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Winston-Salem doctor aims to cure genetic disorders before birth

Dr. Grąca Almeida-Porada works with Atrium Health Wake Forest's School of Medicine's biomedical graduate students on research for children with genetic disorders.

WAKE FOREST, N.C. — Ritu, Martin, Caroline and Brady are the names of a few students leading the charge for the next generation of medical pioneers with Wake Forest's School of Medicine's Biomedical Graduate Program. 

The leader showing them the way is Dr. Grąca Almeida-Porada.

"They are here,"Almeida-Porada said. "They work hard. They are my arms in a lab, so they make me proud every single day of my life." 

She's a trained medical doctor, but these days she finds herself in a lab guiding students through breakthrough research as a professor at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

"I stopped being a physician and switched to being an investigator," Almeida-Porada said. "I wanted to find a different way to treat these children." 

Almeida-Porada said she got into research to find a cure for children with genetic disorders. She said 380 million people have a genetic disorder and 30% die before their fifth birthday without a diagnosis.

"One thing that is different from other labs and other researchers is that we try to treat these children before they are born," Almeida-Porada explained.

Almeida-Porada said she needed to leave the doctor's office and be the change in the lab.

"I trained at the time that HIV was very prevalent because we didn't have the appropriate tests," Almeida-Porada said. "Telling one of these patients that they contracted HIV from a certain product was painful." 

Almeida-Porada said not having a lot of treatment options in the late 1980s was a tough time. Today, her students tackle genetic issues head on.

"Does this work?" Almeida-Porada asked. "Will it make an impact? Then, we start studying and educating the next generation of scientists. I think it's so important to teach them how to think and how to fall in love with science. My dream is to find cures for these genetic disorders."