Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Un lavoro di Tesi per conoscere il mondo

Hello everyone, 

My name is Francesco Di Matteo, I am 27 years old and I am from Naples, Italy. I studied Biology at the University of Naples “Federico II” where I took my bachelor and Master degrees with an internship, during my master, at the Institute of Genetic and Biophysic (IGB-CNR), Naples, in the group of Dr. Gabriella Minchiotti. There, I worked on a project focused on the role of an ultra-conserved elements (UCE) containing a long-non coding RNA, named uc.170, in the balance between self-renewal and commitment of mouse embryonic stem cells. After my graduation I was not sure about my future, I did not know if I wanted to start a PhD or to apply for positions in companies because of the very precarious economic situation there was, and there is in Italy. So, before making any choice, I decided to try an experience abroad to test my own attitude and my will in pursuing into the scientific research field. I did an Erasmus internship, under the supervision of Prof. Rossella Di Giaimo (Department of Biology, University of Naples), at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, joining the group of Dr. Silvia Cappello. I investigated the role of Cystatin B, a protein involved in a rare neurogenic disease, progressive myoclonic epilepsy type 1 (EPM1). Specifically I participated at the study on the function of cystatin b at the early stages of cerebral development by using patients-derived cerebral organoids as a model system. 

I still remember how I felt just before I left Napoli to start my experience in Munich, a mixture of fear and euphoria! I was afraid because I knew that I had to interact with people in English, but my knowledge of the language was really basic, so I took private English lessons in order to improve it. It was still not enough, but a good start! At the same time I was excited and happy because I had never had a working experience abroad. In the first days I was very silent, I was afraid of making a mistake in speaking, but then I started interacting with roommates and colleagues and my level of English increased a lot! I remember when I had to make my first journal club in English! How much stress! And how difficult it was to understand the details of every questions, but everybody was friendly and supportive and I managed to overcome my first trial! But the most important thing for me was that this experience helped me to realize that I really like doing research studies and especially the investigation of neurodevelopmental diseases by using human cerebral organoids as a model system. Could you imagine to recapitulate some of the human brain developmental features with a 3D cell culture in a dish? For me it was fantastic! 

Then, I started to apply for PhD positions both in Italy and abroad and I was accepted at the International Max Planck Research School for Translational Psychiatry (IMPRS-TP) where I started my PhD in the group of Silvia Cappello. I had the possibility to complete the project I started during the internship under the supervision of Silvia Cappello and Rossella Di Giaimo, and with my great pleasure we published the paper on cystatin B in 2020 on the EMBO molecular medicine journal. It was my first manuscript as first author, it was a unique emotion! I reached my first goal after many many efforts! We also got the journal cover with one of the image of organoids-derived neurons I personally took during my Erasmus. In that moment I forgot all the times the experiments did not work, the evenings spent doing analyses, the entire days correcting all the figures, the fight against the deadlines. 

Currently, I have just started the 2nd year of my PhD and I am still as enthusiastic as the first day and I hope it can always be like that, because I think that enthusiasm is the only thing that can break down the frustration of negative periods and allows you to never give up and to reach great results! 

In the end, I learned that whenever I’m facing a new step in my life and especially in my job as scientist, I have to follow these basic rules: 
- Take my time to decide 
- Do not choose something I do not really like, just because I’m scared about my future 
- Great results can be achieved with perseverance, constancy and passion!