REPORT ON RESEACH ACTIVITY 2011-2014
The shared mission of the biological, medical, surgical, and public health disciplines pursued under the auspices of the Department of Biomedicine and Prevention is to study new prevention methods and procedures through biomedical research, and how to effectively implement these in Italy’s national health service. The Department also investigates new risk factors, biomarkers, models, and techniques for both the prevention and treatment of common and rare diseases.
To that end, basic research conducted by the Department has produced numerous in vitro and in vivo experimental models for the characterization of processes that regulate embryonic development. These studies have enabled the delineation of several molecular processes aimed at controlling the processes involved in DNA methylation, cell cycle progression, and response to drug treatments. Models for in vitro screening of new molecules with potential pharmacological activity have also been produced.
With regards to infectious diseases, the molecular mechanisms of HIV infection have been investigated and, with a focus on evaluating predictive factors of drug response, the developmental effects on breastfed babies of mothers undergoing treatment for HIV have been studied.
Studies into degenerative diseases have mainly focused on neurological and degenerative disorders (atherosclerosis and diabetes). In particular, experimental models have been developed that have enabled the characterization of certain molecules (frataxin) and genes (SMN) involved in Friedreich’s ataxia and spinal muscular atrophy respectively.
Genetic studies conducted have helped to establish the role played by certain genes in human diseases such as diabetes mellitus type 2 and spinal muscular atrophy.
Numerous anatomo-clinical studies, evaluating the expression of specific biomarkers correlated with plaque vulnerability, have shown that organ damage from acute cerebrovascular syndromes is correlated to thrombosis of a carotid plaque, rather than to the degree of vessel stenosis.
In the field of oncology, more recent studies have been aimed at identifying potential biomarkers of the onset and/or progression of the disease. In particular, certain proteins involved in different stages of tumor progression (CLIC1 in glioblastoma; FMRP in breast cancer; and clusterin in colorectal cancer) have been characterized. In addition, some microRNAs have been identified as tumor markers (miR-221/222; and miR-128).
Numerous experimental studies have enabled innovative therapies to be made available in the diagnostic, medical, and surgical fields. Of particular note, a recent study has shown that acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) can be beaten without chemotherapy.
Research into new imaging techniques combined with computational modeling and massive parallel computing has allowed non-invasive diagnostic methods to be developed for the diagnosis and characterization of the microstructural alterations underlying many neurodegenerative diseases, as well as for the analysis of liver, breast, and prostate disorders, and for quantifying the risk associated with repeated head trauma. Furthermore, the application of radiofrequency models has enabled the development of protocols for the percutaneous ablation of breast and liver tumors.
Research conducted in the field of regenerative medicine and surgery has enabled the development of cutting-edge methods for using synthetic biomaterials, stem cells obtained from adipose tissue and other tissue, and growth factors contained in platelets. In addition, mini-invasive surgery techniques have also been developed both for thoracic and vascular surgery with a view to reducing operative risk in patients.
Special attention has also been focused on interactions with environment. In this regard, interactions with environment and humans of particulate matter produced by new technologies (nanotechnologies) have been studied. Research has also been conducted into the biocompatibility of synthetic materials to facilitate the in vivo regeneration of damaged tissue.
In the field of service organization and delivery, a strand of research worthy of mention has focused on prescription and treatment adherence, health education, and training of medical and health personnel, involving analysis of healthcare approaches most apt to bring about a more rational use of scarce resources, and hence create potential savings for hospitals and publicly-run hospital facilities.