IFOM Francesco Blasi

Francesco Blasi

A molecular biologist and expert in the study of cell fate determinants, Francesco Blasi directs the IFOM research program Transcriptional Mechanisms in Development and Cancer.

Blasi was born in 1937 in Naples, where he graduated in Medicine in 1961.

After completing his medical studies at university he decided to follow his passion for biological research.

So he left to pursue a doctorate at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt, where he studied the effect of radiation on the activity of proteins.

In 1964 he returned to Italy and began his academic career at the University of Naples where he has held the position of Associate Professor in Genetics since 1980.

From 1981 to 1984 he was also director of the CNR International Institute of Genetics and Biophysics (IGB) in Naples, established in 1962 by Adriano Buzzati-Traverso.

From 1968 to 1970 he was at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, as a visiting scientist in the laboratory of Christian Anfinsen, who would win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on proteins.

In 1970, with the experience gained at the NIH, he set up his research laboratory at the University of Naples to study bacterial genetics.
These years were preparing the explosion of molecular biology and biotechnology. It was understood that genes, the working units of DNA, had to be "taken out" of their chromosomal context and their functions studied in the test tube, in particular, their regulation.

Blasi pioneered the isolation of genes before genetic engineering tools became available. Using only genetic techniques, viruses and bacteria, he discovered the attenuator, a novel site of gene regulation different from promoters and operators.

Realizing their importance and versatility, he embarked in the emerging recombinant DNA technologies, often going to the United States between 1975 and 1980. Convinced that cancer is a disease of gene regulation, he decided to leave bacterial genetics to study mammalian cells. In particular, he was interested in the role of several proteins involved in cell adhesion and migration, which are important for tumor metastasis. During this period, he discovered and characterised urokinase and its membrane receptor and was largely responsible for describing their role in human tumors.

 

From 1987 to 1992 he taught Molecular Biology at the University of Copenhagen. Here he became interested in the regulation of transcription and in particular discovered a new family of proteins that determine cell fate through this mechanism.

After the Danish experience, he returned to Italy where he directed a research laboratory in the Department of Biotechnology (DiBit) at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan.

In the late 90's San Raffaele was involved in the FIRC project to create the IFOM in Milan, a research institute of excellence. Blasi enthusiastically participated in the project and was among the first researchers to occupying its laboratories, establishing a research unit that focused on one of his main scientific interests: thecontrol of transcription during development and in cancer.

In 2010, he concluded his academic career at DiBit and is now completely dedicated to research.

Since 2011, he has been the Deputy Director for Science at IFOM, alongside Scientific Director Marco Foiani.

Over Francesco Blasi's career, he has received numerous awards and published more than 290 studies in the most prestigious international scientific journals.