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Senior Investigator Scientist: Carlo Fiore Viscomi


Carlo Fiore Viscomi, PhD, Senior Investigator Scientist at the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit, Cambridge

Career profile

“Omnia mea mecum fero (All that is mine, I carry with me)”

Carlo’s career has spanned a period of 13 years since he did a degree in Biology at the Department of Biomolecular Sciences and subsequently a PhD in Physiological Sciences at the University of Milan.   

From 2002-2004 I was a Postdoc at the Department of Biomolecular Sciences, University of Milan; 2004-2009, a Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular Neurogenetic Unit, IRCCS Foundation Neurological Institute “C. Besta” and subsequently a Group Leader until 2013 when I took up the position of Senior Investigator Scientist, MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit, Cambridge, UK.”

“The work in Cambridge has just started, although our lab is now fully engaged with our research programs. Most of my energies in the last year and a half were invested in organizing things at MBU. We're now starting to really focus on science. It would be good to see some of the pre-clinical work we carried out in the last years to be transferred to the patients, and we're trying to do that, although it's very difficult. We have a lot to learn. At the same time there are still many open questions on mitochondrial diseases and mitochondrial biology that need to be addressed.”

“As an undergraduate student in Biology at the University of Milan, I was trained as an electrophysiologist working, during my thesis, on the pacemaker channels, which are responsible for the spontaneous activity of heart. When I entered the PhD program in Milan, I started to learn molecular biology techniques. My PhD work was focused on the production and characterization of a knockout mouse for one of the genes encoding the pacemaker channels of the heart. This was a tough period because that was a Department of Physiology, and no-one really knew what I was trying to do. I was stuck at a certain point and to bypass the problem I moved to the San Raffaele Institute in Milan, that, at that time, was a forefront institute for molecular biology and gene targeting techniques in Italy. I finally went through and obtained the mouse, but it was time for me to move on, and I decided to switch to a more translational research. At that time, Dr Massimo Zeviani (now Director of the MRC-MBU in Cambridge) was looking for someone with expertise in gene targeting techniques. So, I moved to the Neurological Institute "C. Besta", in Milan. The focus was on mitochondrial diseases, the subject I am still working on. The beginning was actually quite difficult, as I barely knew what mitochondria were and the environment in a hospital/research Institute was very different from that of the University where I had spent quite a few years. However, positive results finally arrived (with some good achievements) and my position at the Besta Institute became more solid. In 2009, I obtained a Tenure position at the Neurological Institute, which I left in 2013, when I moved to Cambridge, where Prof Zeviani offered me to join his group as a senior scientist. This was a great opportunity, the Cambridge environment was very stimulating, everything was to be setup and organized...very exciting.” 

“During my career, I have faced two major challenges. The first was when I switched from electrophysiology to mitochondrial diseases. Moving to a new field (and my case it was really different) is particularly challenging. The second challenge was moving to Cambridge. Obviously, moving to a different country is challenging for everybody, and I was almost 40 year-old...not a baby. However, I was lucky enough to have quite a lot of time to visit Cambridge during the year before I actually moved, so when I finally came here, I knew most of the people and things were easier. I felt very welcome in the Unit, and I am very grateful to my colleagues here.”

“In my spare time, I do some sport (to keep myself in sufficiently good shape and get rid of work-related stress), listen to classical music and opera, which are very inspiring and relaxing, and read. I also enjoy ski touring in winter and spring time...but this is not possible in this country. However, I still go sometimes when visiting my family in Italy.”

On reflection of his career so far, Carlo says:

“Probably, if I had the chance to go back, I would study Medicine instead of Biology. I think it opens more possibilities, including both research and clinics. Second, I would like to have been braver some time (for instance I would have taken the opportunity to move to another country before). I have also probably been too shy in some situations.”

“I am inspired by many people in my career and in my life. Some colleagues had such a strong commitment to science that really shaped my attitude towards my job. I am particularly grateful to people that transmitted to me the love for knowledge and curiosity about the world around me. And finally, I am most grateful to my friends who always supported me, and taught me the most important value of friendship.”

Words of wisdom

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity (A. Einstein)

Starry heavens above me and the moral law within me (I. Kant)

Skills that Carlo feels are required for his career are a PhD degree in a relevant subject and determination to overcome problems and difficulties. 

Correct as of: March 2015