What is your area of research specialism and what attracted you to it?
Since I was young, my dream was to become a researcher to discover new cures for the deadliest diseases. I am a biotechnologist with a PhD in molecular and regenerative medicine and I have always been working on stem cells, both in tissue homeostasis and in pathological conditions. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have unique properties: they regenerate tissues, secrete trophic factors and have immune-modulatory properties. Working on a stem cell project is challenging, but also very exciting!
What has been your proudest research accomplishment so far?
I am very proud of having contributed to the knowledge of how stem cells work in different contexts, in particular in cancer development and aggressiveness. My highest accomplishment is to continue to contribute to this field by unravelling how the properties of MSCs can be used as a therapy for devastating and life-threatening diseases such as encephalopathy (brain damage) of preterm babies.
What is the most important question you want to address in your research?
With PREMSTEM we want to identify the best timing, route of administration and cell modifications in order to optimise and maximise the effect of our cell therapy. This approach, associated with the possibility to stratify patients based on brain damage and aetiology (cause of the condition), has the potential to improve the life expectancy and the quality of life of babies born too early affected by neurological diseases.
What is your lab’s role on the PREMSTEM project?
I will coordinate all of the Chiesi team’s activities for the PREMSTEM project. Chiesi will be responsible for supplying MSCs to be used in experimental settings. We will also support the PREMSTEM consortium by offering our expertise in the field of neonatology, stem cells and product development at different levels, including regulatory, commercial and clinical. Finally, we will contribute to structuring a plan for the translation of project results into a therapy for the patient.
What is innovative about PREMSTEM? Why is this research important?
PREMSTEM is innovative because of many reasons: first, it is a multidisciplinary consortium. The project involves, among others, clinicians, biologists, pharma and patient/consumer representatives. Moreover, it will allow the testing of our cells in 18 different models of the disease, truly a unique possibility. This project is important because more than 50% of preterm babies suffer from brain injury and to date, no therapy is available to treat this condition.
What is the most significant outcome you hope PREMSTEM can achieve?
In five years we aim to provide a clinically ready research program for the regenerative treatment of encephalopathy of preterm babies with stem cells. This offers a unique therapeutic opportunity for these patients which in turn translates into an improvement of their and their family/caregivers’ quality of life as well as a reduction of the economic burden of the disease on society.