Alumni Relations

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EMBL in… Italy 2017

Dedicated to Riccardo Cortese, Friday 5 May 2017,

“EMBL in Italy” attendees

At the “EMBL in Italy” event at the Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine (TIGEM) near Naples on 5 May, more than 100 participants from EMBL and institutes across Italy gathered to share ideas and expand their networks. Dedicated to the memory of EMBL alumnus Ricardo Cortese, the event included talks from EMBL staff and alumni as well as representatives from research organizations across Italy. Here we catch up with three alumni at the event.

Diego Medina

At EMBL: 2000-2004, Postdoc, Minichiello Group

Diego Medina, EMBL Alumnus, Head of High Content Screening at TIGEM

Now… Head of the High Content Screening Facility at TIGEM in Pozzuoli, Italy

At EMBL… “I remember my time at EMBL as one of my most formative periods on both a personal and professional level. I found myself really motivated by other researchers’ enthusiasm. I highly recommend working there!”

Since then… “I worked as a scientist at a big pharmaceutical company. This marked a shift in my career path, leading me to focus more on translational work.”

And now… “I have two research focuses at TIGEM, one with my team and another as an independent investigator. My team at TIGEM focuses on supporting internal research on the drug discovery pathway, from the development of cell-based high content assays to the analysis and identification of compound/gene hits upon screening.

As an independent investigator, I focus on the fundamental biological role of lysosomal function in health and disease using state-of-the-art high content imaging (HCI), cell biology, and omics approaches. The challenge and opportunity to balance both areas of research is the part of my job that I most enjoy. My major goal at TIGEM is to work with collaborators to identify at least one drug that can be translated to clinics as a novel therapy against a rare genetic disorder.”

Laura Ferri-Fioni

At EMBL: 1991-1995, PhD student, Leberman Group

Laura Ferri-Fioni, EMBL Alumna, Head of Life Sciences at the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation

Now… Head of Life Sciences Division at the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation

At EMBL… “I especially enjoyed the international environment and the free exchange on different scientific approaches. On a personal level, my time at EMBL led me to the best results I’ve ever gotten doing in vivo DNA replication: my son Lorenzo, who was born during my time at EMBL.”

Since then… “I completed two postdoctoral positions, one at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission and the other at the Pasteur Institute. Following my second postdoc, I became assistant and then associate professor in the biology department at the École Polytechnique, where I led research projects, developed new teaching techniques, and helped connect students to the research that goes on in labs.

I was also head of corporate partnerships and careers, which meant I helped to create, develop, and implement new partnerships between academic researchers and members of industry.”

And now… “As Head of the Life Sciences Division at the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation, I bridge research and philanthropy. By providing funding opportunities for top life science researchers, I hope to support further scientific exploration into emerging areas.”

Gennaro Ciliberto

At EMBL Heidelberg: 1979-1987, Staff Scientist, Cortese Group

Gennaro Ciliberto, EMBL Alumnus, Professor at the Magna Graecia University

Now… Professor of Molecular Biology at the Magna Graecia University of Catanzaro in Italy and Scientific Director of the Regina Elena National Cancer Institute

At EMBL… “My time at EMBL was the best time in my life – and not just because I was young! Back when I started in 1979, EMBL had been very recently established and was coloured by a very enthusiastic and collaborative atmosphere. I had no other duties besides research – no teaching duties, a fully-funded lab without the need to seek additional funding. I was lucky to have had a great lab head, Riccardo Cortese, and an excellent relationship and productive collaboration with Lennart Philipson, who was Scientific Director and went on to become EMBL’s second Director-General. Last but not least, during my time in Heidelberg I became father to my only child Carlo during a foggy night at the beginning of November 1984 – a night I will never forget!  “

Since then… “After leaving EMBL, I became Associate Professor of Genetics at the University of Pisa and then Professor of Molecular Biology in Napoli, Italy. I was later asked by Riccardo Cortese to become Director of the Cellular and Molecular Biology Department at the Istituto Ricerche di Biologia Molecolare (IRBM) outside of Rome, a position I accepted with great enthusiasm. I also founded a small biotech company called Takis, dedicated to cancer research. Later, I was appointed Scientific Director of the National Cancer Institute in Napoli.”

And now… “As Scientific Director of a cancer institute, I enjoy fostering translational research between different groups of investigators. Together with my wife Rita Mancini, who is also a professor, our research focuses on the mechanisms of drug resistance in cancer. I still rejoice when one of our papers is accepted for publication, just as I did when I was still a young scientist.”


Phil Avner, Head, EMBL Monterotondo
Andrea Ballabio, Scientific Director, TIGEM
Federico Caligaris-Cappio, Scientific Director, AIRC
Gennaro Ciliberto, Director, IRCCS National Cancer Institute “Regina Elena”
Antonella De Matteis, Cell Biology programme coordinator, TIGEM
Graciana Diez Roux, Chief Scientific Officer, TIGEM
Lucia Faccio, Director of Business Development, Telethon
Marco Foiani, Scientific Director, IFOM
James Hackett, Group Leader, EMBL Monterotondo
Paul Heppenstall, Group Leader, EMBL Monterotondo
Diego Medina, Head, High Content Screening Facility, TIGEM
Alfredo Nicosia, CSO & Co-founder, Okairos
Carmine Settembre, Assistant Investigator, TIGEM
Elia Stupka, Director, Computational Biology & Genomics, Boehringer Ingelheim


Phil Avner, Head, EMBL Monterotondo
Graciana Diez Roux, Chief Scientific Officer, TIGEM
Diego Medina, Head, High Content Screening Facility, TIGEM
Mehrnoosh Rayner, Head of Alumni Relations, EMBL



Want to get involved?

If you would like to help organise alumni events in your country, or get involved in other ways, please contact the Alumni Relations team.

Did you know?

EMBL has 284 alumni in Italy of which 250 are Italian. 229 alumni work in academia, 22 work in industry and 33 work in other sectors. Cities attracting most alumni are Rome (63), Naples (29) and Milan (29).