Sara, Researcher and PhD Candidate
On commitment to fundamental research at the service of society.
Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), Bellinzona
What brought you to Bellinzona and why did you choose the IRB?
“After graduating at the University of Pavia in Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Technology, I had the opportunity to work in the pharmaceutical industry, but deep down I felt the urge to continue with scientific research in the field. I was aware of the quality and excellence of the universities and research institutes in Switzerland, and after browsing the Web, I eventually landed on the IRB. I was thrilled by the research conducted in Bellinzona, so I decided to contact the Institute by e-mail, and after a successful interview I was offered a position as doctoral student. I accepted the offer, even though in the meantime I had a competing offer from ETH Zurich and from a few other institutes.”
What is your activity at IRB?
“I am in the Research Group of Professor Antonio Lanzavecchia, which focuses on identifying and characterising monoclonal antibodies. In particular, I am interested in studying a rare and, unfortunately, lethal condition called Light-Chain Amyloidosis. The light-chain of antibodies in certain still not fully understood conditions are capable of forming amyloid aggregates that are deposited in the target organs, for instance the heart, thus causing the hardening of the cardiac muscle and a direct intoxication of the organ, which could lead to the patient’s death within just a few months from the diagnosis.”
Is this a common disease?
“No, it is considered one of the so-called rare diseases, which however are very difficult to diagnose and therefore it is presumed that many people are affected by them without knowing so. Our goal is to identify which factors can lead the light-chains to aggregate and to exert a toxic function.”
Do you use computer simulations as well for your experiments?
“I currently collaborate with the Research Group of Dr Andrea Cavalli, who at the IRB works on the development of theoretical and computational methods for the determination of the structure of proteins from sparse experimental data. Dr Cavalli shares an interest in studying amyloidosis, and I find it interesting that we can collaborate and compare results from the laboratory and from computational approaches, such as the so-called molecular dynamic simulation and the large-scale analysis of sequences.”
Do you see a future in computational methods, and will lab research thrive?
“I believe we should continue in both directions, in parallel. Computer simulations are very interesting for their ability to provide researches with research ideas, which then need to be tested in the lab. The bioinformatic approach is nevertheless a key element in our field because it allows us to analyse vast amounts of data that modern technology provides us with and that cannot be analysed within ‘reasonable’ timespans.”