Brasilien: Mayana Zatz

For having worked with people that suffer because of severe diseases, my values have changed a great deal. I learned that peace, harmony and health are the most important things in life.

— Mayana Zatz

Mayana Zatz (1947) is an international reference in the study of human genetics. With around 200 scientific essays published in international magazines, she founded the Brazilian Association of Muscular Dystrophy that helps children, young people and their family members. She is an active voice in the National Congress where she has played an important role in the process of authorizing the research on embrionary cells and where she fights for the legalization of abortions in case of non-rehabilitative genetic diseases.

An internationally well-known biologist, Mayana Zatz was a young university student when she made this decision: “To acquire scientific knowledge to improve people's health and quality of life.” The wish of being useful arose when she met, during a research on genetic diseases, a woman–mother of eight children, seven of them with mental or physical deficiencies. This scientist was born in Israel, moved to Brazil and–in search for knowledge–she went to the United States, where she got a postgraduate degree in Genetic Medicine at the University of California (Ucla). She specialized in muscular dystrophy–a hereditary and irreversible disease that causes the progressive degeneration of the skeletal musculature. When she returned, in 1981, Mayana founded the Brazilian Association of Muscular Dystrophy (Abdim) that is sited inside the University of São Paulo. Considered as the largest center of investigation of genetic problems, Abdim makes diagnoses, gives genetic counseling, orientation for the families and offers children and teenagers the most modern equipments for treatments, physical therapy and hydrotherapy sessions, recreational activities and psychological support. Mayana also coordinates the Center of Studies of the Human Genome. She and her team located six genes linked to dystrophy, an important factor for the future discovery of the cure for this disease. They developed genetic tests for the precocious diagnosis of at least 50 illnesses. During the last three years, the biologist faced a tough challenge: convincing politicians and religious figures of the importance of the research involving embrionary cells, in order to attain the legal approval of this type of research. Successful, she celebrates: “What I most want now is to work with these embrionary cells and try to discover a treatment for the dystrophies.”

Centro de Estudos do Genoma Humano, Universidade de São Paulo Associação Brasileira de Distrofia Muscular (Abdim)