The Evolution of Innate Immunity (M Fraccaro lecture 2022/23)

05 April 2023. 
Jules Hoffmann, University of Strasbourg.

At 5.00 pm on the 5th of April 2023 Jules Hoffmann will give the 2022/23 Marco Fraccaro lecture entitled The Evolution of Innate Immunity in Aula U Foscolo (trada Nuova 65). The poster os the lecture is available at this link.

Jules Hoffmann and his colleagues discovered in 1996 the role of theToll receptor in immunity. Toll had been discovered a several years earlier by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard as a gene involved in determing the antero-posterior polarity of the early embryo of D melanogaster. The discovery of the role in immunity of the Toll pathway by Juls Hoffmann and the subsequent work by Charles Janeway at Yale have revolutioned the field of immunity and for his Jules Hoffmann was awarded a share of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.


Jules Hoffmann was born in Luxembourg in1941. He studied Biology at the University in Strasbourg, the University from which he also earned his doctoral degree in 1969. After a period of study and research in Marburg, Germany, J Hoffmann returned to Strasbourg where he worked throughout his whole scientific career serving as a director of a research laboratory of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). He has also served for a number of years as a professor at the University in Strasbourg.

Marco Fraccaro
Marco Fraccaro (26 September 1926 - 2 April 2008) was a distinguished geneticist and Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pavia for over thirty years. Born in Pavia, he attended the local Liceo Classico Ugo Foscolo with and the Medical School of the University of Pavia where he graduated in 1950. After a few years at the local Institute of Pathological Anatomy he moved to Lionel Penrose in the Galton Laboratory at UCL in 1954 with a fellowship from the British Council and, a year later, to Jan Book’s laboratory in Uppsala where he stayed until 1958 during which time he met his future wife Inga. In 1960, he moved to the newly formed MRC Population Genetics Research Unit in Oxford under Alan Stevenson where he continued his work on cytogenetics that he had initiated in Uppsala. He returned to Pavia in 1962 where he started a highly successful and productive laboratory with funding from NATO and EURATOM and where he took up the Chair of Human Genetics, which he held until 2001.

Throughout his research Marco Fraccaro focussed primarily on sex chromosome abnormalities, especially the genetic abnormalities responsible for abnormal physical and sexual development, but he contributed to several other areas of Genetics such as the distribution in the population of specific types of congenital malformations and the effect of radiation on chromosomes of cells. Marco Fraccaro was deeply attached to Pavia and Oxford and there was hardly a conversation in which he failed to mention the life and history of these two cities. His love for Oxford was also expressed in a small book of quotations (Oxford for strangers of all sorts) which he published in 1997. From 1971 until 2002 he was Master of Collegio Cairoli, one of the University Colleges at Pavia. He run the College informally and effectively and made Cairoli a place of learning and debate for students and staff. He also made it into a meeting point for modern visual arts by organising a successful series of exhibitions of modern artists that will enrich the College for years to come. Marco Fraccaro has been one of the defining personalities of the University of Pavia in the second half of the 20th century and the lecture aims to recognise his interests in Science and the Arts and his intellectual legacy.

A mutant fruit fly killed by fungus due to the absence of a functional Toll gene and anti-fungal immunity.


Sunday, 26 March 2023 15:06

M Fraccaro Lecture 2022/23

The 2022/23 Marco Fraccaro - entitled The Evolution of Innate Immunity - will be given by Jules Hoffmann of the University of Strasbourg at 5.00 pm on the 5th of April 2023 in Aula U Foscolo,in the main University building in Strada Nuova 65. This annual lecture is organised annually by Collegi A Volta and Flli Cairoli to celebrate the life and work of Marco Fraccaro, distinguished professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pavia between 1964 and 2003 and Master of Collegio Flli Cairoli from 1970 and 2003,

Jules Hoffmann has made groundbreaking conribution to the study of immunity by unveiling the role of the Toll receptor pathway in immunity and for his work he receivd a share of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2011. The poster of the lecture is available here and further information about the lecture is available at this page.

Mitochondria as a Central Hub

9 March 2023.  Marco Sandri, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Padua, Italy
Mitochondrial as a Central Cellular Hub
On Tuesday the 9th of March  2023 at 4.00 pm, Marco Sandri of the Department of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Padua has given a seminar entitled Mitochondria, a Central Cellular Hub. The poster of the seminar is available here


Biographical Sketch
Marco Sandri is the head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Padova, one of the Italian departments of eccellence 2023-2027 with a project “Mitochondria, muscle and health: from molecules to humas”. He is a Highly Cited Researcher (Clarivate Analytics) and a group leader at the Venetian Institute of Molecular Medicine, Padova. He is particularly interested in understanding the signaling pathways that control muscle mass with a focus on the role of the ubiquitin-proteasome and autophagy-lysosome systems. He was the first to show a transcriptional-dependent regulation of autophagy and protein breakdown. His research has provided insights into mechanisms of regulation of these proteolytic systems and to metabolic adaptations to physical activity. He is a leading scientist in the field of mitochondrial dynamics and autophagy and their relationship with ageing and physical activity/inactivity.

