Good luck to Jo and Leo, you both deserve to win!
1991-1996 Liceo Scientifico (Rm), there’s no equivalent here, but it should be something that includes GCSE and A level
1997-2002 Biological Sciences at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”; 2002-2006 PhD in the same University
2006-2008 Postdoc at the Insitute Gustave Roussy, Paris, France
Postdoc research assistant
Insitute of Cancer, Queen Mary University of London
Favourite thing to do in my job: The excitement of when I am just about to find out if an experiment worked
I am a virologist trying to use viruses as a weapon to kill cancer
I have always thought that it was thanks to my Science teacher that I fell in love with Biology, till a couple of years ago when, while in the lab, I suddenly remembered an episode from my past. I was about 5 and I asked my mum what do intelligent people do and she told me: “They become scientists”. I didn’t have a clue of what that meant, but maybe this is when it was written in my destiny that I would become a scientist!
Since the beginning I have worked with Adenovirus (myimage2), not too bad a virus, considering that it can just give you a cold the first time that you meet it, but you won’t notice if you have a second encounter. Viruses are really clever, they are very small and compact, and they can manipulate completely a cell so that the cell starts doing only what the virus wants. The good news is that we are learning how to manipulate Adenovirus, so that it does what WE want: a magic bullet for cancer. The idea is that you inject it into a patient and the virus can only replicate and kill the cancer cells, without bothering the surrounding normal cells. This is what I’ve been working on for the last 8 years (gosh, time flies!) trying to make sure that this virus is really leaving the normal cells doing their business, while being super efficient at killing the bad cells. A way to make this more efficient is to give the virus together with low doses of chemotherapeutic drugs.
While I haven’t changed very much the subject of my research in all these years (and there is still soooooooo much to do and to know before we’ll be able to give these special viruses to patients), what it has changed is where I have done it. This is because Science gives you the great opportunity to move around to do your work in different labs. So, after getting my PhD from Rome, I moved to Paris (loved the city, learnt a bit of French, found new friends) and then, about 2 years ago, I moved to the UK to continue my work in a lab in London and to finally join my English man (that I’m going to marry in October, by the way).
I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue this journey in Science (nothing is perfect and even if doing research is beautiful, the career of a scientist is pretty hard and competitive), but even if I’ll have to leave it, it will have all been worth it!
My Typical Day
7:15 train from Cambridge in the morning, 18:15 train from London in the evening- everything in the middle!
I usually like starting the day doing a list of things to do. The activities can be very different, depending on which part of the work I am doing.
At the beginning you think of a question that you want to answer (e.g. how does the virus kill the cells?) and you formulate a hypothesis, an idea that you have of how this event happens. You think of an experiment that would help you answering the question (the planning part, at the desk in the office), reading about what the others have done in similar situation and how that can help you in the study that you are doing.
Then there is the technical part, that is when you do the experiment and there is a lot of walking up and down going in different rooms, the one where you can work with human cells, the one where there are special machines (big, expensive microscopes for example). This is the part that helps me keep fit!
After the experiment, there is the analysis of the results (back in the office) to see if they respond to the question that you have asked yourself initially. All this can take weeks, depending on how complex is the experiment and how many times you have to repeat it, because it often doesn’t work the first time :-(.
Sometimes you are interested in analysing what’s happening to the DNA, sometimes to the proteins, sometimes you want to see the whole cell at the microscope. This means that even if the steps that take you from asking yourself a question to the answers are the same, the way you can get to the answers are incredibly varied. At the end of my day, I check my list. If I have ticked most of the things that were on my list, then it was a good day!
What I'd do with the prize money
Organise a Science communication day at the school in my village
It would be really nice if I could organise a Science day at the School from the village where I come from. I could contact scientist friends from different fields and ask them to come to talk to the kids about their work and their life as a scientist and with the money I could pay their journey expenses.
It could be a sort of mini-I am a Scientist-get me out of here!, but face-to-face.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
energetic, sociable, fair
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Changing the mind of a couple of students that didn’t like science at first
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Naaaa, I was quite disciplined apart from the fact that it was impossible to make me shut up!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Indie music: The Killers, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes…but my soft side likes a lot Yann Tiersen (the guy that did the soundtrack of Amelie)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Wondering around the streets of Istanbul and ending up in a bar hidden in a house by following the beautiful music that was coming from the local band playing live to a private birthday party…surprisingly, we were welcomed in!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) Always be as happy as I am now; 2) Travel around the world to experience different cultures; 3) Improve the situation of Research in Italy
Tell us a joke.
My italian jokes are all lost in translation :(