Università degli studi di Trieste

Trieste, Italy

The University of Trieste (UNITS) is a research-intensive university, counting more than 650 research and teaching tenure positions and more than 17.000 (including Bachelors, Master and MD degrees).
It has 10 Departments covering three disciplinary areas: i) Life Sciences and Health, ii) Social Sciences and Humanities and iii) Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Chemistry, Engineering and Earth Sciences.

UNITS is 5th best university in Italy (U.S. News – Best Global Universities Ranking 2017).
It is embedded in a dynamic, international and high-tech environment that comprises several local interrelated research institutions.

Two departments of UNITS are involved in PreCanMed: the Department of Life Sciences and the Department of Medicine, Surgical and Health Sciences.

The Department of Life Sciences (DSV) counts 80 faculty and about 200 non-permanent staff members. The activities of DSV span from Biomedicine to Environmental Biology, Psychology and Cognitive Sciences. Research in the area of Biomedicine is particularly active and includes biochemistry of metabolism, pharmacology, molecular oncology, biomaterials for tissue engineering, neurodegenerative diseases and pharmacogenomics.
DSV has a strong track record in recruiting, coordinating and managing grants and in carrying out financial, administrative and managerial tasks in European research projects. DSV has participated either as coordinator or as partner in 14 projects financed and co-financed by EU in the last 4 years.

The Department of Medicine, Surgical and Health Sciences (DSM) counts 13 full professors, 41 associate professors, 38 researchers and 54 technical-administrative staff members, 47 research fellows and 46 PhD students.
DSM conducts both scientific research and educational as well as healthcare activities, spanning several areas of medicine and integrating different disciplines. DSM activities are carried out in 3 different Poles: Cattinara Hospital, Maggiore Hospital, and IRCCS Burlo Garofolo.
Research at DSM is both basic and clinical. The main research lines deal with the molecular, cell biology and genetic mechanisms underlying the physiopathology and pathogenesis of a gamut of diseases. Aiming at ultimately developing innovative targeted therapies, several research lines addresses, among others, population genetics, molecular biology, methods to culture cells, regenerative medicine, biobanking, and experimental models to study human diseases. In particular, DSM has competence and know-how in tumor molecular diagnostics based on last generation technological platforms. Under a specific institutional agreement, DSM has open access to a clinical study centre for Phase I trials on new drugs targeting solid tumors. Moreover, it has an oncological area and competent personnel to be dedicated to Phase II and III studies on solid tumors.

The DSV and DSM are recognized as Departments for Excellence by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) and both cooperate with several institutes and scientists at the regional, national and international level.

Group leader

Giannino Del Sal

Giannino Del Sal is full Professor in Applied Biology at the University of Trieste, where he is also Director of the Department of Life Sciences. He studied biology at the University of Trieste and had his research training at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in Trieste (Italy), at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg (Germany), and at LNCIB in Trieste where since 1996 he has been Head of the Molecular Oncology Unit. He also worked as a visiting scientist in the Laboratory of Cell Biology of the US biotech company Mitotix Inc. in Cambridge, Massachussets. In 2001 he was appointed by the University of Trieste as full professor in Applied Biology.

Since the beginning of his scientific career, his research has been mainly focused on tumor biology, embracing and integrating the study of the mechanisms of tumor suppression in health and cancer, the investigation of the role of different oncogenic pathways in cancer development and metastasis, as well as more translational activities devoted to the development of new tools for cancer therapy.
He has provided many contributions to this scientific field. Del Sal was the first to clone the Sonic Hedgehog binding protein GAS1, and to characterize its functions in the context of growth arrest (Del Sal et al. Cell 1992; Del Sal et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1994). His team discovered new post-translational modifications (Gostissa et al. EMBO J 1999) and sub-cellular localizations of the tumor suppressor p53 (Fogal et al. EMBO J 2000),
as well as new regulatory mechanisms of p53 and p53 family proteins (Zacchi et al. Nature 2002; Mantovani et al. Mol Cell 2004; Mantovani et al. Nat Struct Mol Biol 2007; Drost et al. Nat Cell Biol 2010). Focused on key signal transduction events in cancer, he highlighted the role of the prolyl-isomerase Pin1 in the control of proliferation and maintenance of both normal and cancer stem cells (Rustighi et al. Nat Cell Biol 2009; Rustighi et al. EMBO Mol Med 2014). His team discovered the contribution of Pin1 to the oncogenic functions of mutant p53 (Girardini et al. Cancer Cell 2011) and characterized the proteasome machinery as a key target of a common gain-of-function program shared by diverse missense mutants of p53 in cancer (Walerych et al. Nat Cell Biol 2016). He also discovered new hormonal and metabolic mechanisms of control of YAP and TAZ, two major oncoproteins (Sorrentino et al. Nat Cell Biol 2014; Sorrentino et al. Nat Comm 2017); and by using drug repositioning approaches identified compounds able to target YAP/TAZ in triple negative breast cancer (Sorrentino et al. Nat Cell Biol 2014). The last findings provided the rational for the design and activation of two ongoing phase II clinical studies in Triple Negative Breast Cancer Patients (EudraCT numbers 2014-004194-16 and 2016-005112-17).

