When the novel coronavirus arrived in Brazil in February, it was met by a team of highly prepared researchers who were already working on the agent causing dengue fever, had mastered techniques of rapid genetic mapping, and wasted no time sequencing the virus samples collected from the first patients in the city of São Paulo. At the head of this group is Dr. Ester Sabino, a researcher at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, of the University of São Paulo medicine faculty (IMT-FM-USP) and coordinator of the Brazil-UK Joint Center for Arbovirus Discovery, Diagnosis, Genomics and Epidemiology (Cadde), funded by the UK Medical Research Council and FAPESP. At the head of this group is Dr. Ester Sabino, a researcher at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Tropical Medicine (IMT-FM-USP) and coordinator of the Brazil-UK Joint Center for Arbovirus Discovery, Diagnosis, Genomics and Epidemiology (Cadde), funded by the UK Medical Research Council and FAPESP.
Though she recognizes that she began working with the coronavirus by chance, this is not the first time Dr. Sabino has done this kind of work. In the early 1990s, while working at the Adolfo Lutz Institute (IAL) and the Pro Blood Foundation, Dr. Sabino participated in the sequencing of HIV strains found in Brazil. In the following years, she led research groups on blood transfusion and tropical diseases to follow up 2,000 people with Chagas disease and 3,000 others with sickle cell anemia, which she has studied since 2006.
The genetic sequencing of the novel coronavirus brought sudden fame to the group’s researchers—of the 27, 17 are women, and 14 are FAPESP-supported fellows—and they became frequent interviewees in newspapers, radio and television for weeks. But this work has not alleviated Dr. Sabino’s concern over the advance of the epidemic in Brazil, as she described in the following interview.