A prestigious ERC grant to improve gene therapy

On November 29th, the European Research Council (ERC) awarded € 573 million to 291 researchers from 40 different countries: among the winners, Anna Kajaste-Rudnitski, group leader of the Retrovirus-host interactions and innate immunity to gene transfer Unit at the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget). Her project aims to improve gene therapy protocols by enhancing the efficacy of gene transfer, i.e. our capability of genetically correcting cells before their reinfusion into the patients. If successful, the project outcome could increase the range of diseases treatable using gene therapy and reduce its costs.

Anna KajasteAnna Kajaste

Anna Kajaste-Rudnitski in her lab at SR-Tiget

Born in Finland in 1980, Anna Kajaste-Rudnitski arrived at San Raffaele in Milan after having trained and started her research career at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) in Paris. At San Raffaele, she focused on the interaction between the organism and viruses during infections, particularly the Influenza virus and HIV.

In 2013, Anna Kajaste-Rudnitski established her own independent research group at SR-Tiget and started to apply her previous experience on viruses and the immune system to gene therapy techniques. «In gene therapy, we introduce genetic material into cells to compensate, for example, for abnormal genes. To do so, we use as vectors viruses like HIV – modified and rendered harmless – taking advantage of their capacity to release their content into cells upon infection», explains Anna Kajaste-Rudnitski.

The goal of Anna Kajaste-Rudnitski and her collaborators is to unveil the strategies developed by our body to fight viral pathogens and use them to our advantage. «Not only by temporarily putting these defense mechanisms on stand-by in order to increase the efficacy of gene therapy, but also by strengthening and controlling them during viral infections or when they are abnormally activated, as it happens in many autoimmune diseases», concludes Anna Kajaste-Rudnitski.

Anna Kajaste-Rudnitski is the thirteenth ERC grant awarded to Ospedale San Raffaele over the 11-year history of the prestigious European funding program.