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The UniSR researcher Marco De Giovanni awarded the ERC Starting Grant

06 September 2023

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the awarding of 400 Starting Grants to young scientists and scholars across Europe. The grants - totalling €628 million - support cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields, from medicine and physics to social sciences and humanities.

Among the 57 Italian researchers who obtained the funding, selected through a rigorous competitive process lasting almost a year, there is Marco De Giovanni, UniSR researcher in the Division of Immunology, Transplantation and Infectious Diseases directed by Professor Matteo Iannacone, Full Professor of General Pathology at UniSR.

The winning project

The research project De Giovanni won his starting grant with aims to investigate how different regions of the intestine or airways react in the presence of infection or inflammation. The intestinal and respiratory mucosal membranes, in fact, are not homogeneous organs, but rather composed of different specialized sections from the anatomical point of view. Each section has adopted unique defense strategies to maintain local tissue balance. This includes changes in the composition of the epithelial cells, the integrity of the mucosal lining and the specialization of the immune system, a process which in its entirety is referred to as 'regionalisation'.

Understanding how the immune system adapts to these various regions, and therefore which processes it implements, could lay the foundations for a more targeted medicine, capable of intervening on specific areas of the mucosa depending on the disease to be treated, thus improving efficacy of treatment and minimizing side effects.

"I am grateful for this prestigious recognition because it allows me to consolidate my new research laboratory right here in Italy, at the San Raffaele Hospital, thanks to the Giovanni Armenise Career Development Award, which allowed me to return to Italy to carry out the my independent research. Our aim will be to study how receptors that control the migration of immune cells can contribute to the development of effective immune responses in the context of inflammation, infection and cancer – explains De Giovanni -. I chose San Raffaele because it represents a unique research center in Italy, which combines different research skills in a highly interdisciplinary environment. Furthermore, the close interaction between clinicians and researchers provides an ideal environment for basic and translational research, which is essential for my research project.”

The researcher Marco De Giovanni

Marco De Giovanni, born in Taranto in 1989, is a researcher specialized in the study of the migration of immune cells, with profound expertise in advanced techniques such as intravital microscopy and spatial transcriptomics. He obtained his PhD in Basic and Applied Immunology and Oncology at UniSR under the supervision of Prof. Matteo Iannacone. Subsequently, he continued with a postdoctoral period in the United States, collaborating with the high-profile HHMI laboratory headed by Prof. Jason Cyster at the University of California, San Francisco. He has been awarded several prestigious awards and research grants, including those from international bodies such as EMBO and the Cancer Research Institute. In 2023, he obtained the prestigious Giovanni-Armenise Career Development award, which allowed him to return to Italy to set up his independent research laboratory at the San Raffaele Hospital and the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University.

The ERC Starting Grant funding

The ERC, established by the European Union in 2007, is the main European organization that works to encourage excellent research by funding young, brilliant and creative researchers of any nationality and age. This funding, part of the EU's Horizon Europe programme, will be invested in scientific projects spanning all research disciplines. The important recognition, awarded today to Marco De Giovanni, contributes to increasing the prestigious San Raffaele medal collection which reaches 20 grants awarded in these years of history of the European funding programme.

Prof. Iannacone comments:

ERC funding is a fundamental tool for us European researchers because it allows us to start research programs in our country, without having to 'flee' elsewhere. Not only that, these regular calls from the European Research Council are able to attract brilliant young people who want to move to Europe to start their study projects. Thanks to the victory of four ERCs, I myself was able to follow a similar path to my student Marco De Giovanni: after training at UniSR, thanks to this funding, we were both able to return from the United States and carry out our work as researchers in UniSR, in the university where we trained”.

Prof. Gherlone, Rector of UniSR adds:

"I am happy and proud that the European Research Council has decided to fund the work of one of our researchers - Dr. Marco De Giovanni - while rewarding the quality of our university's research. A peculiarity of UniSR is the strong integration between teaching, clinic and research, in a context of continuous exchange with the San Raffaele Hospital and with the other hospitals of the San Donato Group. In this synergy its winning model lies, always internationally recognized and able to attract the brightest minds in their respective fields. Over the years, 16 UniSR researchers have been able to access 19 ERC grants, one of the most prestigious and competitive on our continent, managing to develop their projects in their home country, without having to emigrate to foreign countries: an excellent result for our university and even more for the cultural progress of our country, in the enhancement of its best minds."

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