They are 16, determined and ready to dive into the exciting world of research: the first Ph.D students from the new USI Faculty of Biomedical Sciences presented themselves on Friday 20 September at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Bellinzona, during a public meeting (the "Ph.D Biomed Day") in which the coordinator of the USI doctoral programmes in biomedicine, Prof. Alain Kälin, also took part. The young doctoral candidates are engaged in five subject areas: immunology and cell biology; cancer biology and oncology; neurosciences; cardiovascular sciences; and drug sciences.
The subjects chosen by the young doctoral-researchers underline the approach adopted at the onset: a continuous and intense dialogue between fundamental studies and clinical practice, which focuses on humans and related diseases, and which can count on the presence of patients for all the necessary investigations. "The USI Faculty of Biomedical Sciences - explains Prof. Kälin - which was created with the primary aim of training more doctors, increasingly wants to become a research centre. In fact, in a context in which we find the Cardiocentro, the Neurocentro, the Institute of Oncology Research (IOR), the Istituto Oncologico della Svizzera Italiana (IOSI), and the IRB, i.e. centres in which top-level research is produced, USI aims to increase and encourage the collaboration and synergy between all the actors involved [including therefore the current external partners, ETH Zurich, the universities of Bern and Lausanne, and universities in foreign countries like in the United States, Italy and others], so as to create a sort of ecosystem in which there are benefits for all those who are actively involved".
During the day in Bellinzona, a few Ph.D students were invited to present and illustrate the fundamental elements of their research. For example, doctoral students in oncology are studying the relations between certain specialised cells of the immune system and some forms of prostate cancer: a type of investigation that cannot ignore the close ties with the patients at the IOSI, of which they examine in detail the composition and changes of the tumour and the immune system. Similarly, Ph.D students in the cardiovascular disciplines are conducting research on the changes triggered in the heart affected by traumatic events such as heart attacks and, in particular, on the release of small vesicles outside the cells themselves. To do this they use models and in vitro investigations, but their results must then be compared with what happens in the patients at the Cardiocentro. And also: a number of neuroscience doctoral students are trying to understand if it is possible to define a set of signals useful to have an early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which will then have to be tested on a healthy population, or at risk, but without symptoms, while others study certain sleeping disorders that are still quite mysterious, in adults and children, as well as at the molecular level.
All these studies are naturally geared towards the constant exchange between the laboratory and the patient’s bed and, at the same time, to the collaboration between groups, because the competence and ideas of each of the doctoral candidates and their supervisors can be very useful and productive for all the others.
Next year, the doors of the new East Campus in Lugano will open to Master’s students who will have completed their Bachelor’s degree at the partner universities of USI (universities of Basel and Zurich, and ETH Zurich). The Master’s will allow these students to aspire to a new form of doctorate, which is split 50-50 between research and clinical (i.e. direct contact with patients). And this mix, for those who love medicine and want to make it the profession of their life, appears as a real and important alternative.