The prestigious Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council awarded to Renato Ostuni

Milan, 31st January 2023 – Today, the European Research Council (ERC) awarded the Consolidator Grants, Europe's most sought after research funding for scientists at a mid-career stage. Renato Ostuni - Head of the Genomics of the innate immune system Unit at the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) and Associate Professor of Histology at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University – just won one worth 2 million euros for 5 years. In 2017, Prof. Ostuni was also awarded an ERC Starting Grant for young researchers.

Winning an ERC grant is difficult, getting two in a row is quite rare – due to the high competition and prestige of the funding. This is an acknowledgment that rewards our scientific vision and the promising results we obtained in recent years. Furthermore, this confirms that the integration of scientific, clinical and academic research of excellence in our Institute provides fertile ground for elaborating and developing cutting edge projects " explains the San Raffaele scientist.

Renato, born in 1983, mountaineer and trail runner, has a degree in Biotechnology from the University of Milano-Bicocca and a PhD in Molecular and Translational Medicine. He joined SR-Tiget in 2015 with one goal: to develop new regenerative medicine approaches for genetic diseases and cancer by combining advanced genomic analyses of the immune system with gene and cell engineering techniques.

Today, he leads a laboratory of about 15 people, where biologists, physicians and bioinformaticians work side by side to decipher the principles behind the development and function of the innate immune system, the body's first line of defense against infections and the onset of various diseases, such as cancer.


The project

The ERC Starting Grant – the first important funding – set the stage for the winning project. During these studies, the Ostuni’s research group identified a subset of macrophages (a type of cells of the immune system) with a particular feature: they were able to amplify an inflammatory state, promoting the growth of pancreatic cancer.

Ostuni explains: "Thanks to the Consolidator Grant, we will research strategies to genetically reprogram these macrophages in order to promote the activation of the immune response against the tumor".

With this aim, the group will pursue three research objectives:

- To identify genes or drugs capable of modulating the activity of these macrophages in order to ‘awaken’ their antitumor activity;

- To observe the effect of the reprogrammed macrophages on the tumor microenvironment in animal models of the disease;

- To study the behavior of these macrophages in their "natural habitat" (the cancer tissue), through innovative spatial transcriptomics technologies capable of revealing the molecular features of thousands of individual cells in their microenvironment and understanding how they interact with it.


The objective

Our studies have shown that the macrophage subset we identified in pancreatic cancer is also present in other types of tumors. Moreover, we suspect that these cells could also be involved in tissue repair processes after injury. The hope is that the strategies we are developing could allow modifying the tumor microenvironment and stimulating protective immune responses, while at the same time leading to new regenerative medicine approaches for the treatment of some genetic diseases".

The results of Professor Ostuni's research have been published in major scientific journals and have earned him important recognitions such as election to the Technical Health Committee of the Italian Ministry of Health, the award of national and international prizes, and financial support from the most competitive funding agencies.


The message

Doing research is like running an ultramarathon in the mountains. No matter how much you train, you are never going to be really prepared for all the unknowns and difficulties you will encounter along the way; you face one climb at a time, keeping in mind the final goal without forgetting to enjoy the view along the way! In this metaphor, the Consolidator Grant is a rest stop with abundant, high quality food about halfway through the race. A boost of energy allowing getting close to the finishing line in the best conditions.”