An international team including scientists working in Italy as well as the U.S., London and Switzerland will compose the jury of 15 top scientists for the second edition of the “Lombardy Is Research” Award. The jury first presented itself on the morning of 19 February at the Palazzo Lombardia on the 39th floor. These scientists with a mix of competences and backgrounds will be at work from now through 8 November (a date marking “Research Day” instituted last year by the Regione Lombardia) to select the researcher who is to receive the 1 million Euro award, an amount larger than that of a single Nobel prize. As established under Regional Law of 12 January, the winner will be selected among researchers in the field of precision medicine, the true frontier of current biomedical research.THE ROLE OF THE FIRST WINNER
The sessions of the first operational meeting of the jury were introduced by Professor Pier Giuseppe Pelicci, full professor of Pathology at the University of Milan and Scientific Director of the Department of Experimental Oncology at the IEO (European Institute of Oncology) in Milan, whose research activity focuses on the study of molecular genetics. Doing the honours was Roberto Albonetti, Managing Director of University Research and Open Innovation area. Alongside him was the winner of the first edition of the Award, Professor Giacomo Rizzolatti, director of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Parma, who made the discovery of mirror neurons (i.e., the physiological basis of empathy and hence the social character of humans), who has been collaborating with the Niguarda Hospital in Milan for many years. In fact, this hospital facility was designated to receive a large portion of the 1 million Euro award won by the neuroscientist last 8 November at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
The winner of the first edition of the Award is added to the 14 researchers selected among those placing highest in the ranking of top Italian scientists by the website Via Academy based on their H-index, a value assigned for productivity and number of citations in the international scientific literature. Each scientist represents an excellence in the seven fields specified for this second edition of the Award focusing on precision medicine: Biomedical Sciences, Clinical Sciences, Neurosciences & Psychology, Chemistry, Computer Sciences, Materials & Nano Sciences, Natural & Environmental Sciences.THE WORK METHOD
Serving as president of the jury will be the nephrologist Giuseppe Remuzzi, who was a member of the jury for the award’s first edition. He is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Milan and Research Coordinator at the Mario Negri Institute.
“I think it's wonderful that the Regione Lombardia has decided to hold another edition of the Award. It is the hope of all jury members that it becomes an established tradition,” remarked the president of the jury at the end of the sessions. In this first meeting, appreciation was expressed for the decision to focus the Award on precision medicine, which signifies the reinterpretation of medicine in light of the molecular alterations at the core of several pathologies. By investigating them we can make great advances in developing treatments: the objective is to arrive at different therapies, if not according to the individual, then at least in relation to the same molecular alterations.” There was also approval for another new aspect of this second edition, such as expanding the circle of potential winners: in fact, all researchers with an H-index higher than 50 active in the scope of reference for the Award may be considered, a number in theory that could include over a thousand people. Each of them can submit a form, identical for all applicants, drawn up by the Regione Lombardia “in a process of total transparency.”
“The number of the applicants will make the work of the jury more complex, as we will have to narrow them down to 10 candidates, one of whom will be selected as the winner,” Professor Remuzzi explains, “so we have given ourselves a deadline for gathering the applicants, which is set for mid-May. In June, the jury will hold a second meeting, with the declaration of the winner scheduled for July. The awards ceremony will be held in November along with that to award prototypes designed by four high school students winners of a special competition sponsored by the Regione Lombardia giving ad hoc recognition (another new feature of the second edition) in the sum of 44,000 Euro plus 20,000 Euro set aside for the schools attended by the winners.JURY MEMBERS
In addition to Rizzolatti and Remuzzi, the jury includes some new names within the scope of the disciplines of reference. They are Adriano Aguzzi, director of the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich, a prion researcher known internationally for his studies on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; another epidemiologist, Paolo Boffetta, presently at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, formerly unit head at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, who researches the correlations between the environment and the onset of tumours; Napoleone Ferrara, director of Moores Cancer Center at the University of California San Diego, a molecular biologist who is owed the discovery of the growth factor in cancer cells; Andrea C.Ferrari, who after receiving his degree in Nuclear Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Milan became professor of Nanotechnology and director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, an undisputed authority in the study of the applications of graphene, including biomedical; Alessandro Sette, immunologist who, since 1986, has been working in the U.S. where he now directs the Center for Infectious Disease at the La Jolla Institute based in San Diego, and is also creator of an immense database that catalogues viruses and anti-bodies; Michele Parrinello, full professor at the Università della Svizzera italiana and the Polytechnic Institute of Zurich, physicist and researcher of molecular dynamics, awarded for the development of the Car-Parrinello method for the computer simulation of the movements of atoms and molecules; Vincenzo Di Marzo, director of research at the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry of the CNR in Pozzuoli (Naples) and professor at the Université Laval in Quebec.
Returning to the jury are Roberto Bassi, professor of Plant Physiology in the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Verona and member of the Accademia dei Lincei; the computational physicist Federico Calzolari, ICT Officer of the Normale di Pisa, member of one of the experiments that led to the discovery of the Higgs boson at the CERN in Geneva; Carlo La Vecchia, full professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Clinical and Medical Science at the University of Milan, who has had several international work experiences, including at Harvard and Oxford, as well as in France and Switzerland; Daniela Perani, Head of Unit “In vivo Human Molecular and Structural Neuroimaging” at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan and professor in Neuroscience at that university, expert in the use of Neuroimaging and Pet techniques for the study of degenerative diseases of the nervous system; Paolo Maria Rossini, director of Neurology of the Gemelli Clinic in Rome and lecturer at the Catholic University of Milan, who has long studied the map of neural connections in the brain, known as “connectome”; Peter J. Schwartz, Head of the Centre for Cardiac Arrhythmias of Genetic Origin and the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Genetics of the IRCCS Auxologic Institute of Milan.