Urological research institute

Extracellular vesicles and toxins


Staff researcher

Riccardo Vago


The Extracellular vesicles and toxins group is focused on the study of the molecular and cellular mechanisms leading to the tumor onset and progression with the aim to develop personalized medicine approaches for unmet clinical needs through identification of new targets and understanding of disease fundamentals and heterogeneity.

Research activity

Main fields of research include, but are not limited to:

  • Characterization of molecular and functional properties of evolving cancer. We dissect the roles of lncRNAs as drivers of oncogenic functions during carcinogenesis and tumor development by regulating other non-coding elements and protein effectors.
  • Development of toxin-based therapeutics for targeted treatment of tumors. We designed recombinant chimeric proteins as fusions between the plant toxin saporin and the peptides able to selectively recognize features typical of cancer cells and tumor microenvironment. Direct activity and target specificity are confirmed in vitro and translated into preclinical models.
  • Development of exosomes as drug delivery systems in cancer therapy. We have developed different approaches to load vesicles with anti-tumor molecules and equip them with targeting moieties to specifically hit tumor cells.
  • Identification of biomarkers to implement non-invasive monitoring of tumor progression. Through collection of liquid biopsies from cancer patients (urines in urological malignancies), we evaluate the expression of lncRNAs, as key players in the tumor development, and investigate their employment as prognostic and predictive biomarkers in the clinical setting.
  • Study of the mechanisms leading to male infertility to identify defective spermatozoa and enhance fertilization success rate. By analyzing main components of the environment where spermatozoa have matured, we demonstrated that exosomes play a key role in the process of cell motility and capacitation and can distinguish healthy, fertilizing spermatozoa from defective, non-fertilizing ones.