What was our journey through science so far?
I graduated in Biotechnology at the University of Padua (Italy) with an experimental thesis on gene and cell therapy in 2005, when this was a relatively new topic. I then moved to Bristol (UK) for my PhD, working on the isolation of a novel progenitor population from human saphenous vein leftovers from cardiac patients. This turned out to be a pretty interesting population of cells, able to promote vascularization of ischemic tissues both in peripheral limbs and infarcted hearts. Following this, I worked at King’s College London on the use of tissue engineering to prepare vascular grafts for coronary bypasses. In these projects I worked on the differentiation of stem cells to be seeded on decellularized blood vessels in a bioreactor to produce synthetic vessels resembling the natural structures. This experience encouraged me to decide to focus my research on the interaction between cells and biomaterials. I therefore joined Imperial College London, working in the Materials Department in the lab of Prof Stevens, one of the best labs in this field. At Imperial I collaborated with a number of very talented material scientists, as a result we devised a new synthetic material for vascular grafts and developed a nanomaterial-based system for in vivo gene therapy. More recently, I have been appointed as a lecturer at the University of Surrey, where I am working to establish my own research group.
What research you do and what do you think its impact?
My main research topic is the use of endogenous/adult stem cells for tissue engineering applications and in particular for the development of bypass/graft substitutes (large vessels). So far the cell population I have isolated during my PhD is approaching human clinical trial phase, thanks to my initial work and to the valuable contribution of so many other talented and determined people. My more recent work on tissue engineering and nanomaterial-based gene therapy is still under development, but I hope one day it will become clinically relevant.
What is the next step?
In September I started at the University of Surrey as a lecturer in Molecular Cardiovascular Biology. In my new appointment, alongside some teaching duties I will be setting up my research group (and lab). My research interests focus on the use of biomaterials and stem cells to produce a model of the vascular wall and the use of a bioreactor to mimic the pathophysiological conditions experienced by the vascular cells in vivo. The model will allow the study of cell-cell interactions and leukocyte extravasation in normal and pathological conditions. Establishing an in-vitro model of the vasculature enables the study of several diseases and their vascular complications, such as diabetes and viral infections.
What was your experience with co-organising the ISRMN network?
I really enjoyed co-organising the meetings of the ISRMN, it has given me the amazing opportunity to interact and network with many interesting and valuable colleagues by challenging my natural ackwardness. It has made me also more aware of the organisational hurdles and the amazing feeling of accomplishment that comes with putting together a successful meeting. Of course the interaction with Dina and Marta has been very constructive and taught me to value different approaches and inspired flexibility and passion for science.
What was your most fun and most inspirational time in the lab/ in science?
During my PhD, I used to spend a lot of time in the lab, almost never sitting at my desk (a luxury that I don’t have anymore) and my mood used to depend a lot on my results, although lately I have learned that your mental health depends on being more detached. I still remember the day I burst into my PhD supervisor’s office (yes, literally…he is a very understanding man) shouting: I have got some cells!!! They grow like embyroid bodies. And he said: No way! If it’s true we will call them ‘Paoloids’ (we are both called Paola/o). I think his support during my rather difficult PhD and his enthusiasm not only made me work super hard, but also showed me what real passion for science is.
What you will miss from Imperial College?
Imperial is a great institution with amazing resources and facilities that are surely unparalleled. But most of all I will miss the people I met here. I had the chance to work with great minds and this was at the same time humbling and encouraging.
Overall, I would say that is important for young scientists to learn that failure and patience are two inevitable facts of the scientific life. This is not to say it’s sad or not worth the effort; it is to say that everyone experiences the same setbacks as you and these difficulties are only stepping stones which will form your character and create the correct attitude to develop your career. I want to say this because many valuable scientists (and especially many women, including me) tend to feel alone in their path to success and give up thinking other people have it easy.