Elena Cattaneo

Prof. Elena Cattaneo


Department of Biosciences
University of Milan

Our research activity focuses on neural stem cells, their potential application, and the neurodegenerative mechanisms of Huntington’s disease.

Elena Cattaneo graduated in Pharmacy in 1986 (summa cum laude) and obtained her PhD in Biotechnology Applied to Pharmacology from the University of Milan, where she has been teaching as full Professor of Pharmacology since 2003. She is director of the “Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurodegenerative Diseases” at the Department of Biosciences, and is co-founder and director of UniStem, the University of Milan’s Centre for Stem Cell Research (www.unistem.it).

Elena Cattaneo spent 3 years working at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science – M.I.T (Cambridge, U.S.A.) in Prof. Ronald McKay’s laboratory. Here she began studying neural stem cell differentiation in the striatum, a region of the brain involved in the pathophysiology of a number of neurodegenerative diseases.
She spent a short period at University of Lund (Sweden), in Prof. Anders Bjorklund’s lab learning experimental intra-cerebral grafting techniques with stem cells.
On returning to Italy, she oriented her research toward Huntington’s disease. The laboratory has been established for 20 years and is now affiliated to the Department of Biosciences at University of Milan.

During this time, the laboratory has received funding from the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (USA), the Hereditary Disease Foundation (USA), the CHDI Foundation (USA), the European Commission (European projects funded: EuroStemCell, ESTOOLS, NeuroNE, STEM-HD, Stemstroke, Neuromics, Neurostemcell and Neurostemcellrepair), the Ministero dell’Universita’ e Ricerca (Italian Minister for University and Research), the Cariplo Foundation (Italy), the Telethon Foundation (Italy). E. Cattaneo coordinated the European project NeuroStemcell (2008-2013) and is coordinating European project Neurostemcellrepair (2013-2017) and a national network studying stem cells in Huntington’s Disease.

E. Cattaneo has published more than 150 papers in peer reviewed scientific journals like Science, Nature, Nature Neuroscience, Nature Genetics, Development, Journal of Neuroscience. She has participated in more than 350 events as an invited speaker, including congresses or workshops organized by research institutions and universities. Elena has tutored around 100 theses (both PhD and graduation experimental thesis). As part of European Consortia and UniStem activities she has organized dissemination and training events aimed at the scientific community and the wider public.

Among Elena Cattaneo’s awards: 2001 Le Scienze Prize for Medicine and Gold Medal from the President of the Italian Republic, for her studies on neural stem cells and Huntington’s Disease. Between 2002 and 2006 she was a member of the Italian delegation for Genomics and Biotechnology at the European Commission (FP6). In 2006 President of the Italian Republic Carlo Azelio Ciampi appointed her as Italian Republic Official Knight (Cavaliere Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana). In 2006 she was awarded the Marisa Bellisario Prize (Italy) and Chiara D’Onofrio Prize (Italy). In 2007 she became Member and VicePresident of the National Bioethics Committee, resigned in 2008. In 2008 she was awarded the Grande Ippocrate Prize “Medical researcher of the year” for her contribution to public outreach and dissemination on stem cells, honoured by Unamsi (federation of Italian science journalists) and Novartis Pharma. In 2012 she received the acknowledgment of civil merit Ambrogino D’Oro from the District of Milano (Italy) and was awarded with the Premio Tartufari Prize for Molecular and Genetic Biology, Accademia dei Lincei, Rome. From 2008 to 2013 she has been a member of several ISSCR Task Forces (USA) such as “Clinical Translation of Stem Cell Research”, “Unproven Stem Cell Therapies” and “Legislative Educational Initiative”. In 2013 she was appointed EMBO Member and Member of Accademia dei Lincei, Rome Italy.

On August 30th 2013, President of Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano appointed her Life Senator on account of her scientific and social merit, together with the Nobel prize awarded physicist Prof. Carlo Rubbia, the orchestra director Claudio Abbado and architect Renzo Piano. Following the appointment, Elena Cattaneo has continued to lead the lab, within transcontinental, European and national research consortia. The aim remains to find breakthroughs that may accelerate a cure for Huntington’s disease. She maintains her teaching position – with the exception of the formal entitlement of courses – and continues to lead the Unistem dissemination centre, working with scientific colleagues and Italian intellectuals to support and enhance science.

Science management and dissemination – outreach
Elena Cattaneo is organizer of many national and international scientific events, dedicated to the scientific community, the wider public and the Country Institutions.

Since 2003, she has been co-organizer of the international congress “Molecular Mechanisms of Neurodegeneration”, held in Milan every other year. She co-organized the first series of international congresses “Advances in Stem Cell Research” (2005 Milan, 2006 Lausanne, 2007 Stockholm, with more than 500 scientists participating from all over the world).
In 2013, she organized the first Neuroscience School of Advanced Studies “Neural stem cells in development and for brain repair”.

She is also the organizer of UniStem science dissemination events, including UniStem Workshops, UniStem Lectures and the annual UniStem Day dedicated to high school students. In 2013, UniStem Day became a European event, with the participation of more than 40 Italian universities and 10 foreign universities and the involvement of more than 15,000 high school students.

She participates in discussions about the relations between science and society, occasionally writing articles for Nature, EMBO and Italian newspapers (IlSole24ore).

Among Elena’s contributions:
○ Cattaneo, “Science, dogmas and the state”, Nature, 456, 444-5, 2008
○ Cattaneo E., Garagna S., Cerbai E., “Italy’s stem cell challenge gaining momentum”, Nature, 463, 729, 2010
○ Cattaneo E. & Corbellini G., “Science under politics, an italian nightmare”, EMBO Reports, 12, 19-22, 2011
Cattaneo, an interview on “Science and politics”, EMBO Reports, 12, 23-26, 2011
○ Bianco P., Barker R., Brüstle O., Cattaneo E., Clevers H., Daley G.Q., De Luca M., Goldstein L., Lindvall O., Mummery C., Robey P.G., Sattler de Sousa E Brito C., Smith A. “Regulation of stem cell therapies under attack in Europe: for whom the bell tolls” EMBO Journal, 32, 1489-95, 2013
○ She took part in the production and staging of the theatre performance “Staminalia: a dream and a trial”, from Italian philosopher’s Armando Massarenti book “Staminalia”, Nature 465, 1012, 2010.

Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurodegenerative Diseases