Do you know the stereotype of the researcher? Here, Monica is the exact opposite: sparkling, sunny and full of interests: during the day she takes care of her cells in our laboratory in Vimodrone, in her free time she goes wild dancing Zumba and relaxes by gardening. She has just been the protagonist of our latest webinar “Fluid-dynamic multi-in vitro organ (MIVO®) applications for cancer cell plasticity” then repeated at the invitation to the Chemistry Department of the Sapienza University of Rome. Meet Monica, senior scientist and Reac4lifer!
Monica, tell us about yourself, who are you and what do you do when you are not in the laboratory in Vimodrone?
I need to practice some physical exercise: it’s a real regeneration for body and soul! I have lot of fun with Zumba fitness workout, and I feel satisfied after running. When summer begins, I love to wake up earlier in the morning and to relax having a walk in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, it’s so peaceful! I love cooking/I’m quite good at. Recently I discovered gardening/I’m not as good yet ☹
What are your educational and professional experiences (focus on scientific details) before becoming a react4lifer?
After graduating in Drug Biotechnology, I obtained the PhD at the University of Milan. Tumor biology has always been fascinating for me, since the first Biology and Pathology University classes. I then decided to build a scientific career in that field. Specifically, I studied melanoma biology and the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the activity of novel anticancer compounds. The rising of immunotherapies made me very curious about the biological interactions between cancer cells and immune cells. Therefore, I decided to have a Post-Doctoral experience at the Beckman Research Institute of the City pf Hope National Medical Center, Los Angeles, one of the American forefront hospitals in the immunotherapeutic field: a very enriching experience both from a scientific, humane and cultural point of view. I came back to the University of Milano in 2019, when I started a research project focused on the crosstalk between melanoma stem cells and tumor-associated neutrophils, until the beginning of this year, when I started working at React4life.
What convinced you to move from an academic to a company?
This is the first experience in a company for me. My conviction arose from the idea of a more structured organization, with a precise focus, directed toward practicality, usability and an immediate impact on the improvement of biomedical research. Worth noting, I moved to a company that believes in biomedical research, and that is founded on it. That’s really important for me. There can really be a fine line between the academic and the company-based research.
How is your typical day in the laboratory dealing with MIVO and cells?
The very first thing that I do every day in the lab is checking the cells at the microscope: this is what dictates my lab day. Cells are living entities, you can plan and schedule every single minute of the day, but if the cells are not as healthy as you need, you must be ready to completely change your plans according to them. Usually, the goal of my experiments is to compare standard culture conditions with MIVO culture conditions… and everyday is and appreciated surprise!!
As a scientist and researcher, what do you expect from this new experience?
My expectation is to learn… we never stop learning! Knowledge means progress. And viceversa, progress leads to knowledge. I would like to bring a significant contribution to the MIVO project, and generally speaking on oncology in vitro models. I would like to give my contribution from an experimental point of view, as well as bringing new ideas and projects. React4life is characterized by high multidisciplinary interconnections: I am sure that this open-minded environment will make me grow from different point of views.
Speaking of microfluidic systems and 3D models, as a biotechnologist, do you think they are the future of research? How do you imagine React4life in ten years?
In the oncology field, where I am more experienced, there is a concrete need of models that faithfully recapitulate the processes occurring in the human body. For years we based our research on simple experimental models (such as the 2D tumor cell lines), before shifting on animal models. However, the rise of immunotherapies, beside to the era of precision medicine and personalized cellular therapies (such as the CAR-T), the old experimental models are reductive. I think that React4life is going toward the right direction, with the potential to greatly support the biomedical research. In ten years? It’s nice to imagine a consolidated company, with different Divisions, each specialized in a precise biological field.
One more question, what are the main challenges of biomedical research for you?
The main challenge is to reproduce the human physiopathology in the lab. This will help in the better characterization of the molecular mechanisms of different pathologies. Meanwhile, it will provide highly reliable platforms for pharmacological screening. Only in this way it will be possible to accelerate the development of innovative therapies for diseases that are unfortunately still uncured.