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Institute for Research in Biomedicine
Istituto di Ricerca in Biomedicina

Via Vincenzo Vela 6 - CH-6500 Bellinzona
Tel. +41 91 820 0300 - Fax +41 91 820 0302 - info [at] irb [dot] usi [dot] ch

Fellowship IBSA Foundation 2019, accolades to Tommaso Virgilio

on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The IBSA Foundation Fellowships awards five scholarships each year to young researchers from universities and research institutes around the world who have distinguished themselves for their skills and have ongoing projects of particular relevance in specific areas of research in the medical discipline. Tommaso Virgilio, PhD student in the group of Santiago González at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB, affiliated to USI), is among the winners of the seventh edition, for his research in the field of dermatology.

Tommaso Virgilio studied Veterinary Medicine at the University of Milan. During his studies he developed a passion for scientific research, which led him first to the research laboratories of the Carlo Besta Neurological Institute in Milan, and then to the IRB, in Bellinzona where he began his doctorate in the laboratory lead by Dr. Gonzalez. His research project focuses on melanoma, a highly malignant tumor, which easily creates metastases. "Melanoma is one of the so called hot tumors that are the ones more easily recognised by the immune system, which, however, is not able to eliminate it. I became interested to understand why there is no inflammation capable of eliminating the tumor. Indeed, our research consists in observing how the immune system - via the lymph node, which is the first organ where metastases form - reacts to the metastasis dissemination. We are trying to understand which mechanisms block the inflammation and the elimination of metastases and how we can modify them for a possible therapy", explains Virgilio.

The IBSA Foundation's Fellowship for scientific research will support this research activity. "The current emergency has not allowed us to hold the usual award ceremony, but this stimulates us to move forward with even more enthusiasm" commented Silvia Misiti, Director of the Foundation. "We have all become more aware of the fundamental role that scientific research plays in protecting our health. It is therefore necessary to continue to support researchers, because their work is the most powerful weapon we have to defend ourselves against a pandemic, and also the source of new therapies". It is with this spirit that Virgilio tackles laboratory work, changing his daily routine due to the COVID-19 emergency: "The current situation highlights how our work has a real impact on everyday life.  Sometimes, our discoveries might be perceived as irrelevant or far from a possible application in a short time, thus, far from reality. Yet, in these moments, the significance of our work is re-evaluated as the only one that can find a solution to such health problems". Some IRB laboratories are currently focusing in particular on COVID-19, but there are many areas of research that continue to be studied and investigated in depth. "I find important to remind that on the one hand we should all contribute to the fight against the current world’s biggest emergency, theSARS-CoV-2, but on the other hand, it is also important to continue our research against other diseases, which did not stop to affect patients" Virgilio points out.

What fascinates Virgilio the most in his work as a researcher is to work at the borderline between what is known and what is still unknown and yet to be discovered: "Our task is to use what we know to discover what is not yet known. We are sort of explorers of nowadays, we explore unknown territories and bring them to the surface" he concludes.