IFOM Vincenzo Costanzo

Vincenzo Costanzo

Italian, born in Naples in '73, Vincenzo Costanzo directs the DNA Metabolism research program at IFOM.

In 1998, he graduated in Medicine and Surgery at the University of Naples Federico II. His college years were crucial for laying the foundations of his scientific career. By the third year, he already understood that his vocation is research and began working in the laboratory of Enrico Avvedimento, who was investigating signal transduction and the cell cycle. It was there that he began his journey as a researcher, conducting simple experiments on the cell biology of Xenopus laevis, a frog used as a model organism since the 60s. "The means and tools that we had available were very limited, nevertheless working with Avvedimento was enlightening and undoubtedly influenced my choice to become a researcher. There in Naples, even without cutting-edge technology or sophisticated instruments, we were able to study fundamental issues in biology: how cells enter the cycle, how they divide and what molecules are involved. At the same time, I came into contact with an international environment that I would later cultivate during my postgraduate training". Through these contacts, he came to know Max Gottesman, a professor at Columbia University who at the time was engaged in virology studies on lambda phage, a virus that infects bacteria. While still a University student, Costanzo spent his summers in the United States conducting experiments on the cell cycle in Gottesman's laboratory, where he learned new techniques and interacted with scientists at the highest level.

After earning his PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Pathology in 2002 at the University of Naples Federico II, Costanzo continued at Columbia University in the laboratory of Jean Gautier, an expert on Xenopus who had helped to develop this model for studying the cell cycle. Costanzo made an extraordinary discovery: a complete cellular response to DNA damage can be reproduced by adding fragments of DNA to extracts of fertilized oocytes in a test tube. This was the first in vitro system for studying the biochemical functions of the proteins needed to replicate and repair DNA lesions. The discovery received wide coverage in the scientific community, such that between 2003 and 2006 Costanzo published six scientific articles in the most authoritative specialist journals.

In 2004 he moved to Cancer Research UK's Clare Hall Laboratories at the London Research Institute, considered among the most important institutions in the world for research on DNA. Here he was offered the opportunity to open a laboratory dedicated to the study of genome stability in vertebrates. By combining in vitro biochemistry with imaging techniques like electron microscopy, Costanzo was able to understand the mechanism of action of molecules fundamental for the life of the cell, such as Rad51, which is directly controlled by the BRCA-2 protein. Mutations in the BRCA-2 gene are associated with Hereditary Breast-Ovarian Cancer Syndrome, and have been implicated recently also in other tumors. In London, he worked closely with Tim Hunt, recipient of a Nobel Prize in 2001 for cell cycle research, with whom he published important studies on the control of DNA replication. Recently, Costanzo's laboratory has collaborated with the group of John Gurdon, Nobel Prize recipient in 2012 for his discoveries on cellular reprogramming in Xenopus, which have recently led to the identification of molecules involved in the formation of embryonic stem cells. Gurdon mentioned in his biography that the best time to leave a research institution is when you are at the peak of your career. "This particularly struck me, and in a certain sense it encouraged me to leave Clare Hall, where I had a solid established group, and to start out on a new adventure."

In 2013, thanks also to the contribution of the Foundation Armenise-Harvard, he returned to Italy and started the DNA Metabolism research program at IFOM. "Here you breathe technology and research at the highest level. The international environment and the network of collaborations established recently with leading Asian institutions are other benefits: this connection gives us the opportunity to access powerful technologies and interact with brilliant minds from all over the world. "