Question: What were your first thoughts after having received the news that you are the winner of the European Vision Award 2009?
Prof. Marigo: When I received the news that my research has been acknowledged the European Vision Award I have been very happy and flattened. I think that it is important for a lab to know that your peers in Europe appreciate your work. It gives you and your collaborators a new input to continue your research in the lab.
Question: What are the major aspects of your present research?
Prof. Marigo: My research focuses on molecular mechanisms underlying genetic diseases that impair vision such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP). We apply molecular biology, biochemistry and cell biology techniques to identify molecular pathways affected in murine models of human diseases of the eye. We studied one form of autosomal recessive RP caused by mutation in the PDE6B gene and demonstrated that the activated apoptotic pathway does not involve executor caspases but AIF and caspase-12. We also confirmed that calpains are key proteases activating these apoptotic factors in the degenerating retina. We are now studying cell death in two other models of the disease: a transgenic mouse expressing mutant rhodopsin and a mouse with rhodopsin gene inactivation. Our interest now focuses on development of in vivo treatments with therapeutic molecules to rescue degeneration.
As an independent approach to treat blinding diseases we are studying retinal regeneration by photoreceptor transplantation. To this aim we are developing in vitro protocols to differentiate functional rod photoreceptors apt for retinal regeneration.
Question: How would you appraise the future in your specific field? What are your predictions for new emerging fields?
Prof. Marigo: The recent application of gene therapy in Leber’s congenital amaurosis opens new perspectives for the cure of blindness. This is important for gene replacement but the use of viruses provides us also with new tools to deliver molecular engineered drugs to stop degeneration. Thus, viral delivery of therapeutics is of much interest to me.
In the last years we witnessed important advances in retinal transplantation either with synthetic devices or with cells. I believe that this emerging field will progress in the future and will bring new therapies to cure blindness.
Question: Which role has European research collaboration for your work?
Prof. Marigo: In the last 4 years I have been involved in two European research project: one involving a very large group of researchers in the eyes coming from all the different European countries. This has been a wonderful and very important experience for me because twice a year I could discuss and compare my studies with the best European scientists in my field. This project also opened important collaborations with European colleagues. The second project was an educational project for training young researchers in vision research. Now that this program is over I can say how much it has been important for vision research. In fact, some of these young researchers remained in the field and we are still collaborating.
Question: How would you advise young colleagues who start their career as scientists in Vision Research & Ophthalmology?
Prof. Marigo: In Europe we have outstanding labs for Vision Research, so my advice is to spend some time in different labs to acquire new techniques together with different perspectives for the scientific question that you want to address. This will help not only to technically ameliorate yourself but also to really enrich your knowledge and open your mind; this is the first step for a young scientist to be ready to forward his own new ideas.