Italian scientific researchers, despite all the difficulties they face, keep producing excellent results. This time, credit goes to Luca Tiberi. The talented biotechnologist is among the winners of the 2020 edition of the EMBO Young Investigators Award. He is the first Italian to be awarded the prestigious prize dedicated to the best European researchers under 40 in the field of life sciences since 2016.
The prize is an important recognition of the innovative work carried out by Tiberi’s team at the CIBIO, the outstanding Centre for integrative biology of the University of Trento. Their research, which is based on the study of organoids created in laboratory, aims at improving our understanding of the development of the brain and the insurgence of brain cancers, as well as testing new drugs and treatments. This technique recently allowed Tiberi to identify an important mechanism behind the development of medulloblastoma, the most common brain cancer affecting children, giving rise to new hopes for better therapies.
After completing a master degree in Medical Biotechnology at the University of Bologna and obtaining a PhD in Molecolar Oncology at the University of Trieste with a thesis on breast cancer, in 2008 Tiberi moved to Bruxelles, where he specialized in the study of brain cancer and the creation of organoids.
He returned to Italy in 2016 thanks to the Career Development Award. The award, offered by the Armenise-Harvard Foundation, aims at bringing young scientists to Italy, allowing them to establish their own lab at a host institute. With the funds he received, Tiberi was able to set up his “Armenise Harvard Laboratory of Brain Disorders and Cancer” within the CIBIO.
Tiberi’s outstanding achievements, however, higlight the many flaws of the Italian research system. “This award demonstrates that Italian research can achieve high level results with proper funding” says Tiberi. “Unfortunately, the funding we have received for the most part, were from private entities. In my opinion, to make Italian basic research more competitive at European level we need first of all to adopt public funding policies that recognize the importance of research. Secondly, we should stimulate patronage, to integrate public funding with private capitals”
Italy invests only 1.35% of its GDP in research, far below the European Union average of 2%. Public investment in R&D is even lower, around 0.5% of the GDP. This lack of funds makes it difficult to carry out scientific research and pushes more and more young scientists abroad, as the recent allocation of the European Research Council’s Starting Grants proved: of the 53 Italian researchers who were awarded a grant, only 20 work in Italy.
A possible solution comes from the investment plan proposed by Italian physicist Ugo Amaldi, that would increase public investments in research up to 1.1% of the GDP by 2026. Recently, the Italian government promised it will use part of the Recovery Fund to allocate some €15 billion in 5 years to R&D. It remains to be seen if they will stand by their words.