Story of ordinary passion. When you can’t do without the search.
I spent my childhood and adolescence between books and white coats. Medicine was a permanent guest in our house in Rome, crowded with children, pupils, students, discussions and comparisons. Obviously, live with a father, famous professor, was not easy. The household presence of a luminary, however, has decisively contributed to set up my values, inciting me to imitate him and, at the same time, to distinguish myself from him, but anytime according his high moral lesson.
Thus, unique among five sisters, I decided that medicine and research would have been my field of action. In contrary motion and with a bit of ambition, I threw myself headlong in the studies, achieving very positive results for most people, but always judged just sufficient by the family. It’s a classic example. Therefore, I got graduation with full marks, specialization, and a long period working in Paris, with the pleasant feeling of being anonimous, at the laboratory of "Biochimie Genetique" at the “Hopital Cochin”.
I spent a little more than three years working on a research project aimed at creating transgenic mice expressing the X protein of hepatitis B virus, arriving in 1992 to undertake teaching at the University of Paris V. It’s difficult to describe in a few words that unforgettable experience. Let's say that I have experienced as a kind of trial by fire, initiation into a world still predominantly male and strongly imbued with competitive spirit. I think I have well exceeded, refining the character and, above all, the working method. Since then – I was less than thirty years old – I decided that my career would have developed on three complementary ways: teaching, research and assistance. I believed, then as now, that exists a reciprocal and continuous influence among the three activities: a good phisician is frequently also a good teacher and sometimes a good researcher. In a way, the same clinic relies on these pillars, to which is added the experience, the patience and a kind of "vis naturalis", a character and a spiritual predisposition to the diagnosis and management of therapy.
Therefore, briefly the highlights of my career, that can be summed in a scholarship awarded in 1990 at the European Molecolar Biology Organization (EMBO), for research on hepatocellular carcinoma and, after diversified and tiring experiences of teaching, assistance and research, in the overcoming the competition for Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of L'Aquila (1992), that, the following year, gives me the responsibility for the teaching of Internal Medicine. During those years, I teach not only to the Degree Course in Medicine and Surgery, but also to the Degree Course in Dentistry and Dental Implants, Biotechnology, Nursing, and in addition at numerous schools of Specialization (Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, Cardiology, Clinical Allergology and Immunology ). In that period, I was also head of Clinical and Biomolecular Hepatology Unit at the University of L’Aquila.
Then, it begins an intense period of “two jobs" between the University of L'Aquila and Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Rome "La Sapienza", where I'm responsible for the correct carrying out of clinical trials based research projects; if that was not enough, at the same time, I was committed to create and direct the Laboratory of “Viral and Molecular Oncology” at the Francesco Balsano Foundation, already Andrea Cesalpino Foundation.
Finally, in 2006 I won the competition for Full Professor in Internal Medicine at the University of L’Aquila.
As is natural when you are actively engaged in experimental research, commitments increase.
I became evaluator of national and international projects, becoming one of the experts of the Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Health (NIH), and I was chosen as a referee for a quite number of scientific journals as Hepatology, Gastroenterology, Journal of Hepatology, Oncogene, Cancer Research, Journal of Cell Physiology, Liver International, etc. In addition, I participated in the scientific activities of several associations: Academy of Sciences, Medical Academy of Rome, European Association for the Study of the Liver, Italian Association for the Study of the Liver, Italian Society of Internal Medicine, Italian Society of Gastroenterology, Italian Society of Biophysics and Molecular Biology.
In the meantime, I got married (obviously to a doctor!) and I had the joy of two adorable children. My loved ones have always been the driving force of my work, and a constant point of reflection on the true essence of life.
Let's go back to the career; I bring forward significant activity, especially in the field of research: patents, publications, essays, lectures, lectiones magistralis. The details are written in my full Curriculum Vitae published on the institutional site of IBPM.
However, at this point, I can't avoid refer an experience that was for me very important and formative. On April 6th 2009 a terrible earthquake devastated the city of L'Aquila and destroyed most of our university facilities. The “MIUR” and the University decided to form a "task force" to rebuild not only the buildings for teaching, but also the research laboratories. I was delegated to the latter function and spent about two years in a room of the Ministry, in Kennedy Square (I still remember it was the room 108), developing activities of reconnaissance, analysis and technical support that, over time, have begun to give significant results. So much that, in June 2013, the Minister for the Territorial Cohesion, Professor Carlo Trigilia said that the government would undertake to make L 'Aquila a city of culture and research, showing in this way the project, reconstruction and revitalization.
