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Clinical and Experimental Immunology  

Innate Immunity is the very first line of defense against any invasion of the human body and represents the main research focus of our Unit of Clinical and Experimental Immunology (UCEI). We exploit innate immune responses in human pathologies with a particular focus on viral infections (HIV-1 and HCMV), hematologic malignances, solid tumors (brain, thymic, gastro-enteric, liver and gynaecological tumors), auto-immune and auto-inflammatory diseases and endothelial disorders. Our current research approach is based on translational human immunology with the involvement of both physician and scientists to fill the gaps and build a bridge between these two sides of modern medicine. Our research projects investigate the impact of Natural Killer (NK) cells, gamma-delta (gd)T cells, Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILCs), Monocyte/Macrophages and Dendritic Cells (DCs) on the pathogenesis of human diseases. The UCEI has a full expertise in cell and molecular human immunology in association with advanced technologies such as multiparametric flow cytometry and bioinformatics approaches.

UCEI is composed by a research team of both physicians and scientist composed by 5 staff scientists, 4 Ph.D. students, 1 laboratory manager, 1 bioinformatician and several under-graduate students preparing their experimental thesis. Our projects investigate on the immune-pathogenesis, clinical outcomes and new therapies of several models of human diseases. To  do this, we directly recruit patients interested in participating to our  projects of translationalmedicine within several research hospital in the metropolitan area of Milan. Indeed, given the biomedical background of several members of UCEI, our everyday work is familiar with projects experimental immunology “from bed to the bench side” and vice versa to address several still unmet clinical needs. UCEI also currently collaborates by exchanging skills and human resources with several universities and research institutes in Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Germany Portugal, United Kingdom and Unites States of America. Our research is funded by Intramural programs of University of Milan and  Humanitas Research Hospital and by competitive grants from Italian Ministry of Health, Fondazione Cariplo, Fondazione Umberto Veronesi, Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro (AIRC) and European Union. UCEI has also an intensive program of mentorship for undergraduate students from University of Milan attending the International Medical School, the Bachelor and Master School of Biotechnology and Biology, the School of Biomedical Laboratory Technician.


The main macro-areas of research of our unit include:

Characterization of innate cellular subsets in human solid tumors

Innate cellular populations including gdT cells, NK cells, ILCs and Dendritic cells (DCs) display a broad array of anti-tumor and pro-tumor functions by combining their rapid innate cytotoxic response with secretion of immunoregulatory cytokines. In collaboration with different clinical and surgery units in the metropolitan area of Milan, the UCEI runs several translational projects to perform comprehensive and comparative immune characterization of healthy and tumor-associated cells in both tissue and peripheral blood compartments of different human tumors, such as brain, thymic, gastro-enteric, liver and gynaecological tumors. In particular, we aim to fully analyze phenotypic, functional and transcriptional anti-tumor profiles correlated to the patient-related clinical outcome such as tumor progression, response to treatment and number of metastases in order to develop new therapeutic cellular and molecular targets.


Characterization of innate cellular subsets in human hematologic tumors

At present two main projects on hematologic tumors are ongoing, aimed at investigating: 1) the kinetic of innate immune cell immune-reconstitution and the impact of viral infections in determining the expansion of Natural Killer cells endowed with memory-like features in patients affected by hematologic malignancies undergoing bone marrow transplantations; 2) the phenotypic and functional characterization of innate lymphoid cells in determining the clinical outcome of Myelodisplastic syndromes and the Acute Myeloid Leukemia risk progression.


Endothelial progenitor cells in human health and disease

Endothelial colony-forming cells (ECFCs) are the best defined endothelial progenitors that can be isolated and expanded from adult blood. Endowed with clonal proliferative potential and the unique ability to sustain adult vasculogenesis, ECFCs represent a valuable non-invasive tool for studying human endothelial compartment in health and disease. At present two main projects on ECFCs are active, aimed at investigating: 1) the role of endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of venous thromboembolism; 2) the role of ECFCs in normal and cancer-associated lymphangiogenesis.


Web sites: http://www.biometra.unimi.it/ecm/home






Group Members:

Domenico Mavilio, M.D., Ph.D. – Associate professor of Translational Medicine and Principal Investigator

Silvia Della Bella, M.D., Ph.D. - Associate professor of Pathology and Senior Investigator

Dr. Joanna Mikulak, Ph.D. – Senior Investigator

Dr. Clara Di Vito, Ph.D. – Senior Investigator

Dr. Francesca Calcaterra, Ph.D – Senior Investigator

Dr. Gianmarco Spata - Laboratory Manager

Dr. Michela Calvi, Ph.D. Studen

Dr. Assunta Cancellara, Ph.D Student

Dr. Claudia Carenza, PhD Student

Dr. Elisa Zaghi, Ph.D. Student

Dr. Valentina Cazzetta, Graduate research fellow

Dr. Sara Franzese, Graduate research fellow

Dr. Sara Terzoli, Graduate research fellow


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