Image: A false colour image of isolated mitochondria under the electron microscope. Courtesy of Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Sunday, 12 March 2023 14:17

The Cell Powerhouse


On Thursday the 9th of March Marco Sandri of the Department of Biomedical Science of the University of Padua has given a College seminar entitled The Mitochondria, a Cellular Central Hub. The seminar provided a comprehensive account of the role of mitochondria in cell physiology and discussed how changes in mitochondrial function play a critical role in ageing and a number of disease conditions. The poster of the seminar is available here. Further information details of the seminar and a biographical sketch of the speaker are available at this page.

Sunday, 12 March 2023 14:01

College Mid Year Assembly


On Tuesday the 7th of March the College held its mid year Assembly. This Assembly, the first one after the Covid pandemic, was under-attendend (only 40-50 students were in attendance) but offers the opportunity to review the work of College members at the end of semester 1 and the work that remains to be done in order to ensure that most - if not all - students of Volta reach the credits and marks required by EDiSU, University and Ministry.  One of the outcomes of the Assembly is a new round of interviews, to be held before the Easter holiday - with approximately 30 students who have underperformed in semester 1 in order to discuss with them the necessary remedial actions.

Monday, 09 January 2023 20:45

College Interviews


The significance of semester one acacemic results cannot be overemphasised and College data are clear proof that students who fail to secure the expected credits and marks do so because of poor semester one results.

The College Director thus wishes to meet all College freshers and selected other students ahead of semester one examinations in order to discuss and review individual study plans.

The majority of these semester one interviews will take place during the week starting on January 9th and in the first half of the week starting on January 16th.

Monday, 02 January 2023 17:25

Updated Covid-19 Rules

On 31 December 2022 the Italian Ministry of Health has released updated Covid-19 rules.  The rules, contained in Ministry of Health Circolare 51961 have reached College via the Office of the President of EDiSU and have been forwarded to all College members in Italian and Englsh.  College students are requested to follow the new ruiles strictly and pay due attention to item (vi).


Updated Covid-19 Rules. 31 December 2022.

(i) Students reporting a positive Covid-19 antigen test with modest or no clinical symptoms must isolate for 5 days nevertheless before resuming community life. It is recommended that they undergo a new antigen test on day 5 - although they are not obliged to do so under current rules. They may end isolation even before the 5th day if they present College with a negative test carried out by a certifying laboratory/chemist.

(ii) Students known to be immunodeficient or undergoing immunosuppressive treatment must isolate for a minimum 5 days after a positive antigen test,  must be asymptomatic for at least 2 days before and must present a negative antigen or PCR test before resuming community life.

(iii)  Students returning to Italy and College from the People's Republic of China and displaying a positive antigen test must follow rules listed under paragraph (ii).

(iv) Students of all categories at the end of self-isolation must wear FFP2-type face masks up to day from the onset of symptoms or the first positive antigen test - whichever the earliest. They must also avoid crowded environments and direct contact with College members deemed to be high-risk individuals.
(v) Students who come in contact with members of College subsequently reporting a positive antigen test must exert a self-surveillance and self-restraint regime, during which they wear FFP2-type face masks and avoid large gatherings for at least 5 days. They must also undertake an antigen test without delay if they develop symptoms, however mild.

(vi) Students with any history of Covid-related symptoms or positive testing must offer full and prompt notification and details to the College Director and the College Office.

Image: SARS-CoV-2 RNA-directed RNA polymerase, courtesy of the Protein Data Bank


Sunday, 11 December 2022 23:27

Modelling the Immune Sytem

On the 13h of December at 4.30 pm the Francesco Pappalardo from the Department of Drug and Health Sciences at the University of Catania will give a seminar in the College Lecture Theatre entitled Modelling cellular and molecular interactions within the immune system.  The seminar will describe new computer-based approaches for modelling complex cellular and molecular networs and will exemplify its potential by modelling the immune network. The poster of the seminar ias available here.

Understanding complex cellular network and their underlying molecular networks is crucial in order to unravel the biology of multicellar organisms and the biology of disease proceses and there is increasing evidence that computer-modelling now has the potential to offer descriptions of these processes valuable for drug discovery. The seminar therefore will be of special interest to College students reading Medicine, Biology, Biotehnology and Pharmaceytical Sciences but all College students are warmly invited to atttend. Further information about the seminar, including an abstract and a short biographical sketch of the speaker, can be found at this page.

Image: An example of a molecular immune network. From Shilts J et al. Nature 608:397, 2022.

