“Mine? It’s a ‘holistic’ approach against cancer.” Silvia Marsoni, born in 1952, is an Ifom scientist working in the oncology field with a very particular professionalism: the designer of clinical studies. Her work consists of designing and coordinating clinical studies, focused in particular on colorectal and breast cancers, identifying innovative experimental methods – an example of which is precision medicine -, as well as encouraging collaboration between clinicians and researchers. These are studies that have won considerable funding from bodies such as Airc and the European Community.
“The tumors I chose to study are breast and colon tumors because they have a very high incidence” explains Marsoni to Adnkronos. “Cancer exploits the biology of cells by bending it and perverting it to its own ends, therefore, it has an infinite number of tools to find alternative ways of survival when drugs block its path to growth. If I try to stop the circulation of Milan, acting on a single traffic light, it is obvious that I will never be able to do it, we need to identify the most important ones and turn them off at the same time. However, to do this you have to understand which ones they are and, therefore, this is why it is essential that the scientific community is made up of researchers basis”.
At the same time, he underlines, “it is equally important that clinicians indicate to the basic researcher which are the areas in which we do not have drugs or do not understand what is happening. It is they, the clinicians, who must indicate which are the best cases to study, those with tumors that develop metastases more frequently than others or those in whom anti-metastatic therapy does not work with all known characteristics being equal. Because this is the crux of the matter: preventing the formation of metastases or treating them when it is not possible to prevent them. That’s what people die from – he points out – Metastases that are resistant to therapy. No one dies from a primary tumor that can be removed thanks to increasingly efficient and less traumatic surgeries”.
After the Classics and the degree in Medicine at the University, with a period in London, Silvia built her career between Italy, at the Mario Negri in Milan, and in the States at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, before returning to Italy and bring his experience to Ifom, after having worked, among others, alongside Silvio Garattini at the Mario Negri, with Umberto Veronesi in the first Cnr cancer project and with Paolo Comoglio at the Candiolo Institute.
“I returned many years ago from the United States, where I stayed for 7 years – she says – I was very unsure whether to return and, then, with a bit of patriotic spirit I thought that what I had learned there could also be useful here and, therefore, I returned to Italy at Mario Negri in 1985. In the States I had become responsible for a sector relating to the development of new drugs at an incredible age for Italy. With us at that age you have no chance, while in the US there is this mentality of saying ‘I’ll test you and, if you’re good, I’ll entrust you with those tasks'”.
She had to wait 15 years to get involved in the development of new drugs again, but at the end of the nineties she became scientific director of Sendo, a foundation in which Mario Negri, the European Institute of Oncology Ieo and the Iosi (Oncology Institute of Italian-speaking Switzerland) collaborated closely. , which for the first time in Italy dealt with independent research in the pharmaceutical field. “Now that I am – let’s say, the doyen – comments Marsoni – much of the time is dedicated to new recruits because I believe that young people must be helped to grow in a favorable environment”.
For many years Silvia has gone against the grain, supporting a “holistic” approach against cancer. “Those were the years in which the term ‘holistic’ was associated with an esoteric mentality, with activities such as using crystals and for this reason even in the laboratory I was made fun of. Now, however, they have understood that this is the right way to understand and defeat cancer and I would really like to be younger to be able to make the most of everything I have learned so far.” Silvia’s career was built with courage between America and Italy, with a lucky charm always on her desk. “It’s the tree of life, I’ve always carried it with me, my classmates gave it to me at the end of my degree: it’s this one made of quartz, bronze and garnet”. And fate wanted it to now also become the symbol of his work, given that he also deals with the “genetics of tumors”.
On 27 September she will launch the international Saggitarius project of which Ifom is the promoter and Silvia is the project leader who, in collaboration with the Airc Foundation, Bocconi, Niguarda Hospital and six other international partners, has obtained a 6 million euro loan. This is an international precision medicine clinical study that will involve at least 700 patients in 25 hospitals in Italy, Spain and Germany.
“Saggitarius – explains Marsoni – exploits the diagnostic potential of liquid biopsy to treat patients with operable colorectal cancer. Through a completely new approach, Saggitarius will allow chemotherapies to be avoided in 70% of cases, replacing them with an active surveillance program through periodic monthly blood samples and – continues Marsoni – for 50% of the remaining 30% of cases it will be able to replace chemo with biological therapies, based on immunotherapy or molecularly targeted drugs, calibrated to the patient’s profile”.
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