glasgow, the concept of ecotaxis, a name she gave to the migration of lymphocytes.

She then obtained a doctorate in immunology in 1972, remaining in Scotland until 1975. From there she went to the United States – to the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research (in New York), Cornell Medical School (in New York) and Harvard Medical School (in Cambridge, Boston).

In 1984, she returned to Portugal to contribute to the development of scientific research in the country. In 1985, she became a full professor of immunology at the Abel Salazar Institute of Biomedical Sciences (ICBAS), in Porto.

Later, she contributed to the implementation of external and independent evaluation of Portuguese research centers, which did not exist in Portugal until the mid-1990s, when she was invited by the then Minister of Science and Technology, José Mariano Gago, to coordinate this process, in the area of ​​health sciences.

Owner of a very exigent and critical spirit, she emphasized the need to acknowledge the insatisfaction with what is presently known and how we know it.

Her generosity to younger generations was endless as she cared deeply for the future of scientific research in Portugal and worldwide. She was dedicated to improving funding for research projects, scientific positions, opportunities for young scientists, in order to pursue the answers for all the questions left open in science.

She was fascinated with the lives and journey of lymphocytes, and she was deeply curious about the role of lymphocytes in defending against iron toxicity.

Having the privilege of calling this incredibly bright mind a friend, I shared in her worries about protecting patients with chronic kidney disease (such as herself) from excessive IV iron administration, a battle still underway.

As she said in her last class entitled “A school without walls”, on 16 October 2009, at the age of 70: “At the end of an academic life, the gifts that any plant would naturally like to leave, are her seeds and the possibility of finding new soils for the new roots (...)”

When searching for her own physical roots, she mentioned the importance of a letter written by Peyton Rous (Noble prize 1966) congratulating her for the discoveries she had made and accepting her seminal paper, “Thymus-dependent areas of lymphoid organs of neonatally thymectomized mice,” published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine where he was the editor at the time.

“When you go, you only take what you left, and sometimes it’s a letter, because you never know the meaning of a letter to those who receive it.”

When she knew that she had contracted Covid-19, she left a poem to her friends.

The e-mail subject was “far from being ready.”

Love letter in a virus pandemic

Bagpipes played in Scotland
Tenors sing from verandas in Italy
The dead will not hear them
And the living want to mourn their dead in silence
Who do they want to cheer?
The children?
But the children are also dying

In my circumstance
I may die
Wondering if I will ever see you again
But before I die
I want you to know
How much I care for you
How much I worry about you
How much I remember shared and cherished moments
Moments then
Eternities now
Poetry
Laughter
The sea
sunsets
The feather that the gull took to our table
Breakfast
Golden cuff links
The magnolia
The hospital
Socks pijamas and other thoughtful things
All moment then
Eternities now
As I may die and you must live
In your living the hope of my lasting

May her spirit rest in peace and smile upon our love for her, an inspiration for everyone who knew her.

In our living, her lasting.

Patricia Carrilho

posted: April 20, 2020