What do you do your PhD in, and what is your research topic?
I work in the field of neuroscience, I work with neurons. My specific research, my project, is about neuro-regeneration, so we are trying to find a way to make damaged neurons to work again.
How and why did you get interested in this topic?
Well, neuroscience in general, the brain in general, has always been very interesting to me, since I was studying biology at high school and then deciding to do biology at university. With everything that I was studying – you know, how the body works -, I realised that it comes from the brain, and we know so little about it. I have always been very curious about it and I said (to myself) I want to go and know more about it, and that is when I started looking for a PhD position in neuroscience.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your research topic?
Yes, so I work with neuroprogenitors. Progenitors means that they are kind of cells who are not neurons yet, but they have the potentiality to become neurons. As these kinds of cells are very interesting for neuroregeneration in general, we are trying to find different approaches to make these cells work again. In my case, we are trying to grow these cells in different areas of the brain to see if they actually work so they can be, in the future, transplanted. This is the main aim of the project.
Is yours a new approach?
Not really, because these kinds of cells are already being transplanted in animals, but it is very difficult to know the destiny of these cells. When you do such a big thing, when you just put cells in the animal brain, you do not really know what it is going to happen, or what these cells can do, so my approach is actually a step behind. We are looking (at this process) in vitro, so we have everything under control and we can actually see what is going to happen and see if these cells need a little help or something else to be functional in vivo later on.
How is your research going to affect society?
Oh well! Ahah. I’m not saying this because it is my project, but I am a very fond of it and I am happy that it is working and that I am having nice results, from my point of view. I hope this kind of approach and these results in general can be good for the future of regenerative medicine. So it could be really helpful to see and to state that these kind of approaches works or not in the future.
What motivated you in particular to enter this field of study?
Besides the interest that I always had in the field of neuroscience, I found this position here, in Trieste, in SISSA, and my professor is working with nanotechnology, so she is actually interfacing neurons with nanomaterials. I was attracted by the idea that these kind of things can be the future, so that is why I was really willing to come to this specific lab.
What makes you get up of bed, what motivates you in the morning?
Honestly the idea of finishing this project. Because PhD can be very long and can be very frustrating when you do not get good results, and when you have your deadline and other stuff. So now I am in that part of the PhD project where you are actually almost done, so when I get up, and it’s not that I am overthinking my project, but the idea to go there (the lab), to have nice things done, to finish the work and then have a publication, and maybe to go on and move to a different project in the same field. So yes, trying to finish this chapter and then go on is what motivate me.
How do you see yourself in 5 years? What would you like to do?
Well, this is the most difficult question. I have no answer to that, because of the way I am. I am not very thoughtful about the future, I am not making plans. That is me, and that is research. I mean, academia is like this, you never really know. I am going to finish here and then I have no idea if I am going to stay in Italy, or if I am going to move to US or to just stay in Europe. Or, if I am going to get married. I actually don’t have any idea. If you ask me what I would like to do, I would love to be a University professor. I would love to keep doing research, to have my class and to have kids.
What makes life meaningful?
I think the most important thing in life is family, friends, love. I mean, I love my project and I love my work, but work is not life, so people.
What does the world and the society need right now in your opinion?
Humility. I think that now people start to be very pretentious, very arrogant. They pretend to know, they pretend to be stronger than the others, they put themselves before the others and there is no communication. So I really think that everyone of us should step back and listen to the others. Also empathy (is something the society needs.) We should empathise more, because people are very selfish, in my opinion.
What does science need right now?
I think that science needs to get less involved in politics and bond less to money. Because, you know, researches are very much related to money, to grant, and so on. Every kind of topics can be more or less interesting to study depending on the impact and on the money.
I think research needs to discover again the curiosity about pure research and to trust young people more, because they have a more free mind. If you talk to people and professors that have been in research for many years, they think the same old way, because they know how things are working; but instead, young people may not know how things work, but their way of thinking could be a good approach to go to a different direction. So I believe science needs to be more free from the society and to discover the curiosity to study again.
Would you like to say anything else?
Yes, I would say something to young researchers and to biology lovers like me. I’m always thinking if I had the possibility to go back when I was finishing high school and decide to study biology or economics or law or languages, I would change and not do research. Research is hard and future (in research) is very weak, you know? You never get enough money to build your dream house. So I would change it for something more useful, or more understandable by society. But then, if I think about myself 10 years ago and if someone would have said to me “even if you love biology you should do economics”, I would have said No.
I would tell people and students, young girls and boys that love biology, that they can go for it, because it will be worth it if you like doing it, but it is going to be very hard. So weight what you want to do, if you love to study more than having a nice life (kids and family or whatever) then, do it. But think about it.
I loved interviewing Teresa about her research. Neuron regeneration is a very difficult field as neurons usually do not regenerate themselves once damaged.
I believe that her project will be extremely useful to the people affected to brain damage and to the progress of today’s medicine in general.