Immunologist Maria de Sousa – one of Portugal’s “most important scientists” – dies of Covid-19

Maria de Sousa, one of the first Portuguese to be internationally recognised for her scientific discoveries in the area of the immune system, has died a victim of Covid-19.

Considered a woman of science, and above all a woman “with the courage to question”, Maria de Sousa’s presence goes far beyond scientific discoveries, writes Diário de Notícias this morning. The scientist “played a fundamental role in the development of the national scientific system and in the creation of a new generation in Portuguese scientists”.

The 81-year-old was admitted to Lisbon’s São José hospital last week and died early this morning.
Tributes to her brilliance have been pouring in as the country laments yet another death within its elderly population.

Maria de Sousa’s work and hundreds of papers published in scientific journals saw her bestowed with numerous honours from presidents, from Mário Soares all the way to Portugal’s current president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

A professor emerita of Porto university, her focus was on the organised migration of lymphocytes (cells of the immune system) and their relationship with the thymus.

After leaving Portugal as a medical doctor, Maria de Sousa pursued her scientific career in the UK, Scotland and the United States before returning in the mid-80s to work out of Porto University with a team studying the immune system of patients with hereditary hemochromatosis (or ‘iron overload’) – a disease that is apparently very prevalent in Portugal.

Her death sadly adds to the high numbers of Portuguese over the age of 70 who have lost their lives to Covid-19. At Monday’s press briefing on the spread of the virus, health minister Marta Temido admitted that patients in this age bracket face a lethality rate of 11.2%.