Prize category winner hopes his research can be used in clinical cancer practice
Making time for your passions makes you a better researcher, finds Daniele Simoneschi, who is also excited about the study of molecular mechanisms at a fundamental level. Daniele is the winner of the Molecular Medicine category of the Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists.
When growing up in Rome, Daniele Simoneschi attended hundreds of concerts with religious music, listening to his brother who was a singer in the Sistine Chapel Choir. This was, perhaps, the start of his life-long passion for classical music. Daniele started taking private lessons in piano and music theory. Eventually, he earned degrees in “Pianoforte”, piano performance, and “Teoria, Solfeggio, e Dettato Musicale”, music theory, from the Ottorino Respighi and Santa Cecilia music conservatories.
It was my first time playing as a piano soloist in front of an orchestra, and it was one of the most emotional and sensational moments in my music career.
At the start of his higher education, Daniele moved to the US. A decision based on the belief in better opportunities to pursue a career as a researcher, in a country that invests more in academia. This decision turned out to be the best possible for his passion for music, which he thought would fade in the absence of cultivation. In the US, as opposed to his native Italy, students choose a major subject and one or two minor subjects. This was the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into music, as a minor subject, alongside his major in biochemistry and minor in mathematics.
Dr. Flora Kuan at Manhattanville College took Daniele on as her private piano student. He rapidly improved and it culminated in receiving the Fromkin Award at the “2011 Manhattanville Piano Concerto Competition”.
“It was my first time playing as a piano soloist in front of an orchestra, and it was one of the most emotional and sensational moments in my music career” says Daniele Simoneschi.
Daniele finds that having interests outside of science is not only necessary for the sake of personal development, but also helps hone his skills as a scientist.
“Graduating in piano performance taught me how to survive grueling schedules and perform under pressure. Through chamber music playing, I refined my ability to work with people, while sharing my passion with others. The dedicated daily hours of music practice also provided me with a valuable and contrasting stimulus for my mind” says Daniele Simoneschi.
Now, science has won over music career-wise, he eventually had to prioritize his time. He does, however, keep his passion alive, by playing for his own amusement and by teaching piano students every week.
An eye-opening conversation
It was by no means certain that Daniele Simoneschi would pursue a career in academia. He was the first person in his family to obtain a Ph.D., and being a researcher was not something he had in mind from an early age. He was, however, always encouraged to follow his passions, ranging from soccer and roller hockey to theater and painting. As he progressed through the education system he discovered a new passion, one that stimulated the mind and challenged him in ways hard to find elsewhere. He found science.
Through collaboration with clinicians, I learned the importance and relevance of what we do in the laboratory.
Daniele was set to enroll in a university in Rome when he had an eye-opening conversation with his brother’s Italian-American girlfriend. She told him that his grades should be able to get him into an American college. He took a dim view of the research environment in Italy, concluding that moving across the sea would be a good opportunity to pursue a career in science. The Italian-American proved to be right – Daniele was accepted to Manhattanville College with a scholarship. He graduated first in his class and went to New York University Grossman School of Medicine, where he obtained his M.Phil. in Pathobiology and Translational Medicine.
“I was very attracted to the translational component of biomedical research. The Pathobiology and Translational Medicine program gave me the opportunity to observe first-hand the link between benchwork and bedside. Through collaboration with clinicians, I learned the importance and relevance of what we do in the laboratory” says Daniele Simoneschi.
Hopes of translation
Further on, he became passionate about the study of molecular mechanisms at a very fundamental level and pursued a Ph.D. in Molecular Oncology and Tumor Immunology.
“Through my Ph.D., I became increasingly interested in the very details that dictate whether a cell becomes cancerous or not. Through painstaking molecular clockwork, I dissected one of the mechanisms of a specific type of lymphoma, suggesting new strategies for the treatment and stratification of patients with this malignancy” says Daniele Simoneschi.
Daniele’s award-winning study centered around AMBRA1, a protein that normally protects against cancer by targeting all three D-type cyclins for destruction. Specifically, he found that AMBRA1 acts as a molecular janitor that tags D-type cyclins for recycling via the proteasome, a cellular waste management system. When D-type cyclins are mutated, however, AMBRA1 fails to tag them for degradation, and this central anticancer checkpoint mechanism is disabled.
“The degradation of D-type cyclins, which are central regulators of the mammalian cell cycle, has been the focus of widespread attention for years. However, recent reports have challenged those findings. Our new study resolves these controversies and identifies the long-sought, major controller of D-type cyclins” says Daniele Simoneschi.
Now, Daniele serves as a Research Assistant Professor at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. He hopes that his basic, mechanistic studies can translate into actionable information for the clinical practice and management of cancer patients, in general, and specifically of patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that he has studied during the course of his graduate studies.
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