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Name : Clara BALLERINI
Date of Birth: 24/03/1961, Florence, ITALY
STATE: divorced, one daughter, Virginia, 26 yrs old
Professional address: Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine, Lab. Neuroimmunology, Complesso Polivalente Viale Pieraccini, 6 50139 Firenze, Italy
2018- to date Researcher RTD b (MED 04)
University of Florence, Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine (DMSC)
Research activity: group leader and coordinator laboratory of Neuroimmunology
Didactic: 84 hours/year frontal lessons, tutor graduating/resident/PhD students
Over the years CB has progressively evolved from a humanistic education to a full time research activity in the field of neuroimmunology. CB interests have ranged from scientific literature and journalism, to laboratory activity including teaching, publication of original papers, participation to scientific forums and clinical duties (diagnostic activity in the field of neurology). From 1990 CB has been involved in medical research, particularly in the study of the immunological and genetic aspects of two neurological diseases: Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis, with special interest for multiple sclerosis. CB organized and supervised the formation of a biological tissue bank for DNA and Cells collected from more than 400 multiple sclerosis patients distributed in Italy with the collaboration of seven national university neurological centers. This collaboration provided CB the opportunity to study the genetic aspects of susceptibility to multiple sclerosis with the identification of several associated alleles. On the other hand CB has been also investigating the immunological aspects of multiple sclerosis studying the T cell phenotype in cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) cell populations, utilizing MoAb and cytofluorimetry methods and investigating the main characteristics of T cells as proliferation properties, cytokine production, antigen specificity, cytotoxicity. CB research activity involved also the study of the animal model of multiple sclerosis: experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Recently CB has been investigating the functional study of T cell together with the molecular analysis of the T cell receptor repertoire. From 2002 to 2004 CB has been post doc at E209 INSERM, Paris under the direction of Pierre Aucutourier and the supervision of Claude Carnaud focusing her research on prion disease and immune system. During her work at INSERM, she has investigated the role of prion protein at the immunological synapse between T cell and dendritic cell, the role in CNS during EAE and she has investigated the possibility to brake immune tolerance to prion protein in mouse and she developed a protocol to immunize mice with dendritic cells as a tool for prion disease therapy. In all the projects where CB participates she achieves expected scientific results. From 2004 CB was back at the Neuroimmunology Unit of University of Florence, she starts working on the possibility to modulate dendritic cell (DC) function from immunogenic to tolerogenic as possible therapy in CNS autoimmune diseases. She is group leader coordinating three persons on different projects and collaborating with several units. Recent studies reveal striking parallels between cellular signaling mechanisms in the immune (IS) and nervous systems (CNS) that may provide unexpected insights into the development, function, and diseases of both systems. Therefore, CB focused her experience, knowledge and skills into project concerning biological and physical properties shared between CNS cells and IS with particular interest on dual role of inflammation, view as a cross talk between the two systems, in CNS during neurological diseases. In this perspective, CB collaborations permit her to investigate the role of histamine and histamine receptors on EAE and a more recently on DCs, cell cytoskeleton and T lymphocytes polarization. Furthermore, CB collaboration with Laura Ballerini, SISSA Trieste Italy, widened her research field into nanotechnology, with two recent publications on carbon nanotubes and nanoparticles; both materials placed in a prospective of translation into neurological disease theranostic and into understanding immune central nervous system damage. Recently, CB collaboration with Cosima Tatiana Baldari, University of Siena, permits her to investigate the signal adaptor of T cell receptor signaling (SchA,Rai) role in astrocytes during EAE. Finally, CB extended her competence in neuroimmunology and immunological markers investigating possible role of immune cell and inflammation in psychiatric diseases in order to identify possible new biomarkers of disease and response to therapies. To this aim CB is coordinating, in collaboration with the Psychiatric Unit at the Careggi University Hospital (Florence) a project based on methanalysis and revision of data regarding immunological alterations during specific psychiatric disorders.
Resume of activities: the Laboratory of Neuroimmunology, department of Neurosciences, Psychology, Drugs and Child Health (NEUROFARBA), University of Florence.
The activity of the Laboratory of Neuroimmunology, coordinated by Clara Ballerini PhD, is focused on the dialogue between immune system (IS) cells and molecules and central nervous system (CNS) ones. In this context we are performing basic sciences research studies (by mean of cells isolated from humans and mice) and study on human diseases characterized by the involvement of both systems, as multiple sclerosis (MS) and the animal model experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), neuro-Behçet disease (NBD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and the transgenic animal model G93A.
In collaboration with the Hematologic Unit (Careggi Hospital, Florence University) we studied and characterized human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), in order to evaluate their potential in future therapies and characteristics in autoimmune diseases.
Recently, we were involved in the evaluation of nanomaterials (carbon nanotubes, iron oxide nanoparticles) as possible vehicle of therapy in CNS and their interaction with immune system cells.
Methods developed in the laboratory: isolation and differentiation of immune cells from peripheral blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), isolation of immune cells from mouse organs (bone marrow, spleen and lymphocytes, spinal cord and brain), cell biology, molecular and cellular immunology, study of soluble factors (cytokines and chemokines) mediating immunity (ELISA; Milliplex Luminex), T cell receptor repertoire analysis, study of gene expression by real time PCR, by arrays, study of cell phenotype by flow cytometry, morphological and functional studies by confocal microscopy, electron microscopy, study of immune synapse (IS). We perform clinical evaluation of EAE and when possible imaging, together with histological and neuropathological evaluation. We perform clinical evaluation of G93A (SOD1 mutated mouse, model of ALS) followed by histological and neuropathological analysis. We perform active and passive induction of EAE in different mouse strains.
Ongoing projects and collaborations: - Histamine effects on human myeloid dendritic cells after innate immune stimulations (in collaboration with Beatrice Passani, Pharmacological section) - Role of adaptive protein Rai in MS pathogenesis (in collaboration with Cosima Baldari, University of Siena) - Nanomaterial interactions in CNS and IS (in collaboration with Laura Ballerini, ISAS, Trieste Italy) - Immunologic evaluation of bone marrow in patients affected by MS that undergone autologous stem cell transplantation - Pilot study of infection containment in MS patients under natalizumab therapy (in collaboration with the second division of Neurology, Luca Massacesi, University of Florence) - Cell and soluble factors study in CSF of NBD and MS patients (in collaboration with Alessandro Barilaro, second division of neurology University o Florence, and Giacomo Emmi, division of clinical immunology University of Florence) - In vitro and in vivo evaluation of a NGF mimetic molecule (in collaboration with Laura Ballerini, ISAS Trieste and Federico Cozzolino, University of Florence) - Nano-engineered immune cells for MS (in collaboration with MM D'Elios, University of Florence, and Giovanni Baldi, Colorobbia, Empoli, SME).