Francesca Nani

Research Associate at University College London

Francesca Nani

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, is a neurodegenerative disease affecting the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. A number of clinical trials are globally underway for ALS, and even if there is currently no known cure, medicines to slow down the symptoms have been improved.

But besides diagnosis and therapy research, it is crucial to understand the underlying biological mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases. This is one of the objectives of SISSA Neurobiology Sector, which over years has developed an important research line to study the functional mechanisms of neural networks in health and disease.

This was how Francesca Nani’s carreer at SISSA began. After a degree in Medical Biotechnology at the University of Milan, she decided to try the admission for the Neurobiology PhD. Since the last years of University, SISSA was a kind of a dream for her. So when she got the position, under the supervision of Andrea Nistri, she immediately started working hard.

The very beginning was anything but easy. Since the first year, students are encouraged to independently learn to do research. So it was a leap into the unknown, with high expectations and a completely new method. But it was worth it: during the four-years PhD, Francesca became ready to be a researcher.

Her project focused on an animal model to study amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The approach was electrophysiology: registering the various signals at the neuronal level, it was possible to shed light on a specific aspect of the disease mechanism.

In fact, Francesca studied an important contributor to neurodegeneration underlying ASL, the so-called oxidative stress.  Oxidative stress arises from an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the ability of the system to remove or repair the damage. Results showed previously unreported changes in motoneuron activity associated with cell distress - a reaction probably connected with ALS.

The hard but challenging period spent at SISSA gave Francesca the opportunity to continue her research in one of the leading scientific institutes in Europe, the University College London. She is currently Research Associate at the Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology Department, where she is focusing on the electrophysiological study of GABA, the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the vertebrate central nervous system and its receptors.

The next future? Getting married, having kids, publishing a brand new study and keeping alive the passion for research. 


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