October 24, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Stem Cell Person of the Year 2013: Elena Cattaneo

Elena_CattaneoCongratulations to Dr. Elena Cattaneo, the winner of the 2013 Stem Cell Person of the Year Award.

Her lab studies neural stem cells, particularly as they relate to developing new therapies for Huntington’s Disease.

Cattaneo is Director and Co-Founder of the Unistem, the Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Milano, Italy. She is also the Director of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurodegenerative Diseases in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences.

Beyond her great achievements in stem cell science, she is that rare stem cell scientist who goes well above and beyond the call of academic duty to act as an advocate as well.

She has achieved the uncommon honor of being appointed a Senator For Life (akin to being a US Senator appointed for their lifetime) by the President of Italy. President Giorgio Napolitano said of his choice of her as Senator for Life:

“choosing her is meant as an appreciation and an encouragement for many Italians of the new generations who commit themselves, amid difficulties, to scientific research”.

She has a track record of taking important public stands on key issues over the years. For example, she has stood up for keeping partisan extremist politics out of scientific funding decisions in Italy.

Elena Cattaneo

This year she took a stand against the dangerous and out of control Stamina situation in Italy, quoted as follows:

“Irrational and unverified stem cell treatments based on methods that are not validated or scientifically documented should not reach patients. Preventing this from happening is a specific responsibility of health authorities and governments worldwide to make sure that the hope and trust of patients are not misused. Patients can be harmed and killed by medicines that have not been proven to be safe and effective via rigorously controlled clinical trials. The use of medicines that have not been manufactured to the highest possible standards is irresponsible.”

In the same article, top American stem cell researcher Sean Morrison echoed similar sentiments:

“Patients are ultimately not helped by therapies that are not based on sound science and that are not tested in systematic clinical trials. Efforts to water down regulation in this area may create opportunities for some individuals to prey on the hopes of desperate patients.”

She and a dozen fellow Italian scientists stood up to what was a flawed Italian governmental decision to allow Stamina to proceed with a gutsy letter. It takes courage to not only do your research, but also to take a stand against your own government’s flawed decision and ultimately prevail. Her actions have helped to keep thousands of patients safer and protect the stem cell field.

She has also been the driving force in UniStem Day, established in 2009, which is Europe’s largest stem cell educational event. This year the event connected 15,000 high school students with stem cell researchers in 42 institutions across Italy, Spain, and Scotland.

Her nominators described Dr. Cattaneo’s numerous achievements this way:

Her studies on neural stem cells and Huntington’s disease saw her awarded the “Le Scienze” Price for Medicine and a Gold Medal from the President of the Italian Republic in 2001. In 2005 she was awarded the Marisa Bellisario and Chiara D’Onofrio prizes, in 2006 was nominated Cavaliere Ufficiale (Knight) of the Italian Republic, and this year was appointed an EMBO member and a member of the Accademia dei Lincei, Italy’s national science academy.

Cattaneo is a true Renaissance woman in science and in the stem cell field. She has excelled at science and advocacy. She even was the inspiration for a play about stem cells.

Of course picking from the stellar top dozen finalists was no easy task. As was true last year, I suspect that many of this year’s finalists will be top contenders again in 2014 for this award. Many of them have made huge contributions to the stem cell field.

In the end I picked Cattaneo as the Stem Cell Person of the Year 2013 Award, honoring her efforts that have made tremendous, positive differences for many years including this year. As the winner of the award, Cattaneo receives a $1,000 USD prize and recognition as the person with the top positive impact in the global stem cell field in 2013.  She has informed me that she intends to use the prize money to support a trainee scholarship to a future stem cell conference.

Congratulations to Dr. Cattaneo!

She joins last year’s winner, Roman Reed, together as two of the most positive, powerful influencers in the stem cell field in the world.

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