Ricercatori ASTRA

Synergy Grant for the First all-Italian Project on the Diagnosis and Control of Neurodegenerative Diseases

The project ASTRA received a Synergy Grant from the European Commission and is the only all-Italian project in its category. The study will focus on the formation of protein aggregates in neuronal tissue, which are at the root of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

ASTRA (ASsembly and phase Transitions of Ribonucleoprotein Aggregates in neurons: from physiology to pathology) is the first all-Italian project that receives a prestigious Synergy Grant from the European Research Council, the programme dedicated to pioneering projects that bring together researchers with complementary resources and competences. The project, which is the result of a collaboration between Sapienza University and the Italian Institute of Technology, will focus on understanding the molecular causes of neurodegenerative pathologies, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

Participating researchers are Irene Bozzoni (Sapienza Department of Biology and Biotechnology and Centre for Life Nano Science- CLNS-IIT), Giancarlo Ruocco (Department of Physics and Coordinator, Rome CLNS-IIT) and Gian Gaetano Tartaglia (ITT Department of Biology and Biotechnology).

The complexity of these diseases requires the interdisciplinary approach fielded by ASTRA that integrates molecular biology, imaging and computational biophysics. Indeed, ASTRA will address one of the most complex issues in the study of neurodegenerative diseases: the formation of protein aggregates in neuronal tissues.

The added value of the project is represented by its use of new methodologies. On the one hand, the use of RNA to monitor, prevent and dissolve pathogenetic aggregates, and, on the other, microscopy to visualize the formation of aggregates, in vivo, during the early stages of pathologies through an efficient, non-invasive method for early diagnosis. A further innovative element is represented by the use of theoretical methods for the study of aggregate composition, along with experimental methods.

“Amongst many, there are two aspect that particularly please me. First,” explains Irene Bozzoni, “the opportunity to work in close contact with colleagues in other disciplines will allow not only the exchange of technical-scientific knowledge, but also to understand different concepts and scientific codes. And this will be very useful to reach our objectives and drive cultural and scientific development, especially for young researchers working with us. The second aspect concerns my research focus: the role played by RNA in a range of pathologies. I am happy that its importance has been recognised for the regulation of the processes leading to neurodegenerative disease.”    

New optical technology,” explains Giancarlo Ruocco, “allow us to identify the presence of small protein aggregates in the retina, a sign of the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases, allowing us to make an early diagnosis. This will have repercussions not only on mass screening, but especially to make clinical trials more feasible and tests on drugs that can be efficient against neurodegenerative pathologies, if the therapy begins before the insurgence of neurological deficit.”

“This project,” adds Gian Gaetano Tartaglia, “wants to break down the barriers between scientific fieldsand promote the synergic development of projects. Indeed, this freedom of investigation will allow us to create new jobs for researchers. I would like to dedicate this important achievement to two great scientists: Italian Computational Biologist Anna Tramontano, who introduced me to Giancarlo and Irene, and my mentor at the University of Cambridge, Chris Dobson, who passed away just as we were being interviewed in Brussels.”

During the course of 2019, the European Research Council assigned 40 Synergy Grants for a total of €400 million, including 4 Italian projects. ASTRA, which is the only all-Italian project in its category, was financed for over €7.8 million.


Further Information

Irene Bozzoni - irene.bozzoni@uniroma1.it
“Charles Darwin” Department of Biology and Biotechnology

Giancarlo Ruocco - giancarlo.ruocco@roma1.infn.it
Department of Physics 

Gian Gaetano Tartaglia - giangaetano.tartaglia@uniroma1.it
“Charles Darwin” Department of Biology and Biotechnology


Wednesday, 13 November 2019

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