Del Sal holds two patents (US8822420 B2 and WO2012172511 A1) and to date he has authored 120 papers including articles and reviews.

He is member of several scientific societies and advisory boards at both national and international level.

In recognition of scientific achievements, in 2006 he has been honored with the membership in the international scientific academy EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization).

team member

Maurizio Cortale

Maurizio Cortale is Director of the Chest Department in Cattinara Hospital Trieste since 2008. He obtained his degree at the University of Trieste Medical School in 1985. In the same year he passed the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates and a few years later the specialization in General Surgery and Thoracic Surgery.

Maurizio Cortale centered his interests in oncologic surgery mainly in the fields of lung cancer and mesothelioma.
In the organizational field, in 2009 he developed first in Italy a Fast Track Surgery Program in the specialty of Chest Surgery. Such program had as primary goal a very rapid recovery and discharge of patients after surgery.

More recently he collaborated with psychologists in enhancing the training of nurses in promoting patient engagement (Barello et al. Front Psychol, 2017).

In the oncologic field he collaborated in reviewing important aspect of mesothelioma therapy (Sobhani et al., Future Oncol 2017). He also collaborated in a publication on chemokines involved in the early inflammatory response and in pro-tumoral activity in asbestos-exposed workers (Comar et al. Lung Cancer, 2016)

To date he has authored 2 and collaborated with 12 peer-reviewed scientific publications.

team member

Elena Campaner

Elena Campaner has been post-doc at the University of Trieste in the Molecular Oncology group headed by professor Del Sal since 2017. She obtained her research training at the University of Trieste and at LNCIB, in Trieste, under the supervision of professor Del Sal, and obtained her PhD in Molecular Biomedicine at the University of Trieste in 2017.

The research interest of Elena Campaner is centered on the investigation of the role of different oncogenic pathways in cancer development and metastasis, as well as more translational activities for the development of new tools for cancer therapy.

During her PhD Elena Campaner identifies a small molecule inhibitor of the prolyl-isomerase Pin1, which she proved to be effective in inducing death specifically in cancer cells and in blocking metastasis growth in vivo (Campaner et al. Nat Commun 2017).

To date she has authored 2 peer-reviewed scientific publications, including one research article and one review.

team member

Fabrizio Zanconati

Fabrizio Zanconati is the Chief of the Pathology Unit of Trieste University since July 2013, and covers a position as Associate Professor of Anatomic Pathology (SSD MED08) at the Department of Medical, Surgery and Health Sciences at the University of Trieste since 2006.

The research interest of Fabrizio Zanconati is centered on Breast Pathology. In particular, he deals with new diagnostic methods, with with a special focus on predictive prognostic markers and molecular tests for molecular target therapies.

During his past career Fabrizio Zanconati diagnosed and investigate more than two thousand new breast cancers using morphological and molecular analysis. He is the Pathology referent in Trieste Breast Unit (Eusoma certified since June 2016). Particular interest was spent in cytological investigations.

To date he has authored 95 peer-reviewed scientific publications, including research articles and reviews.

team member

Alessandro Zannini

Alessandro Zannini is a post-doc at the University of Trieste (UNITS) in the Molecular Oncology group headed by professor Giannino Del Sal. He obtained his research training at the University of Ferrara (Ferrara, Italy) and at the University of Trieste (Trieste, Italy).

The research interest of Alessandro Zannini is centered on understanding key processes that impact cancer initiation and progression, with particular focus on cancer stem cell. Moreover, he is interested in the development and optimization of cell based techniques to culture mouse and patient derived cancer cells.

During his career Alessandro Zannini discovered molecular mechanisms that controls cancer stem cell expansion and chemoresistance in breast cancer (Rustighi Zannini et al. EMBO Mol Med 2014; Sorrentino et al. Nature Communications 2017). Moreover, he contributed to the discovery of key molecular mechanisms whose inhibition in cancer strongly reduced cancer cell proliferation and aggressiveness (Campaner et al. Nature Communications 2017; Taccioli et al. Oncotarget 2015). He acquired knowledge in the manipulation, extraction, culture and analyses of primary cell and stem cells from mammary tissue of both mouse and human origin.

To date he has authored 7 peer-reviewed scientific publications, including research articles and reviews.