Prestigious Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council awarded to Renato Ostuni
Publication date: 14-04-2023
Updated on: 18-04-2023
Estimated reading time: 1 min
In the beggining of the 2023 European Research Council (ERC) awarded Consolidator Grants, Europe's most coveted research funding for scientists at an intermediate stage in their careers.
The winner of one of them, worth €2 million for five years, is Renato Ostuni, head of the Innate Immune System Genomics Research Unit at the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) and associate professor of Histology at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University. In 2017, Prof. Ostuni was the winner of an ERC Starting Grant for young researchers.
"Winning an ERC grant is difficult, getting 2 consecutive ones is quite rare because of the high competition and prestige of the funding. It is an award that rewards our scientific vision and promising achievements in recent years. In addition, it is a confirmation of how the integration of scientific, clinical and academic research excellence in our Institute provides fertile ground for elaborating and developing frontier projects," explains the San Raffaele scientist.
Renato, born in 1983, a mountaineer and trail runner, has a degree in Biotechnology from the University of Milan-Bicocca and a doctorate in Molecular and Translational Medicine. He joined San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) in 2015 with a goal to develop new regenerative medicine approaches for genetic diseases and cancers by combining advanced genomic analysis of the immune system with genetic and cellular engineering techniques.
Today, he heads a laboratory of 15 people, in which biologists, physicians and bioinformaticians work side by side to decipher the principles underlying the development and function of the innate immune system, the body's first line of defense against infection and the onset of many diseases, such as cancer.
The first major ERC Starting Grant set the stage for the winning project. In the course of these studies, Ostuni's research group in fact identified a subset of macrophages (a type of immune system cells) with a special feature: they were able to amplify an inflammatory state, promoting pancreatic tumor growth.
"Thanks to the Consolidator Grant, we will work to find strategies to genetically reprogram these macrophages to promote activation of the immune response against the tumor," Ostuni explains.
To do so, the group will develop 3 research objectives:
- to identify genes or drugs capable of modulating the activity of these macrophages so as to awaken their antitumor activity;
- to observe the effect of macrophages thus reprogrammed on the tumor microenvironment in animal models of the disease;
- to study behavior of these macrophages in their 'natural habitat,' the tumor tissue, through innovative spatial transcriptomics technologies that can unravel the molecular characteristics of thousands of individual cells in their microenvironment and understand how they interact with everything around them.
"Our studies have shown that the subset of macrophages we identified in pancreatic cancer is also present in other types of cancer. We also suspect that these cells are involved in tissue repair processes after damage. The hope is that the strategies we are developing may allow us to modify the tumor microenvironment and stimulate protective immune responses while driving new regenerative medicine approaches for treating certain genetic diseases."
Professor Ostuni's research results have been published in major scientific journals and have earned him major awards, such as:
- election to the Technical Health Committee of Italian Ministry of Health;
- conferment of Italian and international awards;
- support from the most competitive funding agencies.
"Doing research is like running an ultramarathon in the mountains. No matter how much you train, you are never really prepared for all the unknowns and difficulties you will encounter along the way; you tackle one climb at a time, keeping the end goal in mind, but not forgetting to enjoy the view! To stay with the metaphor, the Consolidator Grant is a refreshment station with plenty of great food about halfway through the race. A boost of energy to arrive near the finish line in the best condition," the professor concludes.