26 September 2019

My name is Juan Rigalli, I am from Argentina and currently work as postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Physiology (theme Renal disorders). I study the role of exosomes in kidney pathophysiology. 

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your child years? 

I wanted to be different things (archeologist, geologist, medical doctor, geographer, airplane pilot, etc, etc). All can be summarized in that I wanted to know how things are/were/work and to know as many places in the world as possible. My first book, when I was 5 or 6, was an atlas of the world. Actually, I used to know the name of more capitals and cities of the world than of football players of the national team. Luckily, this job allows me to fulfil both dreams of my child years. 

What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why that study? 

I studied Biotechnology and also did my PhD at Rosario University in Argentina. I investigated the regulation of drug transporters of the ABC family in different organs of pharmacotoxicological relevance (liver, intestine, kidney) and how this influences drug bioavailability. After that, I moved to Heidelberg (Germany) where I studied the role of the same proteins but then in cancer multidrug resistance. 

The RIMLS motto is: ‘Today’s molecules for tomorrow’s medicine’. What does this mean for you? 

I think it’s the way biomedical research should work. Right now, we are benefiting from treatments, which target molecules discovered and characterized decades ago. In order to have novel and better treatments tomorrow, we need to work today to gain more knowledge about more molecules and the processes where these molecules are involved. 

Who is your great example as scientists? And please give a motivation why.

The head of my department in Argentina was a great example for me. Besides his contributions to the understanding of the chemical intestinal barrier that protects the body from all kind of toxic xenobiotics, what I most appreciate was the feeling I got while working with him. When I started my Master’s thesis and later during my PhD, although I was not directly under his direct supervision, he always had time to talk about life and science in a peer-to-peer way. In my opinion, this is important in a system where each of us has a pseudo-monetary value in terms of impact factor, h-factor, grants, etc. Also, from the scientific point of view, even when you had the impression nothing is working, you went to him and got answers that turned a set of (in your opinion) non-sense results into a paper. 

Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud? 

I would say, the project I worked during my stay in Heidelberg. Still in Argentina and working with all kind of molecules that regulate drug transporters, I came to the idea that these proteins can be regulated also by other external factors such as viruses. I submitted a grant to study the regulation of ABC transporters by HPV oncoproteins in head and neck cancer. The idea was supported by the DFG and I moved to Germany. During those years, we found out that oncoproteins from a particular HPV type up-regulate drug transporters in a post-transcriptional way. Interestingly, this virus type also leads to more resistant tumors in patients. The final result and the fact that I brought a new concept to the lab and that several undergraduate students and visiting PhD candidates participated and grew within the project make me really proud. 

Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform?

I would invest in finding biomarkers to predict drug response and disease prognosis in an individualized way. I think precision medicine is a key to improve healthcare. While it will reduce potential side effects and unnecessary treatments in patients who will never respond, these resources could be then made available to make treatments accessible to less privileged groups of the population who nowadays do not have access to all the therapies available.

What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)?
I don’t really have a fixed working area. In experimental research we combine desk work with a lot of lab work for which there are different areas according to the techniques you are doing. In any case, I think, the working area needs to make the employee feel happy when he arrives to work, during the working day and when he goes home.

Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her?
I would like to nominate my colleague Valentina Carotti and ask her if she thinks one day we will have kidney organoids produced in an industrial scale and replacing current kidney transplantations.

What type of person are you, quick insights:

a) Mac or PC?                                : Mac 
b) Theater or cinema?                 : I prefer watching something at home
c) Dine out or dine in?                 : Usually dine in. Dine out more during vacation
d) Ferrari or Fiat?                         : Airbus
e) Shopaholic or chocoholic?     : Travelholic
f) Culture or Nature                     : Both

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