Instrumental AccessInstrumental Access 2019:
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte
Instituto do Cérebro / Brain Institute

In Brazil, establishing a core facility for production and use of viral vectors

  • Dr. Tarciso Andre Ferreira Velho with a zebra finch in the aviary at the Brain Institute

  • Research in the lab at the Brain Institute

  • Visiting graduate student (from Mexico) at work at the Brain Institute, UFRN

  • PhD student calibrating equipment for hearing experiments

  • The Microscopy Center at the Brain Institute

  • The Brain Institute at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte

Meet our Awardee

The Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) is a federal university located at the northeastern tip of Brazil. Although famous for its tropical beaches and tourist attractions, Rio Grande do Norte is among Brazil's poorest states.

The Instituto do Cérebro (Brain Institute) at UFRN was founded in 2010 as a research and educational center for the neurosciences.

Its primary mission is to develop cutting edge neuroscience research, create working conditions for Brazilian and foreign researchers trained abroad, and provide scientific training at undergraduate and graduate levels.

Research Areas

Current research priorities at the Brain Institute include: epilepsy; depression; Alzheimer’s; Zika and other infectious diseases that impact brain development; schizophrenia; animal models for speech acquisition, language disorders, hearing impairments and tinnitus; and basic  research around neural development, sensory physiology, oscillatory brain rhythms, memory formation, and sleep.

For students locally, the donation will mean having access to an internationally-competitive education at a public university in the Northeast of Brazil, instead of hoping for the first opportunity to leave the country for better working and scientific training conditions."

-Dr. Kerstin Schmidt, professor of systems neurophysiology and Director of the Brain Institute, UFRN

Establishing A Viral Vector Core in Brazil: Dr. Tarciso Andre Ferreira Velho

Dr Tarciso Andre Ferreira Velho

Tarciso Andre Ferreira Velho, PhD, an assistant professor at the Brain Institute, Universidade Federal Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), is seeking answers to one of neurobiology's mysteries: how do genetics impact how we learn to speak?

Working at the cutting edge of genetics, Dr. Velho's goal is to create an animal model that can be used to study language impairment in humans.

The species that he's chosen to work with is the zebra finch, a songbird that learns to vocalize through imitation, just as humans do.

"The ability to routinely perform genetic manipulations in songbirds will open unparalleled opportunities to study the relationship between genes and brain function in an animal species with a robust behavioral repertoire," says Dr. Velho. "Transgenic songbirds will allow us to generate more accurate animal models to study communication disorders."

Zebra Finch

Zebra Finch

Dr. Velho and his collaborators also anticipate that the zebra finch model will be useful as a model for autism, and to explore questions about the neurobiology of creativity.

Equipment from Instrumental Access will help Dr. Velho to establish a laboratory at UFRN to produce viral vectors, a critical tool for manipulating the genetic code of cell lines or whole animals.

Viral vectors are difficult to acquire in Brazil, as there are no commercial suppliers and reagents are challenging to import. Dr. Velho's lab previously depended on a collaborator at California Institute of Technology to supply them.

According to Dr. Velho, "the equipment from Seeding Labs will allow us to work independently, reduce the amount of travelling and costs, provide hands-on training for students, and most importantly, make these tools available to labs that otherwise will never gain access to them."

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Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte

The viral vector core will enable our scientists and students to implement their ideas more freely without the financial, customs, and knowledge barriers imposed by their geographical location."

-Dr. Tarciso Andre Ferreira Velho, assistant professor, UFRN
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About the Institute


Location: Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
Year Established: 2010
Number of Faculty: 17
Number of Students Impacted Annually: 33 undergraduate, 27 graduate

Why Instrumental Access?

Equipment is needed to support a new lab dedicated to production and distribution of viral vectors for biomedical research, with the long-term goal of supplying a sizable portion of the Brazilian demand. Viral vectors are a critical research tool to which Brazilian neuroscientists and other researchers currently have limited access.

A related goal will be to facilitate training for researchers and technicians in the preparation and use of viral vectors.

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About Instrumental Access

Instrumental Access empowers scientists in developing countries. It gives them the resources they need to pursue life-changing research and teach the next generation.

To begin, we identify a pipeline of scientific talent. Then we rigorously screen universities and select those with the most potential to advance education and research through Instrumental Access.