Armenise-Harvard Foundation announces the latest Career Development Awardees

Since 2001, 20 talented individuals have moved to Italy from elsewhere around the world, setting up labs all over the country, from Palermo to Trento.  The goal of the program is to provide a significant financial footing for new Principal Investigators to establish themselves on a path toward a long career in basic science, so mentorship is also important.  The Italian Scientific Advisory Committee is as careful approving host institutes as they are in choosing recipients.  Applications are welcome from basic scientists of all nationalities, who are currently doing a post-doc outside Italy, and wish to set up their own lab at an Italian host institute.  The application deadline is July 15th each year and further information can be found under GRANTS on our website:

Andrea Lunardi, PhD, will move to Italy from the Cancer Research Institute, directed by Dr. Pier Paolo Pandolfi, at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School of Boston. With several years of experience working on projects aimed at understanding the genetic, molecular and cellular mechanisms of prostate cancer, Dr. Lunardi (Instructor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Genetics at the BIDMC since 2012) has been leading the innovative “Co-Clinical Trial Project” developed by Dr. Pandolfi’s team. Starting from September 2014, Dr. Lunardi will head his own group, in the Italian Alps, at the Centre for Integrative Biology (CIBIO) at the University of Trento, and will focus on understanding the mechanisms responsible for prostate tumor progression and resistance to standard-of-care therapies. Inasmuch as the relevance of autocrine and paracrine cell signaling (proteins, nucleic acids, and metabolites) in prostate cancer aggressiveness and treatment outcomes has been largely underestimated, he will concentrate his research on the prostate cancer “secretome.” In doing so, he will take advantage of a vast panel of genetically-engineered mouse models and human prostate cancer cell lines that faithfully recapitulate the most frequent genetic lesions found in prostate cancer patients. Dr. Lunardi sees a deeper understanding of the forces responsible for neoplastic transformation as essential to the stratification of patients into tailored therapeutic regimens based on the genetic profiles of the lesions characterizing their tumors. He describes his scientific plan in the following way: “Overall, my research aims to explore the hypothesis that “secretome” analysis, through mass spectrometry, metabolomic, and RNA sequencing of mouse prostate tumor fluids, which have been collected from genetically-engineered mouse models faithfully mirroring different types of human prostate cancer, may provide fundamental insights into the identification of new “druggable” secreted factors involved in tumor progression, metastasis, and androgen depletion-resistant prostate cancer development. Furthermore, this approach will potentially identify new blood, urine, or semen circulating factors that represent diagnostic biomarkers for discriminating between indolent versus aggressive forms of tumor, identifying early metastasis, and predicting response to specific therapeutic regimens.”

As the third Career Development Awardee to join CIBIO, following in the footsteps of Drs. Marie-Laure Baudet and Sheref Mansy, Dr. Lunardi was particularly drawn to the Centre because of its strengths as an institution that encourages cooperation and scientific exchange between researchers. As he explains, “By linking biology, chemistry, physics, informatics, mathematics, and engineering in an integrative view of basic biological processes, and their derangement in disease, the CIBIO represents one of the most qualified institutions in Italy to accelerate the understanding of the regulatory networks that underlie the progression of prostate cancer,  and explore new and effective methods of therapeutic intervention.”  He believes the new, beautifully-equipped facilities at the Centre for Integrative Biology will be the perfect environment for his work, and Dr. Alessandro Quattrone, CIBIO Director, is equally pleased at the prospect of welcoming an additional Career Development Award recipient to Trento.

Graziano Martello, PhD, will be moving from the University of Cambridge in the UK to the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of Padua, and will be our first CDA recipient there.  Dr. Martello explained his choice of the University of Padua as stemming from its excellent reputation and its being well equipped with the facilities needed for his research.  He is attracted by their extremely successful groups, and is certain it offers the supportive environment he needs to carry out an independent line of research.  His project, Dissecting the Human Pluripotency Network, has a main goal of applying an experimental computational approach to studying human pluripotency.  From the Review Committee’s standpoint, a powerful aspect of his research proposal was this combination of experiments and computational approach. Human pluripotent stem cells potentially represent a great tool, and yet little is known of their biology, so this is an area that could prove monumentally important in future medical research.

Pluripotent cells are able to differentiate into any cell type, which makes them promising in the field of regenerative medicine.  As a result, a greater understanding of pluripotency would be extremely valuable to the field of stem cell research.  Following the ethical questions raised by the use of human embryos in deriving human pluripotent stem cells, the process of reprogramming somatic cells (i.e. cells of the body, as opposed to those of the limbs or the mind) was developed and termed Induction of Pluripotency, or iPS.  These are functionally the same as embryo-derived human pluripotent cells and are fantastic instruments for modeling disease.  Despite the great promise these cells hold, the biology of pluripotent cells is not completely understood.  Specifically, the transcription mechanism that allows the transformation of somatic cells into iPS cells is an area that has not been fully explained.

Dr. Martello has three main aims in this project, to: (1) gain understanding of how the human pluripotent state is influenced by external signals; (2) identify the functional components of the human pluripotent network; and (3) develop a computational model of the human pluripotent network.  For this last goal, he references the iPS cell banks that are currently being developed in Cambridge, United Kingdom and in Kyoto, Japan:  “More than a thousand iPS lines will be generated and their transcriptome and genome will be sequenced.  Those data will be publicly available and, in combination with our computational model, will represent an unprecedented tool to study how genetic variability impacts on a biological process.”  Given how vital pluripotent stem cells are to the burgeoning area of stem cell research, it would be an extremely valuable contribution to be able to elucidate the mechanism behind their behavior.

The Armenise-Harvard Foundation is proud to be able to help bring Drs. Lunardi and Martello to Italy and support their research.  This promising scientific talent will nicely augment the already high-achieving group of CDAs already in the country.