Excellence and merit: these are the main characteristics with which the researchers supported each year by the Umberto Veronesi Foundation are selected. The winners, Italian or foreign, will continue their studies in the best Institutes and Universities throughout Italy. This year 133 doctors and researchers will be awarded during the annual grant ceremony, the grants awarded annually to the best candidates selected in the fields of oncology, neuroscience, nutrigenomics and cardiology. The event, which will take place Thursday 25 March at 6.30 pm live streaming on the Foundation’s website and social channels and on the website of the Corriere della Sera, also an opportunity to celebrate the work and achievements of researchers of the highest level, as well as the civic commitment of many supporters.
Paolo Veronesi, how was the Foundation born and what is its mission?
The purpose of our activity is the progress of science, a generic statement that is substantiated by two very concrete elements, explains the president of the Foundation and director of the surgical breast division of the European Institute of Oncology in Milan: support for research and immediate disclosure of the results achieved. What is discovered on a scientific level must become everyone’s heritage as quickly as possible in order to translate into benefits with divided. This means not only that the discoveries must pass quickly from the closed laboratory to the patient’s bed, but that everything that is understood in terms of prevention must be transformed into concrete advice for a healthier lifestyle that emphasizes the importance of nutrition and physical activity or smoking cessation.
What are the sectors in which support goes?
As is obvious to the oncology sector (with attention to typically female tumors of the uterus, ovary, breast but also to pediatric ones, in particular acute lymphoblastic leukemia); to cardiovascular diseases (which together with cancer are the main cause of death in societies like ours) and to the neuro sciences which, given the lengthening of life, increasingly pose the problem of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This is accompanied by the interest in nutrigenomics on the prevention front. Discovering the interactions between DNA and nutrition means understanding how food can act, for good or for bad, on our genes. Italy invests little in research compared to GDP: 1.4% against over 2.5% in France and Germany.
We are the country that has fewer stabilized personnel aimed at research: fewer than 5 researchers per thousand employed against over 9 per thousand in France and Germany. Yet we are among the best countries in Europe for quality and quantity of studies and experiments: how can this be explained?
In two ways: to begin with the excellence of le Universit, and in the educational field in general. Our researchers ensure that Italy is among the top five countries in the world by level of scientific publications. But also the role played by foundations, like ours, and by associations that intervene where the public hand does not reach, also counts. The average age of the researchers we will reward is 37 years. The grants awarded cover the research work for two or three years, which means that these people, long-time graduates and with PhDs, have to reinvent their lives very often. It is easy to see why many decide to work abroad where they are welcome and rely on secure funds and secure accommodation.
In Europe, the majority of research sponsored by pharmaceutical companies (74%), only a mini but academic part (15%) or financed in partnership by private companies and public bodies (11%). Here foundations and associations come into play.
It is obvious and right that companies seek profit; and, even if we too aim at a type of research with practical implications that are as rapid as possible, they do not have the same constraints. In the last ten years the approach to cancer treatment has completely changed and is still changing. We no longer talk about organ pathology: breast, prostate, stomach cancer; as of transversal characteristics that unite them. Therefore, the treatment is no longer chosen only on the basis of the site of tumor development, but also in relation to its molecular characteristics, which may differ from patient to patient. We are moving towards a personalized medicine that was unthinkable until recently. And immunotherapy that stimulates the immune system making it more effective in recognizing and destroying cancer cells, has allowed us to change the prognosis, for example, for metastatic lung cancer from a few months to years of survival. This does the research. And of its importance we are all more aware in these bitter times of Covid.
Selected the best candidates for 4 research areas
Among the lessons that this historical period teaches us, during which a virus disrupts our lives, is that of reminding us of the importance and role of scientific research. Now that scientists around the world work tirelessly to develop vaccines and therapies to stop the Covid-19 epidemic, the value of what Fondazione Umberto Veronesi is committed to doing every day is evident: raise funds to finance quality research, to find new and more effective strategies against pathologies that threaten the lives of thousands of people underlines Chiara Tonelli, president of the Scientific Committee of the Foundation and professor of Genetics at the State University of Milan. For the year 2021, 110 research grants for post-doctoral researchers have been awarded, to to which are added 23 training and specialization grants, which will be officially awarded in an online ceremony on Thursday 25 March. The requests received were for 557: the hard and rigorous selection, with the aim of supporting the best candidates in the field of oncology, neuroscience, nutrigenomics and cardiology.
The rigorous selection: how to get funding
To win a research grant, an online public call is required: all applications received are then examined by a scientific evaluation committee, which draws up a ranking based on the proposed research project and the scientific and professional curriculum of the applicants, with particular emphasis attention to the number and quality of scientific publications. The minimum requirement is to have at least two publications, including at least one as a lead author, in peer-reviewed international scientific journals. The pandemic has made it clear not only how essential medical research is to our survival, but also how strategic the progress of science is for the development of the country – Tonelli recalls -. Precisely for this reason, the Foundation continues to maintain its commitment by funding the best researchers and projects of the highest scientific profile that aim to identify effective measures to protect the most fragile individuals, such as cancer patients or those suffering from chronic diseases with a weakened immune system and therefore exposed to various risk factors. The same reason why we have decided to make an extra effort this year and participate in the commitment to support research into therapies, diagnostic systems and detection of the new Coronavirus, allocating 1.5 million euros to investment in research. launched with a tender from the Lombardy Region, with the participation of the Cariplo Foundation.
March 25, 2021 (change March 25, 2021 | 13:37)