Liceo Scientifico, Italy (=scientific high school), Universita degli Study di Milano, Italy (=undergraduate studies); University of Aberdeen, Scotland UK (post-graduate studies)
Laurea (= BSc(Hons)) in Nutrition and Food Science; PhD in Molecular nutrition
Research fellow at University of Aberdeen; Senior research fellow at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen
Senior lecturer and theme leader for cardiovascular & metabolic health research, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen
Robert Gordon University
Favourite thing to do in my job: Come up with an idea and then plan experiments to prove the idea is correct!!! It is like a game: solve a giant jigsaw by getting lots of data and explain how they fit together!
Apple or pear? Which body shape should I be? My research looks at the link between body shape (=distribution of fat tissue in the body) and obesity associated diseases
I am involved in quite few projects which all aim to study the link between fat tissue in the body and the development of diseases such as cancer or cardiovascular disease. My work involves experiments in the lab using cells isolated from different tissues and looking not only at the expression of specific genes involved in inflammation or stress but also at the effect that some molecules secreted by the fat tissue have on the ability of cells to survive or duplicate in culture. By understanding these links, we hope to be able in the future to design therapies which could stop the development of such diseases in obese individuals.
Another aspect of my work is outside the lab and working with real people!! I am involved in a project in which we interview volunteers and ask them, among other questions, about their food shopping habits and choices of food, and we also take a 3D scan/image of their body. By combining the answers and the image of their body, we hope to understand more about the relationship that people have with food in the context of their daily lives, their communities and where they live, and how that relates to their own biology in terms of body size/shape and general health.
My Typical Day
A mixture of supervising post-graduate and visiting students, attending meetings, on-line lecturing, answering emails and thinking time!!
My day does not start until I have a cappuccino!! Only then I am ready to face what the day brings. First of all, I go to the lab to check if my students are fine or need anything for the day. Then it is emails, lots of them…. and then it is thinking time….come up with new ideas to test in the lab in order to explain how the fat tissue in the body, its distribution and the molecules it secretes could increase the chances we have to develop diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or some types of cancer. In between the above, I attend meetings, lecture on-line to post-graduate students about obesity science and management and mentor early career researchers to develop their research interests and skills. I also spend time writing proposals to get the money to do the experiments and research I like. On a regular basis, I also get involved in outreach activities with school and communities as one great part of being a scientist is to be able to translate what I do in the lab into clear messages which could help the general public to make informed decisions about their health. I like the mixture of research and education that my job involves and to think that, maybe one day far far away in the future, my research might make a difference to people’s life.
What I'd do with the prize money
I will use the money to update the science exhibit we have devised few years ago entitled “Fat Body Slim: Shape Matters!!” (www.fatbodyslim.org) and go back on the road!!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Organised, inquisitive, determined
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
To device, with colleagues, the science exhibit “Fat Body Slim: Shape Matters!” We have travelled with the exhibit from Shetland to Brighton, covering 4,701 miles, visited 23 venues and reached over 22,000 school children and members of the local community in Scotland. On top of this, we have encountered over 75,000 people at science festivals in London (Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and Big Bang Fair), Brighton (Brighton Science Festival) and Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Science Festival and part of the BBC’s Bang Goes The Theory interactive tent). On the way we have met celebrities, Dallas Campbell from BBC’s Bang Goes The Theory, and members of the Royal family, Prince Philip.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My PhD supervisor. After I finished my degree, I had the opportunity to come to Scotland with a scholarship from Italy for 9 months. My idea was to use this opportunity to learn English….. but something clicked when I started to work in the lab with John, later on my PhD supervisor. Twenty years later….. I am still in Scotland and enjoying every minute of being a scientist.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Thankfully no, I always managed to get away without being caught!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
A cook and the owner of a B&B or restaurant
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Andrea Boccelli and Bruce Springsting: very extreme taste!
What's your favourite food?
Risotto…quite predictable coming from the area where risotto rice is grown in Italy
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Working in a lab in Hawaii for 2 weeks….honest I was working hard!!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Wars and poverty to end, enough money to travel around the world, find a way to prevent obesity
Tell us a joke.
What did one lab rat say to the other? “I’ve got my scientist so well trained that every time I push that buzzer, he brings me a snack!”