EASO New Investigators United Spotlight

Maria Angela Guzzardi is a member of the New Investigators United Board.

Maria Angela, Please tell us about yourself.

I was born in Pisa, in Tuscany, but my origins are Sicilian, since that is the place where my family comes from and that I consider my home region.

I was an active and curious girl, and in school, I was interested in science and biology, and also in philosophy and literature. After I undertook study in classics, I decided to focus on science and studied Medicinal Chemistry and Technology at the University of Pisa. As an undergraduate, I became aware of my interest in scientific research and in 2010 I completed my PhD in Innovative Strategies in biomedical Research with a thesis on “Dynamic hepatocytes cultures as in vitro models of the liver and the metabolic system”, at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, a joint programme with the University of Pisa. During my PhD I was very motivated and wanted to explore other aspects of scientific research and other realities. Thus, I spent sometime at the Oxford Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM) in Oxford (UK), and then a full year at the Center for Bioengineering in Medicine (CEM), the Harvard Medical School and the Shriners Children Hospital in Boston (MA, USA). Afterwards, I worked as post-doc fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, working on the interaction between hepatitis C virus life cycle and host lipid metabolism. Different work experiences made me realise that I am greatly interested in the complex regulation underlying metabolic homeostasis and by study of the cross-talk between the organs mainly involved in this process of regulation.

In order to gain a deeper understanding in this field, I began working as post-doc in the group of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nuclear Medicine led by Dr. Patricia Iozzo at the Institute of Clinical Physiology at the National Research Council in Pisa, where I still work.

We would love to learn more about your country and the area you live in:

I live in Pisa, which is a lovely student town in Tuscany. Pisa is located about 20 minutes from the sea and about 1 hour from the Appennini mountain chain. The town is famous worldwide for its leaning tower that every year attracts thousands of tourists who take funny pictures pretending to hold up the tower. But if you have the chance to live in Pisa, you can discover that such a small town has a lot of beautiful spots: there is the lovely Arno river that crosses the town just before falling into the Mediterranean sea, there are several historica churches and monuments, the medieval brick wall surrounding the town, and the beautiful Cavalieri square where the historical building of the Scuola Normale of Pisa, formally founded in 1810 by Napoleonic decree, when Tuscany was a province of the French empire.

Please share some detail about your specific professional interests and any research, EU projects or clinical teams you are working with:

In Pisa I am currently part of the Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nuclear Medicine group. My research is focused on the etiology and physiopathology of obesity and type- 2 diabetes, and on the identification of the early mechanisms and markers associated with the development of the above pathological conditions.

My initial interest was the study of glucose metabolism in animal models of obesity and in response to different metabolic conditions by the use of positron emission tomography (PET) imaging technique. In the last years, my interest has extended to the study of the effect of very early exposure to an obesogenic environment. In fact, I have been working extensively on the effect of maternal obesity on offspring cardio-metabolic health, which is the focus of the EU FP7 project DORIAN. During the course of this project, I really came to understand and appreciate that a multidisciplinary approach is of paramount importance when tackling a complex health problem such as obesity, including its development and its complications.

I am also interested in the association between obesity and brain metabolism and function. In the EU FP7 project Neurofast I have been assessing brain response to food cues in a group of women with obesity using PET imaging, and I have explored the hypothesis of food addiction.

How did you find the 2015 EASO NIU Summer School and can you share what you are looking forward to for the 2016 summer session?

Since May 2015 I have been a Board Member of the NIU. The 2015 EASO NIU Summer School was a very successful experience for both young delegates and the EASO NIU staff and the speakers. In fact, it was a good chance to discuss hot topics in the field of obesity, but also to meet and talk with other young researchers from other European countries and share experiences. The summer school 2016 will be even more engaging, not only bus to the important and cutting edge topics that will be addressed, but also because the program includes a special session aimed at helping the new researcher on grant and proposal writing. Moreover delegates will have the chance to present themselves and their work, which I think is a great opportunity, and may pave the way to EASO establishing a European community of new researchers in the field of obesity.

What are your future career plans?

My plan is to develop a stronger expertise in the etiopathology and pathophysiology of obesity and of insulin resistance, and to become an independent researcher. I am working hard to grow a network of international and multidisciplinary collaborations. In order to turn scientific research in helpful treatments for patients’ management, is very important to tackle the mechanisms associated with the development and establishment of obesity, insulin resistance or other pathological conditions. I think that in order to pursue this aim, a multidisciplinary approach is mandatory.

Aside from your professional interests, what are your hobbies and interests?

During the weekend or in the evening during week days I love to participate in sport, such as tennis, and I spend time at the gym. In the summertime, I love walking on the beach just before sunset, when it is less crowded and the weather isn’t as hot, and I enjoy swimming. I also love reading, and I prefer mystery and thriller stories, but I also appreciate classical authors.

I love music and I can play piano, but I regret that I have almost abandoned it in recent years due to shortage of time.