San Raffaele Hospital will host 2 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellows

The results for the very competitive Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) Postdoctoral Fellowships 2023 call were announced. 42% of the awardees are women, among them Dr Caitlin Abbott and Dr Veronica Pini who will be carrying out their research at San Raffaele Hospital. With €260.47 million allocated, nearly 80 nationalities represented and 45 countries across Europe and the rest of the world in which the researchers will work, the MSCA awarded fellows represent the excellence and the future of European research.

Dr. Caitlin Abbott: unravelling the role of hepatic FOXP3+ Treg cells in health and disease

Dr. Caitlin Abbott grew up and studied in Adelaide, Australia, obtaining a PhD under the guidance of Prof. Shaun McColl and Dr Iain Comerford. She was then looking for a lab doing exciting science and the Dynamics of Immune Responses lab of IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele was perfect for offering her the possibility to work on an exciting project with cutting-edge techniques. Under the supervision of Prof. Matteo Iannacone, Dr Abbott will work on understanding the role of hepatic FOXP3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells, a subpopulation of immunosuppressive T lymphocytes that modulate the immune system responses. She will investigate Treg cells in homeostasis, and in models of chronic hepatitis B virus infection, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Through analysis of Treg cell characteristics, localization, and function they aim to identify novel molecules that can be targeted and potentially provide therapeutic benefits in liver diseases.

Prof. Matteo Iannacone, professor of Pathology at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University and director of the Division of Immunology, Transplantation and Infectious Diseases, says: "We are absolutely delighted to have Caitlin join our lab, following her prestigious achievement of securing a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship. Her project, exploring the intricate role of regulatory T cells in liver health and disease, is not only a testament to Caitlin’s exceptional talent and dedication but also a pivotal step forward in our quest to unravel new therapeutic pathways for liver diseases. Caitlin’s journey from Adelaide to our research environment is a clear demonstration of her unwavering commitment to excellence in immunology. Her decision to undertake this ambitious project in our lab underscores the unique, cutting-edge opportunities we offer for groundbreaking research and collaboration. We are immensely proud to support Caitlin’s work, fully recognizing the significance of her fellowship award. It’s an exciting time for our lab, and we eagerly anticipate the innovative discoveries Caitlin's research is bound to unveil in the field of liver disease and immunology."


Dr. Veronica Pini: new hope for LAMA2-RD muscular dystrophy patients

Dr. Veronica Pini grew up in Grosio, a small village in Valtellina, Lombardy, and graduated in molecular biotechnology at the University of Pavia. She moved to the University College London through an Erasmus Placement project and then stayed since obtaining a PhD in Prof. Francesco Muntoni's laboratory at the Dubowitz Neuromuscular Centre (UCL), one of Europe's centres of excellence in the field of neuromuscular diseases. She then focused her research activity on congenital muscular dystrophy from merosin deficiency (LAMA2-RD) and established a collaboration with Dr Stefano Previtali at IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele, whose lab has long-standing expertise in basic and pre-clinical research on LAMA2-RD. The MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowship is now giving her the possibility to join the San Raffaele Hospital to pursue her research coming back to the region she was born and raised in, still collaborating with her previous lab in London.

LAMA2-RD muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in the LAMA2 gene and by analysing the transcriptome of a LAMA2-RD patient with an atypical clinical manifestation Dr Pini identified a gene, controlling inflammation and fibrosis which play a key role in disease progression. This gene is uniquely downregulated in the muscle of the atypical patient but highly expressed in other LAMA2-RD patients (and in mouse models of the disease). In her project, she will modulate, through CRISPR interference, the expression of this modifier gene and then study the effect on disease severity by in vivo functional tests.

Dr. Pini commented: “San Raffaele Hospital will offer me a stimulating multidisciplinary environment that is difficult to find in other centres. By bringing together expertise ranging from genomics to gene and cell therapy in dedicated institutes on a single campus, OSR facilitates the gap between basic and translational research, fostering the development of new therapeutic approaches for different clinical conditions including muscular dystrophy, the focus of my project.”

Dr. Stefano Previtali, head of the Neuromuscular Repair Laboratory of the Institute of Experimental Neurology (INSPE) at IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele, adds: “I am very pleased that Veronica Pini has been awarded this prestigious Marie Curie Fellowship from the European Union. Dr Pini will be working on a very ambitious project that will perfectly complement the ongoing studies in our laboratory and will allow us to identify new mechanisms underlying muscle and peripheral nerve damage in severe LAMA2-RD disease. We hope that these studies will lead to the generation of new and effective therapeutic strategies for this important and progressive disease that unfortunately currently has no cure.”