Prof. Maria Chiara Bonini: Gene therapy applied to immunotherapy

esanum talks with Prof. Bonini about her research projects, her EHA board role and the prospects for young hematologists who wish to engage in research.

In our video interview during EHA2022 Congress we talked about her research projects, but also about her role on the EHA board and the prospects for young hematology physicians who wish to engage in research.

Professor Maria Chiara Bonini, an Italian member of the EHA Board, leads an ambitious project that focuses on gene therapy to fight solid tumors, and in particular liver metastases caused by cancers affecting the colorectum and pancreas.

A short biography of Prof. Maria Chiara Bonini 

Maria Chiara Bonini is full professor of hematology at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, deputy director of the Division of Immunology, Transplantation and Infectious Diseases Research and head of the Experimental Hematology Unit at the IRCCS Scientific Institute San Raffaele Hospital (Milan, Italy). She has been in the Board of Directors of several European and American cell and gene therapy scientific societies. She is currently a member of the EHA Board. Her main research focus is the development, preclinical and clinical validation of cell and gene therapy approaches to treat cancer. 

Translational Research Training in Hematology

Professor Bonini has been a member of the EHA board since 2021. Her role consists mainly of dealing with Translational Research Training in Hematology. TRTH provides early-career researchers with a unique, year-long training and mentoring experience. The TRTH course started 10 years ago. There were a number of individuals who were pure PhD’s who saw the need to educate translational researchers, to really partner with clinicians to understand where the issues were. Ando to move the field forward with laboratory based research that was consistent with the clinical picture presented by the patients. Today TRTH is a joint effort of the European Hematology Association (EHA) and the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and is focused on helping early-career hematological scientists build successful careers in hematological translational research. 

EHA during the pandemic

«Every area of our lives has been affected by the pandemic during the past two years, so EHA's activities have been as well» Prof. Bonini tells us during the interview. She considers the positive aspects of this experience, particularly the fact that the use of teleconferences has increased significantly. This has resulted, within the EHA, in more frequent meetings and discussions, albeit not in-person. According to Professor Bonini, this aspect has been positive and will be maintained even after the pandemic.

Gene therapy against liver metastasis

Today she is leading a project involving 17 groups, all affiliated with San Raffaele Hospital, that will last seven years. The project is supported by funding from AIRC - Italian Association for Cancer Research. She and her team are trying to solve a crucial and still unsolved problem affecting patients with colorectal cancer and pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma: finding a solution to eradicate the liver metastasis that originate from these tumors and are the leading cause of death. To achieve this goal, Bonini and colleagues aim to develop new gene and cell therapies to act directly on the immune system. The main idea driving the research is to get cancer-specific T lymphocytes directly into the liver using a viral vector.

Global perspective is mandatory in science

Young hematology physicians are valuable assets to EHA. YoungEHA is a key community for us, a space where young physicians and researchers in hematology can get to know each other, share, compare and grow. During this congress there are seminars and discussions organized just by YoungEHA.

Dealing with research today is a major challenge, because many skills are required in research, but also in medicine and clinical practice. To become good researchers, young people need to study a lot and be able to compare themselves as much as possible, with scientists of other nationalities, origins, cultures, and disciplines. Senior researchers must give them the right amount of time to devote to this, to research and clinical activities, which must be conducted in parallel.