Marco Cassani: The iCARE-2 fellowship is a dream come true

Marco Cassani Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher in the Cardiovascular System Mechanobiology (CSM) Research Team achieved significant success. With his project “Mechanobiology-mediated nanoparticles-cells interactions to develop immunotherapy against breast cancer” he received the iCARE-2 fellowship, co-financed by the Italian AIRC Foundation for Cancer Research and the European Union within the Marie Skłodowska-Curie event (H2020 – MSCA-COFUND-2017, grant agreement No 800924).

What exactly will Marco Cassani research at the International Clinical Research Center of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno (FNUSA-ICRC)? We asked him in a short interview.

How did you come to Brno?

Around 1 and a half year ago I participated at international workshop for an European exchange project RISE, which aims to promote the mobility of researchers from different countries. There I met Giancarlo Forte – my present chief, of which, of course, I had no idea at the time. After completing my PhD in Italy I was looking for a Post Doc position, because I wanted to face new scientific challenges and to enlarge my research network. I remembered RISE and I realised that Giancarlo, together with Francesca Cavalieri (the project coordinator from Melbourne) was looking for researchers willing to join this exchange network. That was exactly the opportunity that I was looking for and allowed me to find much more than a job. A part from the excellent facilities that I found in the CTM’s laboratories, I found Brno a pleasant city, safe, friendly and relaxed. I also had the chance to discover the beauties of the country, from Adršpach to Český Krumlov and to meet its genuine and sincere people.

What exactly will be your research?

The title: “Mechanobiology-mediated nanoparticles-cells interactions to develop immunotherapy against breast cancer” may appear complicated, but the main goal of my project is simple and straightforward. Cancer cells use different strategies to survive the attack of our immune system, deceiving and evading its response. In this phenomenon, the mechanobiological processes of cancer cells play an important role. Briefly, mechanobiology is the discipline that studies the way in which cells adapt their behavior to the external environment and experimental tests highlight its role in communication between cancer cells and immune cells. My project has the dual purpose of tackle both the mechanobiological pathways at the basis of the immune system inhibition and to restore the activity of immune cells against cancer. To do this, smart nanoparticles specific for the tumor niche and able to carry compounds for inhibiting the mechanobiological responses and stimulating the immune system at the same time, will be used. The synergistic approach of the project is expected to improve the effectiveness of therapeutic treatment.

What does this success mean to you?
From a professional point of view, it represents immense satisfaction because it is achieved in the field where I decided to devote my efforts, the research on cancer. From a personal perspective, this success crowns a dream began many years ago. Briefly, it’s a fundamental step for the success of my research and I have always considered winning a research project, such as the one from AIRC. Certainly, I also hope to contribute significantly to the scientific impact and research outcomes of FNUSA-ICRC, thus confirming the excellent and productive work environment that CTM was able to build up in few years. Being part of this research excellence on the European landscape is extremely motivating.

What are your other goals?
First, I would like to establish an unprecedented point of contact between nanomedicine, immunology and mechanobiology. To do this, the primary objective is to develop a procedure as simple, fast and cheap as possible for the synthesis of nanomaterial that can be made available to laboratories with different backgrounds. This could also favor the translational success of this nanomaterial. The use of complex in vitro systems will be the other fundamental point that will guarantee a deep understanding of the interactions between nanoparticles and cells before more advanced experimentation. I also want to established new collaborations with national and international research groups and reinforce the already existing ones. Indeed, the cooperation between scientists and groups from different background and skills is the key for the effective implementation of research outcomes to meet society needs and build up a trustable and reliable scientific system.