Modelling cellular and molecular interactions within the immune system

13 December 2022.  Francesco Pappalardo Department of Drug and Health Sciences, University of Catania, Italy
Modelling cellular and molecular interactions within the immune system
On Tuesday the 13th December  2022 at 4.30 pm, Francesco Pappalardo of the Department of Drug and Health Sciences, at the University of Catania will give a seminar entitled Modelling cellular and molecular interactions within the immune system. The poster of the seminar is available here.  All College students are invited to attend, especially students reading Medicine, Biological Sciences and Biotechnology


In Silico Medicine (the use of modelling and simulation in the support the clinical decision about individual patients) and in silico trials (the use of modelling and simulation in the assessment of new medical products) have the potential to revolutionise healthcare.  The promises are enormous, but the risks associated to such radical departure from the traditional approaches is also considerable.  Currently the journey of a new pharmacological product from the discovery of molecules until entering the market is very long and expensive.  New interventions are first tested in vitro with cell cultures and then in vivo in animal models (usually two models are required to pass the approval of the regulatory bodies, the mouse being the most used one). Surprisingly, only 20% of the interventions that are successful in animals are then successful in patients during the most expensive phase of the assessment in clinical trials.The main target of biomedical world when dealing with the majority of pathologies is to understand its biological dynamics and to find a way to cure it. This heavily includes how cells and molecules of the immune system interacts each other to orchestrate a defense and how one can externally (and artificially) provide stimuli to eventually prepare human immune system in advance. Agent-based models (ABM for short) are computer models that attempt to capture the behaviour of individuals within an environment. Their wide usage in biomedicine environments is because they are more intuitive that mathematical or statistical models as they represent objects as individual things in the world. The most familiar examples to many people are The SIMs™ or SIMCity™ computer games in which people or other entities interact with each other and/or their environment. In biomedicine, ABM can be seen as in silico lab where one can capture the understanding of systems and, more fascinating, test “what if” scenarios. The lecture will provide a general introduction on what ABMs are and the main applications that involve their use in molecular and cellular modeling. In addition, a more detailed look at the biomedical applications is provided, with a special attention to immune system modelling. Finally, a very brief state of the art towards regulatory context of in silico trials is presented.

Francesco Pappalardo is Deputy Director of Department of Drug and Health Sciences, at University of Catania, Italy. He is involved in several multi-institutional funded projects in Europe and USA. He holds computer science professorship appointment at University of Catania and he is visiting professor at the Boston University and Health Informatics Research Lab, Computer Science Department, USA. In addition, he is the founder of the COMBINE research group ( Research activity of Francesco Pappalardo is focused on the application of computational models in the field of systems biomedicine. He is one of the pioneers of in silico trials, where he currently also deals with regulatory aspects with the European authorities. The most visible projects from his group are (1) scientific coordination of the “In Silico World” funded project with the aim of lowering barriers to ubiquitous adoption of In Silico Trials; (2) development of in silico trials framework for immunotoxicity risk assessment of chemicals evaluating the potential for unintended effects of chemical exposure on the immune system; (3) scientific coordination of the “STriTuVaD” project where an in silico trial computer model is being developed to drastically reduce the cost of innovation in tuberculosis care; (4) in silico vaccine developing for prompt actions against SARS-CoV-2; and (4) development of immune system in silico trial modeling and simulation suite to support specific research on immunotherapies. In addition, his group also specializes in molecular modeling and biological pathway analysis with specific interest in precision medicine. Professor Pappalardo has published more than 150 articles in international journals and conferences. He serves the scientific community as president and member of the program commissions for prestigious international conferences and is a member of editorial boards for major bioinformatics journals.

A computer model of a network of dendritic cells. Courtesy of J Yu, St Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Wednesday, 09 November 2022 18:47

Gender Violence

On the 17th of November at 6.30 pm the College will host a seminar in the College Lecture Theatre entitled Preventing and contrasting gender-based violence. A conversation with the staff of Anti-violence Centre LiberaMente.  The seminar is the second of a series of four meetings devoted to women's iissue and has been organised by Dunia Lisa Seck (African and Asian Studies) and Marianna Parise (Visual and Performing Arts) both at Collegio Golgi and it. The poster of the seminar ias available here.

Gender-based violence is pervasive and shows little or no evidence of abating. It includes simple threats, coercion, bodily harm and in a number of instances can lead to iviolent death.  Although the occurrence and extent of gender-based violence varies signifcantly across different cultures and religions, it is clear that no society or social class is immune from this problem. Gender-based violence is unquestionably one of the commonest - if not the commonest - violation of human rights across the world.

College is grateful to Dunia and Marianna for sharing this seminar with the students of Collegio Volta an for bringing into focus the work of the local staff and volunteers of LiberaMente, a not-for profit agency commited to fight gender-based violence that has been active in Pavia for over 25 years. 

All College students are warmly invited to atttend the seminar.

Image: Courtesy of Building and Wood Workers' International.

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