In the meantime, during my job of teaching, research and assistance, it was concluded the complex procedure that allows me to assume the direction of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Pathology (IBPM) of National Research Council (CNR).
A key passage, the most important moment of an experience that surpasses twenty years of work. I can’t hide the emotion of the moment. The CNR is the reference point for the Italian scientific movement, for all the men of culture who aspire to construct complex stuffing, contributing to the growth of their country and the international community.
Obviously, there cannot be edification without organization. In Italy, unfortunately, for organize it is necessary to contend with the administration and bureaucracy. Well, in little more than a year of work at IBPM, I learned about the back-office structures that achieve significant results at the international level, not only by virtue of the extraordinary expertise and dedication of the researchers, but also thanks to help of the administrative structure that supports them.
It’s true, our journalism is full of bitter narratives, stories of unappreciated researchers forced to emigrate, of untapped potentiality, lack of links between research and industries. However, practicing the labs of my institution and the executive offices of the CNR, I developed the idea that, independently of the prejudices and some episodes of clear underestimation, the "anarchist" and "individualist" model, on which the interminable flow of our activity is based, appears highly competitive compared to situations much more hierarchical and homogeneous. This not means that the combination of expertise does not give more strength and competitive ability, I’m only emphasizing a characteristic of Italians: the individualism. Ours is the country of Galilei and if the intellectual obstinacy, which make treasure even of self-referentiality. The country in which the pure research, which can’t never be considered on the basis of production capacity, remains top of mind of every researcher who, with strength and self-denial, try to deeper his knowledge of Medicine and Science of Life.
- I am asked what are the strengths and weaknesses of the magnificent structure that hosts us, helps us and feeds us. I'll be honest and, using the "emotional intelligence" so named by Daniel Goleman, I list the critical issues that mostly I feel :
- there is a problem of logistics facilities that host researchers that often are awkward, uncomfortable, devoid of those "amenities" that accompany and color the day, triggering the good humor that is the basis of creativity;
- communications circulate with difficulty. There is no perception of an active network, capable of triggering "feedback" with high added value. I do not think it's a problem of technologies and tools, in large part it is a defect setting. It depended on me, I would try to organize "quality circles", in the manner of the old Cambridge (including tea and pastries);
- lack of a structured and unified negotiating capacity on available funding at national and international level. I’m thinking to the copious funds in Europe, to Horizon 2020 and to all occasions that the system of "fund raising" makes available. Atomising the deal is exhausting and unproductive, perhaps it would require a pooling of demand, to be entrusted to a dedicated structure that facilitates and organizes the "matching" between supply and demand;
- it needs to finally decide and clearly subscribe as it is organized and can evolve our relationship with the University. To date, the processes of optimization of the skills still seem insufficient and contradictory. We can sure do better. On the other hand, living within the facility, one perceives the existence of a great cultural sediment, a multi-faceted knowledge that has accumulated through generations of scholars, teachers and researchers, a knowledge that makes it possible, even today and despite the downturn, to bet on the future of Italy.
So, space for young people! To whom I advise not be afraid, entering into the forest of our profession animated of so much motivation, holy patience and confidence in their own resources. We have a wide audience of beautiful minds, grown on not only quantitative but also qualitative educational basis. We are children of Leonardo and Galileo, it is true, but also of Virgilio, Leon Battista Alberti, Vivaldi, the Classical High School (which I attended with great joy, deciding there of my destiny).
Today there arises insistently the problem of proper gender policy, and I think this biographical sketch has also the aim of emphasizing the delay and failure that our world determines for equal opportunities. Based on my personal experience, I have to say that - in the research world and in particular in the CNR - the gender difference is not as marked as in other professions. Although it must be said that, even today, with regard to the roles of political and administrative management, the prevailing habit is to favor male figures.
In conclusion, a self-taught by the will (as he said himself the great musician Pierre Boulez) are convinced that there is still much room for growth and improvement for the Italian research. The objectives of conversion sustainable and inclusive of the growth model are within our reach, because individuals and communities are aware of this, and the solutions - in medicine, biology, economics, earth sciences - are at the bottom of hand.